Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman

My mom passed this book down to me after she finished reading it.

She said it was cute and I might enjoy it.

It was and I did.

It's interesting, yet perhaps predictable, that my expectations tend to be lower for books which I chance upon in this manner.

Expectations, while unavoidable, are dangerous. It's too bad that we can't experience every new book, movie, musician, TV show, etc. with a clean slate.

But that's not what I'm talking about here.

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress is a memoir of a woman growing up in New York City in the 70s.

This book was enjoyable and mildly amusing. Through most of it, it was a quiet smile or a slight chuckle, although I have to admit that I laughed out loud several times as she was discussing her experiences as a new ex-pat in Geneva.

Gilman self-effacingly describes her foibles as a misfit in a way that makes it hard not to relate to her, even if your experiences do not mirror hers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Middlesex

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is an interesting read, a very interesting one, but I think flawed read. It’s a novel about Calliope who’s of Greek ancestry and born a hermaphrodite. His or her gender is ambiguous and while she appears to the distracted physician at her birth to be a girl, s/he’s really in between. She’s raised a girl and through this story we learn of her discovering her true gender.
Parts were fascinating like what one gender specialist and one co-worker at a sex club impart about gender identification and how it’s not so clear cut and how in some societies people with gender identification issues or gender ambiguity are treated and respected.

Yet I found some of the structure poorly done. I felt the family history dragged and could have been more concise. The lengthy saga, even with the incestuous grandparents to spice things up, dragged. It was like so many other “coming to America from the old country” tales. Also there were many places where I wanted to know something, like how Callie or Cal was figuring out which public restroom to use when s/he first learned of her condition. Eugenides made me wait for that and other information, but not due to a plan in the plot. Rather it seemed that he just didn’t anticipate what I as a reader wanted to know. He did that a lot more than most novelists.

Another problem is the narrator, Cal at age 42 or so. He is privy to details that only an omniscient narrator would know. For example, he knows way too much about the father’s attempt to save Cal/lie when he wasn’t there and no living person would have re-counted the story to Cal. A lot of the details of his grandparents lives would not have made it to Callie in such detail. The author knows this and tries to explain it away, but I couldn’t buy it.

The years from Callie/Cal at age 15 to age 42 something are a blur. I bet they could have made a great story, better than some of the immigrant chapters. Yet they’re revealed in broad, unsatisfying strokes.

I didn’t buy the ending, when the father falls for a fake kidnapping plot. It all seemed contrived to ratchet up the excitement level, which wasn’t necessary. All the gender is-sues were fascinating in and of themselves. I didn’t need the ransom and kidnapping to keep me turning the pages.

Yes, this won the Pulitzer, but I’m not ashamed of being a demanding reader. I think Middlesex could be better.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

In the world of thumbs up, thumbs down, this gets a thumbs up.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes of her quest in the aftermath of a difficult divorce to find the balance between devotion and pleasure by traveling through Italy, India and Indonesia for a year.

It wasn't so much that I wanted to thoroughly explore the countries themselves; this had been done. It was more that I wanted to thoroughly explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well. I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two.

While I found the author annoyingly self-indulgent at times and while I couldn't really relate to her whole spiritual quest, I did find her voice candid and her observations witty. For the most part, I enjoyed tagging along with her on her journey as she explored her chosen environs and herself.

I did relate to what she had to say about happiness:

Happiness is a consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don't, you will leak away your innate contentment.


Gilbert's willingness to forthrightly share her quest with the reader (the price of admission for her remarkable year abroad) results in an engaging tome.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tipperary by Frank Delany

I've been a bit delinquent.

I received this book on August 6, 2007 as part of the Advance Reader's program through LibraryThing and read it soon thereafter, finishing it on 8/27/07.

Part of the deal with the Advance Reader's program is that, in return for a free copy of the book, you're supposed to review the book. It doesn't matter if it's a good review or not, you're just supposed to review it.

For some reason, I wasn't very motivated to review this one. I don't know if it was because I only read it out of obligation. I had requested it so I had to follow through on my part of the deal.

I don't know if it was because I wasn't thrilled with it. I don't know if it was because I felt obliged to be kind.

Just not sure.

But, I was in Explore, Aspen's local bookstore, the other day and I saw Tipperary displayed on the counter with the new releases. Checking with Amazon, I found that the book had been published 11/6/07.

So, here I am, writing this review. More as a clearing it off my to do list and assuaging my guilt than anything else.

Not such a great lead-in, huh? Not making you want to rush out and read it, am I?

Rightfully so, perhaps.

I'm fairly ambivalent about this book. I found it a bit difficult to get going. I often found the protagonist annoying.

Let me back up a bit. The book is a cross between historical fiction and a romance novel. It's a romance novel from a male perspective but a romance novel nonetheless. Set in Ireland during the turn of the century, the book unconvincingly entwines the simple, country-boy protagonist, Charles O'Brien, with many a famous individual.

The book is written as Charles' journals and for most of the narrative takes on the often stunted prose of an amateur diarist. Delany also resorts to the improbable artifice of the discovery of writings from O'Brien's mother when faced with the need to include a perspective other than Charles'.

Towards the end of the book, I did start to get interested in the resolution of the "mystery" involving our present day narrator. Not being very familiar with Irish history, I also found some redeeming educational features in O'Brien's story.

I didn't hate it but wouldn't recommend it except to someone with a particular interest in the author, the Irish people or the period.

I do understand that Delany's other book, Ireland, which I have not read, comes much more highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A House and Its Head

I had read somewhere that Ivy Compton-Burnett was even better than Jane Austen so I bought one of her books and hoped to read a witty story with lots of insight into a society. Well, she's not better than Austen, not by a long shot.

I read A House and Its Head which is the story of Duncan Edgeworth's family. uncan is an autocratic father who catches everyone's smallest error in comportment or conversation. While the story doesn't have much description of the setting, wasn' sure for a long time whether it took place during the Victorian Period. (It was published in 1935.) At the very end the characters talk about the Victorian Period so this novel must take place in the 30's. Yet most good writing would make that clear. True a writer could be doing some cool things with the readers mind and the time period, but that is not in evidence here.

The long-suffering wife in this family soon dies and the apparently emotionless father remarries a woman his daughters' age and is soon cuckolded and the "father" of his nephew's illegitimate son. It's a commentary on rigidity and authoritarianism. It's not humorous and I don't think I learned that much about the era or life in general.

Not something I'd recommend.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Culture and Prosperity


At the airport in Chicago Culture and Prosperity: Why some nations are rich but most remain poor grabbed my attention. I was off to Indonesia, a developing country and this issue is on my mind. John Kay, an economist who writes for the Financial Times wrote it. His style is quite readable and its not weighted down my jargon or insiders' terminology. He clearly wants people to understand.

I was disappointed because the book spends a lot more time (pages) explaining concepts that economists use like Pareto improvement, a change that makes some people better off and no one worse off, and felicity calculous, the attempt to quantify happiness (not yet done well). I did come away with a better understanding of current economic work and a greater interest in the field. Yet I wish I knew "why some nations are rich but most remain poor."

He does provide a few insights. For example, on corruption: many countries with high rates of corruption do so because it's tolerated socially. Members of the culture expect it and feel helpless fighting it. These countries actually do have some of the strictest laws on bribery, but people think it's inevitable.

The inability to provide services like electricity (FYI so far in Makassar I've experienced 4 power outages - in 6 weeks) is not only an effect of poverty, it's a cause. Again, in many places people expect the electricity to go out and the phone not to work and . . . on and on.

Kay asserts that planned economies don't work. He uses the supermarket line as and example. At the supermarket line there's no one telling you where to stand. Everyone decides on their own what is optimal. Some people are a little bit better at guessing the best line and they help everyone get out sooner. The free system works fine. Thus more planning isn't the answer for developing countries, more freedom is Kay believes.

Right, but if a country has say 50% of its population with a third grade education they don't have many choices for which "career line" enter. How does a country like Indonesia with few educated people move up? I do wish Kay examined how Korea and Japan went from high poverty rates in the 60's or 70's to post-industrial economies. They had outside help and strong internal drive and big national corporations. What do the economists say about that that I haven't heard?

It is unusal for a book to not keep it's promise and still have me like and recommend it. Yet that's the case for Culture and Prosperity. I am still looking for more answers.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Northanger Abbey

I needed to read a comforting book so I turned to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, her first novel. It was the sort of thing I needed. Like Austen’s other novels, this features a young heroine and themes of marriage and money. In Northanger Abbey Catherine Morland is a young, naive woman enthralled by gothic father’s a parson and the family is middle class. She’s invited to stay with family friends in Bath, where she’s a little intimidated or by the high society and sophistication. She is very aware of what she doesn’t know. She’s out of her depths when discussing or understanding the society and the accepted take on novels and culture.

Her new friend Elizabeth invites her to Northanger Abbey, which stimulates Catherine’s active imagination. She suspects this old house will hold some dark secret behind a locked door or inside an old chest. Comically, she is always on the look out for the imagined secrets and worried that someone will find her snooping.

During this visit Catherine is in close contact with Elizabeth’s brother Henry, whom has captured her fancy. Of course, Austen includes obstacles to this love while describing other character’s more commercial love pursuits.

Not as well known as Pride and Prejudice or Emma, Northanger Abbey offers a good comfort read. It shows us Austen’s early writing and one can see how she grew in wit and sophistication.

Friday, September 21, 2007


When I'm in a country, I like to read both fiction and non-fiction about it. So now that I'm in Makassar in Indonesia I picked up Pramoedya Ananta Toer's The Fugitive. The description mentioned that he is considered most the Indonesian most likely to win a Nobel Prize so it sounded promising.

I was disappointed as the prose was heavy handed and the characters were flat, very flat. It's the story of Hardo, an Indonesian who's rebelled against the Japanese army and is hiding as a beggar. It could have been interesting, in the hands of a better writer. The dialog was so heavy handed. Early on I was turned off by a protracted monologue Hardo's future father-in-law has as he's in his garden unaware that Hardo can hear all he's saying. Who just talks to himself on and on like this blurting out everything that would be convenient for Hardo to hear?

It's a short novel of 170-some pages. Normally, I'd finish in a week or less. I make myself read 10 pages a day and then treat myself with other reading afterwards. I've never had to do that.

Before leaving the US, I bought a lot of books including three of Toer's Baru Quartet. Perhaps he became a better writer with time. Yet I won't be picking up book one any time soon and I won't make myself finish it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Best of I.F. Stone


Before blogging was even imagined, there was I. F. (Izzy) Stone, an independent journalist. I read about him in an article that my father gave me and had to get the new book that contains his essays. Izzy Stone was a journalist who started a four page weekly newspaper. He'd hunt though government documents finding the gems that writers at the big papers missed. He knew that Washington was full of overlooked stories.

He started the Weekly in the 1950's and by the time he retired in the 1970's he had a readership of 15,000. A progressive thinker, Stone clearly tries to keep us awake and on the look out for erosion of the Bill of Rights. (See how timely he is.)

This book contains an introduction by one of his researcher interns followed by sections with essays on the First Amendment, WWII, the Cold War, racism, Isreal, the Vietnam War and Heroes and Others. His scrutiny of facts and outsider perspective make for interesting reading. For example, he wasn't so impressed with Martin Luther King, Jr's. I Have a Dream speech (he thought it sacchrine - he did believe in King's aims) as he was with a Socialist Party meeting that weekend where A.Philip Randolph called for economic justice for all. Reading Stone was an interesting look at recent history from a vantage point I hadn't seen. He's detailed, insightful, and a master of rhetorical style.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Seize the Day


How can I review a book by Saul Bellow or any Nobel Laureate for that matter? I'm so humbled by all his writing.

Seize the Day was terrific and such a joy to read from page one. It's the story of Wilkie who's doomed for financial failure and he's trying to deal with his aloof, superior father. The writing is superb, but then Bellow's one of my favorite writers. I confess my bias. One thing I love is the way Bellow writes about the main characters inner thoughts. He really nails what someone's thinking as one listens to a fool or a jerk. He gets the relationships we have and can't get out of with people who are so annoying or weird.

While I like this book, I don't think it's the first Bellow book I'd suggest someone read. I'd start with The Adventures of Augie March, which is longer, but so funny and wild.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

It took me two readings to really appreciate the charms of Wicked.

On the first reading, Son of a Witch does not match the mastery of Wicked.

Son of a Witch picks up the story of Elphaba's son, Liir, although Maguire expends an annoying amount of energy and verbiage trying to convince the reader that this fact is in question.

The novel picks up approximately 10 years after the death (?) of Elphaba and fills in the intervening years through flashback. A recurring theme throughout the book is the question of whether "Elphaba Lives." Given that I had just seen Wicked - The Musical, I was amenable to the idea that Elphaba was in fact alive.

The book was uneven and choppy. It held my interest in spite of itself, mostly due to my curiosity as opposed to any intrinsic artistry. Maguire's imagination still impresses but his storytelling disappoints.

I finished the book with a feeling of inconclusiveness. I suspected yet another sequel and was not surprised to learn that in October of 2006, Maguire announced that he was working on a third book based in Oz.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wicked - The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Unbelievably epic and rich in detail.

I first read Wicked a few years ago and having just seen Wicked - The Musical, decided to re-read it.

I'm amazed at how much I had forgotten.

I remembered my surprise upon reading it the first time at how political Elphaba's life was but so much had escaped me.

As is his wont, Gregory Maguire takes a key but hardly central character from the Wizard of Oz and fleshes out her backstory with stunning imagination. He hones in on and explores the question of the Wicked Witch of the West's essential wickedness.

It's significant that the subtitle of the book is The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and the subtitle of the musical is The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. The fundamental theme of the musical is friendship and the musical really does not even touch the issue of evil. The fundamental question in the book is the question of the nature of evil and time and again, throughout the book, Maguire returns to this theme.

In the Grimmerie, the keepsake companion book to the musical, Maguire notes that he came away from the Wizard of Oz wondering why the Wicked Witch of the West was wicked and why it was necessary for Dorothy to kill her. Wanting to write a book exploring the nature of evil, Maguire saw Elphaba as an ideal vehicle.

Oftentimes, when I'm reading a book for the first time, I'm reading for plot and much of the detail gets lost. Because Wicked is so rich and so deep, it's amazing to read it a second time and realize how much is really there.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cadogan's Provence

Cadogan has become my new favorite travel guide. Beth, my former boss, recommended the title and suggested I visit Provence while in France. This guide's strength is the commentary which is often funny and provides just the right amount and kind of facts. Here's a sample:
On Arles
Like Nîmes, Arles has enought intact antiquities to call itself the "Rome of France"; unlike Nîmes it lingered in the post-Roman limelight for another thousand years, producing enough saints for every month on the calendar. . . . Henry James wrote "As a city Arles quite misses its effect in every way: and if it is a charming place, as I think it is, I can hardly tell the reason why." Modern Arles, sitting amidst its ruins, is still somehow charming, in spite of a general scruffiness that seems more intentional than natural.
By the way I really like Arles. It was easy to get around and there was plenty of charm and good food for three days.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

By Bread Alone


Who decided to publish this vapid book? I guess whoever did agrees with Mencken that "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people." Since this Harlequin romance-like trash was first published in the U.K. I guess the same can be said of the Brits.

Sarah-Kate Lynch throws together a predictable story about Esme who I guess is supposed to resemble Bridget Jones if she were married. Esme is nursing some tragic hurt that is only hinted at up to page 225, when I abandoned this read since life is just too short. (A friend lent me this novel because it's got a French theme. She did warn me that the beginning was cheesy. I'd say the middle is and I predict the ending is as well.)

Basically, Esme is haunted by a mysterious sorrow (I think she had a child die) and by "the one who got away" even though that guy was obviously a loser. We all suffer heartache in our teens or 20s and if we live a half way decent life by our mid-30's we're over it, way over it. Esme, get a life.

Since I have a life, I dropped this dreck unwilling to believe that it could improve.

French By Heart

Rebecca Ramsey chronicles her family's experiences living in a small town in France with such wit. She has three children, Sarah, Ben (who often reminds his parents in the beginning that "nobody asked me if I wanted to move to France" and baby Sam. It was interesting to see how they deal with French school, social life, haircuts, language problems, the medical system, and especially their neighbor, Madame Maillet, who one might say had some boundary issues. (However, I bet every French neighborhood has a Madame Maillet.)

Ramsey is humorous, perceptive and fair. She laughs at herself as much as at anyone else.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

All done

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Got it at approximately 4 pm this afternoon (after making four trips to my office since I forgot to have Amazon deliver it to my house).

Finished it at 11:37 pm.

And, yes, I cried.

A couple of times.

Justine

When I joined the Great Books Foundation, among other things I got a free novel from a list. I first asked for Emma, and then something else, and then something else. all my choices from the list were out of stock so I wound up with Justine.The first book of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, Justine begins with a lot of promise. The first few pages show masterful writing and an intriguing story of a man who goes to an island with a young girl he's supposed to care for. Later he describes what brought him to this point.

However, I soon detached from the main characters, the narrator, Melissa, his girlfriend, Nessim, an aristocrat in Alexandria, and his enigmatic wife, Justine. They were all so despondent and lost, yet except for Melissa rather priviledged. Self-absorbed rich people can be done well. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh succeed with this mileu.

I can't say this is a bad book, it just wasn't my cup of tea at present. Some of the writing is beautiful, (I liked perspicacous* lines like "He had not really changed inside. He had merely adopted a new mask" (p. 241) which shows insight, but there were also too many pedantic or unbelievable lines like "her voice grew furry and moist . . ." (p. 225). Just how does someone's voice get "furry"?

The setting should have been vivid for me. It wasn't. I have no vision of Alexandria on the eve of World War II. When there's an exotic setting, I need to vicariously experience it. He does describe various places, but I soon forgot them.

Well, on to something else. I won't be reading the rest of this quartet.

*I'm studying for the GRE, which I'm taking Wednesday so I'm going to throw around some pedantic lingo myself. Yet if I were writing a novel, I'd edit it out at some point.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

No Footprints in the Sand - A Memoir of Kalaupapa by Henry Kalalahilimoku Nalaieula

Wow, what a different perspective.

Henry is a naturally positive person and this shines through on every page of his memoir. The same undercurrents are present but Henry makes lemonade while Olivia Breitha in My Life of Exile in Kalaupapa communicates her anger. Their different temperaments help explain why Olivia broke so totally with John Tayman, the author of The Colony, while Henry did not. Olivia internalizes perceived slights and insults. They just bounce off Henry. It's ironic since Tayman's message is really much more aligned with Olivia's.

Since Henry had a co-author, Sally-Jo Bowman, his book is much more polished than Olivia's.

Henry's book made me wish I had visited Kalaupapa when he was a tour guide for Damien Tours. It would have been a great experience.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

I love Anne Lamott's writing. She's a joy to read. Her Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith was a delightful collection of "crabby optimistic" essays on raising an adolescent, surviving the Bush administration, and finding the blessings in receiving a free ham that one doesn't want. She's so funny and so real. She does blend crabbiness with optimism so you get hope that you can trust, not hope that's saccharine and stupid.

Click here for an excerpt.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rick the Librarian's Blog

Blogger listed this blog as a blog of note: ricklibrarian. I read through it and liked his reviews (as a librarians he discovers wonderful books that I've never heard of) and he seems to have some special book search devices in the sidebar that are worthwhile.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Glass Castle

Bridget's review of this book impressed me and then when I got home in June my mother was praising it so I had to read it.

Wow.

I vaguely remember seeing the author on a talk show describing her shame of having homeless parents who were impossible to help. Reading The Glass Castle filled in the picture of dysfunctional, crazy (literally-IMHO), whimsical parents, and resourceful, brave kids.

Jeannette Walls was one of four children. Her parents were drifters, who flouted conventions to the extreme and to the detriment and danger of their family. (Really they're lucky all the kids survived.) The father believes he'll invent a way to extract gold from rocks or invent something that'll make coal burning more effective and cheap. The mother has a teaching certificate, but really wants to paint. If the world could just appreciate their hidden "genius" seems to be their hope.

I try to reconcile or juggle idealism and pragmatics. This pair had no concept of the practical. Thus the family lives in one dilapidated home after another complete with leaks, bugs, mold, rotting wood, you name it. Sometimes there's food, often not, so the kids have to forage through garbage cans to eat. Occasionally the mother ate food that she'd secretively hidden from the kids.

The father's drinking, gambling and visits to brothels further hurt the family. He constantly took money from them to carouse, money the kids earned from odd jobs and babysitting that they tried to save so they could one day escape.

All suggestions Jeanette and her siblings made to better things were rejected. All complaints about the lack of heat or food or clothing were met with ridiculous urgings to be more positive or creative.

Early in the book I thought this family was like Paul 's of Mountain over Mountain. His father sold their house and moved the family into a school bus (parents and four kids). Wrong. Those parents were just colorful. The kids always had food and some stability.

Here the parents are a constant "challenge" (what a euphemism) for the children. The one thing they gave them was a love for reading and respect for knowledge so that the three oldest were able to use that to succeed.

As I read I soon went from just thinking "what a crazy family" to "how can people do this to their children?" I felt real indignation. The mother brushed off Jeannette's report of how her uncle tried to molest her and the father used her sexuality to gain a gambling advantage. When confronted by Jeannette after that episode, he shrugged it off saying he knew she could handle herself with the scumbag gambler. Jeanette was still in middle school at the time. (I often had to ask myself as I read, "Isn't she just 10? or 12?")

While this is a chronicle of abuse, it also shows the strength and determination of the three oldest kids who could band together and survive this horrid parenting that was often wrapped in a free-spirited joy of life by people who believed their own PR.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Olivia, My LIfe of Exile in Kalaupapa by Olivia Robello Breitha

In the Colony, John Tayman focuses on a handful of more contemporary residents of Kalaupapa, one of whom was Olivia Robello Breitha.

After becoming aware of Breitha's falling out with Tayman and disillusionment with his book, I decided that, in the interest of equal time, I must read her book also.

Breitha's book is a heartfelt, primary source accounting which borderlines on defensiveness while regaling the reader with stories, most of which serve to dramatically underline the inhumanity of the experience.

In this way, Breitha and Tayman seem to be soulmates. So, why did Breitha object so vehemently to Tayman's book?

Breitha, who passed away in January of 2006, was a prickly, proud woman. This comes through time and again in her writing. As best as I can tell, her reaction to Tayman was born out of the sentiment that "Only I'm allowed to talk bad about my (fill in the blank)." The exiles of Kalaupapa were victims of an inhumane system and lacked control over so much in their lives that they desire to control their stories and to not be portrayed merely as victims by others.

Breitha balances each episode of victimization she recounts with another episode wherein she flouts or challenges authority.

The writing is raw and amateurish but the authentic voice of a survivor of Kalaupapa rings through.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Rousseau's Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment by David Edmonds and John Eidinow

In a bit of a continuing on with a theme, having recently read The Courtier and the Heretic, I jumped at Rousseau's Dog when I happened upon it at The Tattered Cover in May.

A wise move.

Reading of the follies of these two "great thinkers," these two revered men, humanized them for me and brought me past the usual one dimensional assessment of great men to the confirmation that great men are often great in spite of their foibles.

Rousseau's Dog is the story of the falling out and resulting bitter enmity of Jean Jacques Rousseau and David Hume.

I read fascinated and a bit disgusted as Rousseau's paranoia led him to concoct a conspiracy where there was none. I grudgingly came to the acceptance that Hume's faults also contributed to the outcome in large measure. I ended up with the thought that some things are inevitable.

Edmonds and Eidinow present just enough of these two men's philosophies to introduce the reader to their dramatic differences and just enough to perhaps whet the reader's appetite for a bit more research.

While I have seen it disparaged in literary reviews, notably Janet Maslin's review in the New York Times, I was quite intrigued by the beast referenced in the title. I enjoyed puzzling out the dual significance of Rousseau's dog or dogs as it were.

In contrast to the Courtier and the Heretic, I did not slog as much while reading Rousseau's Dog. With more of a focus on the events which transpired and less of a primer on the philosophers' contributions to the field, Rousseau's Dog was a more engaging read.

After reading and digesting it, I perused the back cover and was struck by the truth of the blurb from the Boston Globe, "[a] beach book for the brainy set, engaging and erudite."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Consulations of Philosophy

My friend Kyoung Sook, who's working on a philosophy doctorate, read this book a few summers ago and I planned to read it.

Since modern philosophy I've encountered is so dense and esoteric, I'd forgotten that I like philosophy and that originally it was written by Greeks, Romans, Medieval Europeans, in an accessible, dramatic prose for all educated people to enjoy. In 2005 and 2006 a few of my colleagues had formed a discussion group to read and talk about Plato's The Republic, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I've enjoyed all of them and intend to read more Greek philosophy. Still I wanted to move ahead in time. Boethius, who lived in the 6th century, is a bridge from the ancients to the Europeans.

Like Socrates, Boethius was imprisoned for causing trouble. In this book Lady Philosophy visits him in prison to help him sort things out. This dramatic dialog is an engaging means of drawing in the reader and keeping her interested. Boethius was a Christian, who loved and believed in philosophy. Lady Philosophy presents a number of interesting ideas such as why it's worse for a criminal to go unpunished that to be punished. That idea would never go over now, but it was interesting to follow Philosophy's argument on that and her explanation of the difference between eternal and perpetual, etc.

Can philosophy be fun? Yep, Boethius was, though Socrates and Aristotle are more useful.

The Vicar of Wakefield

I read Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield for my online bookclub. A few years back I saw a BBC version of his She Stoops to Conquer and I really found that engaging. This novel didn't measure up to the play.

I found the beginning charming, but as I moved through it, I saw some weaknesses. This is the story of a hapless country vicar and his family. A lot of their misfortunes in the first part of the book are quite funny. However, so much plot, such as the son's adventures, were related through exposition, a weaker means than through a switch to the son's direct point of view, which is a more modern way of narratingm, but also more interesting. Either just leave the events to what readers directly learn or

I wished the characters had more depth. The family members are rather stereotypical and by the end of the story I didn't feel I really knew them. In the end, I'd say it's a second tier classic. It is humorous, especially Vicar Primrose's cluelessness as to how interesting and important his sermons and writing are. He was like the sort of stodgy minister one finds in say Pride and Prejudice. It can be a fun character.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Colony by John Tayman

All authors have an agenda. Some are more successful than others at balancing out their presentation of their material but slant is inevitable and unavoidable.

Reading The Colony on the heels of Moloka'i places the differing perspectives of the two authors in stark juxtaposition. Alan Brennert tells a story that downplays the hardships faced by the exiles on Molokai. John Tayman details a history of the settlement fraught with suffering.

Neither is necessarily inaccurate.

Tayman is clearly trying to make a point. He is attacking a system, inspired by fear and ignorance, which segregated innocent victims of a disfiguring disease. In chapter after chapter, he provides graphic examples of the wrongheadedness of the policy of segregation. His is an indictment of the system which dehumanized those infected with the leprosy germ.

In order to accomplish this end, he highlights the sensational accounts of the time which inspired fear in the general population. He repeats the contemporary descriptions which often use terminology now seen as highly insulting and offensive. He describes how Jack London was used in an attempt by those trying to encourage Hawaiian tourism to publish a white-washed portrayal of Kalaupapa.

And yet, even while focusing on the horrors, Tayman manages to also tell an inspiring tale of survival, perseverance and even hope by spotlighting individuals' stories. Rather than simply presenting the data and facts regarding the settlement, Tayman wisely brings us the stories of a number of the people affected by the Hawaiian government's misguided attempt to halt the spread of the disease. Tayman introduces us to people who faced outrageous circumstances with grace, humor and faith. I came away with a feeling of deep admiration for these individuals.

Due to Tayman's agenda, The Colony has inspired some controversy. Three of the individuals portrayed in the book, two of whom had been cooperating with the author, have denounced the book in no uncertain terms. Tayman briefly mentions these issues in his Notes and Acknowledgements and a little internet research brings up newspaper articles with more specifics.

I can't imagine, though, that any writer of recent history can possibly please all those affected by the history being presented. It appeared to me that the complaints were based on an inability to separate Tayman's criticisms of the policies from his admiration for the majority of the residents of Kalaupapa.

There is additional criticism of Tayman and his publisher due to their choices for the cover photography on both the hardcover and paperback editions. The hardcover edition featured a photograph of Italian cliffs while the paperback edition, while at least using a photograph of the cliffs of Molokai, flips the photo and (at least according to this website) doesn't credit the correct photographer.

I find these issues troubling in that, in my opinion, lack of attention to these sorts of details are likely to be indicative of a further lack of attention to detail. Attention to detail is important in a well-researched historical work.

Tayman does an admirable job of accomplishing his purpose in a way that is readable and engrossing. Moloka'i presented a rose colored glasses view of the settlement and The Colony provides a view which reminds the reader that while it's a beautiful place and the residents don't want to leave, they didn't originally go there willingly either.

If I am able to visit Kaluapapa as hoped, I will be careful with references to The Colony. The bookstore there does not carry the book, bowing to the wishes of the remaining residents.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

More on Kalaupapa

In preparation for our bookclub discussion of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, I proceeded to do some superficial internet research on Hansen's disease and on Kalaupapa.

I came across a letter written by Jack London which largely corresponds with Brennert's depiction and the book, The Colony by John Tayman and two NPR interviews which presenting a contrasting picture of Kalaupapa.

After listening to both Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview and Renee Montagne's Morning Edition interview with John Tayman, it appears that Alan Brennert's depiction of Kalaupapa is fairly idealized or, at least, glosses over the depravity that existed in the early days of the settlement.

I'll report more once I have had a chance to read The Colony.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Yet another piece of historical fiction that has served to educate while entertaining.

Brennert provides a little bit of the history of Hawaii, a little bit of the history of leprosy or Hansen's disease and a little bit of the history of the settlement of Kalaupapa in the context of the story of Rachel Kalama, a fictional seven year old child who is banished to and grows up on Moloka'i.

Brennert does a better job conveying the pathos of the grown-up Rachel than of the adolescent Rachel. Once again, I found myself reading a book to which I had little emotional attachment until Rachel reached adulthood at which point Brennert's ability to touch the reader with Rachel's struggles dramatically improved.

This is a sad story told in a way that celebrates the ability to persevere, fashion a life and ultimately triumph.

If I visit Lahaina as expected this fall, I'll have to include a side trip to Moloka'i in my itinerary.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Paper Lanterns

A Friend's Poem

By J’Ann Schoonmaker Allen

Pink, white, and yellow paper lanterns,
Candle lit and strung between metal bars
Decorate this temple yard.

Scents of incense, dried fish,
Cooked beetles, western breath, and
Chanting
Fill the cool night air.

A bowing child moves fluidly,
Matching halmoni’s graceful body
Beat
For beat while Golden Buddha watches.

Monks, cloaked in brown from shaved head
To saddles, carry brass cymbals,
Dancing
To some ancient rhythm.

Sightseers, sated, perhaps, depart,
Walking slowly
Behind the one
Before. The monks remain.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Norwegian Wood

Written by Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite writers, Norwegian Wood tells us the story of a Japanese college student, Watanabe, who's drifting along amidst the rebellion of 1960's Japan. He sees the flaws in their ideology and their activism and keeps his distance from this movement.

He gets involved with his now deceased best friend's girlfriend Naoko and with Midori, a college student he meets at a restuarant. Like all Murakami's novels, this reads smooth and jazzy. The characters all stand outside the mainstream and observe, comment and try to live in a different, better, rather lyrical or perhaps listless way. None of the relationships are clear cut or easily defined.

The New Yorker often prints his short stories and this link has a few which will give you a taste of his style: Murakami's Short Stories

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Quotation Worth Saving

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

--Pablo Picasso

How Did I Miss This?

At the end of the semester I'm always swamped and emails and personal errands fall to the wayside. Thus I'm just now reading my Writers' Almanac for June 10th which I've learned is Saul Bellow's, my favorite writer, birthday.
It's the birthday of Saul Bellow (born in Quebec, Canada (1915). He grew up in Chicago. He was often sick as a child, and spent his time reading the great classics of literature. Saul Bellow later said, "I came humbly, hat in hand, to literary America. I didn't ask for much; I had a book or two to publish. I didn't expect to make money at it. I saw myself at the tail end of a great glory. I was very moved by the books I had read in school, and I brought an offering to the altar."

His father wasn't happy that Bellow wanted to be a writer. He said, "You write and then you erase. You call that a profession?" His brothers went into more conventional careers and Bellow once said, "All I started out to do was to show up my brothers."

He wrote a couple of novels that didn't do that well. He went to Paris on a Guggenheim fellowship. He hated Paris. The more he hated Paris, the more he loved America and Chicago. It was there he began writing his first big successful book, The Adventures of Augie March.
Do read The Adventures of Augie March, one of my all time favorites.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Skip This

Wandering around Kyobo bookstore I saw this children's book (for older kids say 10-11) and thought it might me an easy way to acquaint myself with the Middle East. The Shadows of Ghadams is set in Libya and tells the story of a girl, whose female relatives hide and save an injured man whom more fundamentalist citizens were chasing. Since the father and older male relatives are all gone, they can nurse this man and help him escape.

It would be a quick read if it weren't so boring. There's little dramatic tension even when they must get this man out of their home (the plan just works out, no near failure). Throughout the story, Malika adds tidbits about the culture describing food preparation, festivals, clothing, this is where historical fiction can get really interesting, but only if it's carefully woven into the story. Not here sadly. Her cultural sidebars seem just that--noticeable and set in a different tone than the narration. It's all so artificial. I kept wondering "Who is this girl doing all this tour guide-like explanation for?" Clearly. she's talking to her readers, but good writing makes that invisible. Some device where she did have an audience or a reason for the exposition would have helped.

The characters change very little, even Malika and this is a coming of age sort of story. The author seemed to have trouble with political correctness. The characters are Muslims and the most conservative seem to be willing to accept changes in their traditions and the progressive thinkers were willing to wait for "natural change." No one was too far from the center. Is that real? Perhaps, but I doubt it. It wasn't too interesting that's for sure.

I started the book and put it down. I only finished it because I am moving and want to donate some books to our school library.

One reason for reading a children's book was to familiarize myself with what's happening now and possibly writing a YA novel. If this is any indication, the market isn't that hard to crack.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I Love Studs Terkel



Today my culture class will discuss Studs Terkel's interview with C.P. Ellis, the KKK member who went through metanoia. It's an incredible story well told by Studs who has an uncanny ability to dig out America's history. This selection is available in Terkel's oral history on race.

Monday, June 11, 2007

If You're Thinking of Visiting Me

If you visit me, there's tropical breezes, flora, fauna, exotic culture, scuba diving, Bali side trips, spas. This offer is good for one year. Start saving!


Sunday, June 10, 2007

J'ai Fini!


He looks rather cute here. Not so neurotic and hard to live with. I finished reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which is like climbing Everest in some ways. I'm a Also I finished William Carter’s Marcel Proust: A Life. What to say? Obviously, whole books have been written on Search, which has its peaks and valleys to continue the mountain analogy, banal as it is.

Here are some quick comments.

  1. Thank God, I’m not a hyper-observant person. Granted one can make perceptive observations about every aspect of life, but that’s quite a cross to bear.

  2. Wow! Talk about beautiful sentences and masterful descriptions by the dint of perfectionism. (That’s sort of an inside joke since Proust uses “by the dint of” a lot—in some spots three times in two pages.)

  3. I loved Françoise, the servant. She was so funny, probably my favorite character. There were times that I had to take a rest because there would be so much about the Narrator’s ruminations or (mis)perceptions on Albertine, which echoed Swann’s relationship with Odette and the Narrator’s with Gilberte. I guess two obsessions per work is my limit.

  4. Read a biography before or along with the book (or in lieu of). Some would disagree, but I found Proust’s life fascinating. He was quite neurotic, wearing fur coats inside in the summer, eating little and strange combinations of foods at odd hours, needing his mother so much, and never finding love. The biography will tell you about his relationship with money. He never held a regular job, though his parents encouraged him to find a career. He wound up inheriting a fortune, but frequently had money problems due to lavish spending and poor investments. He had a vexing and contentious relationship with his financial advisor after his parents died. Definitely, a father figure. Yet the book neglects the theme of money, while how we view money does reveal so much about our psyche, though it’s not something we remember the way we remember past loves, friendships.

    By reading the biography, we learn about the incredible task of editing and publishing this opus, who helped him and how they had to literally cut and paste and decipher Proust’s handwritten pages for the resulting 3300 plus page novel, which sadly wasn’t finally edited when Proust died (so we don’t really have what he finally approved). Proust thought he was going to die and his last months were a race to finish checking the manuscript. another bonus the biography provides is insight into what other writers and Proust’s friends thought of the book. Since some of the characters in the book are patterned after real people, it’s interesting to see what those individuals think of the book.

If you’re not up for a seven volume novel or 800 page biography (that does read much faster than the novel), do try Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life. It should amuse, enlighten and maybe pique your interest in Search.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian is an excellent read, equal parts horror story, historical thriller and travelogue.

Built around the Dracula legend, the book follows a young girl as she struggles to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance and her mother's absence. While the story can be hard to follow as it jumps back and forth between narrators, after a slow start, the suspense intensifies as the unanswered questions grow. Kostova doles out her mysteries as a bread crumb trail drawing her readers deeper into her story.

While multiple aspects of the story held my interest, I found myself most attracted to the story as a travelogue. The author describes the characters' travels through Cold War Eastern Europe in a way that can only be described as enticing.

We read this book for book club and at least one member read Bram Stoker's Dracula as a result of having read this book. I love it when that happens.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman

I found this book fascinating.

Ehrman presents a well argued, scholarly work dealing with how the books of the Bible and specifically, the New Testament have been altered through the ages, both purposefully and accidentally.

In a move that gives his work added weight, he lays out the methodologies of the scholarly field of textual criticism and then presents clear examples to support his arguments regarding changes made and motivations therefore.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills

Wills has an interesting perspective on who and what Jesus was. He believes, as his foreword states, that Christ was not a Christian.

. . . he is not just like us, he has higher rights and powers, he has an authority as arbitrary as God's in the Book of Job. He is a divine mystery walking among men. The only way we can directly imitate him is to act as if we were gods ourselves - yet that is the very thing he forbids. He tells us to act as the last, not the first, as the least, not the greatest. And this accords with the common sense of mankind. Christians cannot really be 'Christlike.' As Chesterton said, 'A great man knows he is not God and the greater he is the better he knows it.' The thing we have to realize is that Christ, whoever and whatever he was, was certainly not a Christian.

Wills offers some thought provoking analysis of what the Gospels really have to say about Jesus. His is an anti-establishment view. He claims that religion killed Jesus, that Jesus was opposed to religion as it existed in his day and that he "did not found a church."

Don't read this book if you don't want to question your preconceptions.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Audacity of Hope

Well, I think I'm in love. I have been impressed with Barack Obama since he ran for Senator of Illinois. Reading this book convinced me of his character, intelligence, perpicacity, eloquence and his ability to look at several sides of a problem. His background living in the US and Indonesia, working in grassroots community development, attending law school, and balancing a family are described in a reflective, intelligent, occasionally witty manner. He owns up to shortcomings, personal and national. He seems to be able to address the concerns of some conservative citizens, such as the breakdown of the family, and to debate with respect and intelligence. I think he can win in 2008. At least that's my hope.

By the way, my cousin Meaghan quit her job at the DCCC to work for him in Chicago. I'll have to track her down and find out what she's doing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Great Gatsby

I've read F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby several times. (Could it be 8?) I'm just finishing reading and discussing it with my English through Culture class. What a perfect book! Great structure, imagery, style and themes! Magnificent.

Trivia: when my mother was in labor with me, she was reading this book.

Last year I saw a Ebert and Roper review of an African American film version of this story. I wish I knew the title.

Cry Beloved Country

I read this for my online book club group's May meeting. All in all, I thought it was a decent read, but not spectacular. I kept comparing it to A Lesson Before Dying, which includes similar themes of racism, injustice, murder, and religion. Certainly, there are differences, for example, in Cry, Beloved Country the protagonist's son definitely killed a man, whereas in A Lesson Before Dying we don't know who killed the shop owner. Perhaps the change in Lesson's apathetic character drew me in and made me care more.

For some reason, this book felt more dated than Lesson, which is odd as both focus on an era past. Paton did write this during aparteid, while Gaines wrote post-Jim Crowe.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bait and Switch: The Job Hunting Racket

Author of Nickel and Dimed, (which I should read next) Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover to learn what job hunting is like for the over-35, college educated professional. She experiences "loopy" pop-psychology career counseling, passive networking events, and expensive image consultation. The loopy pop-psychology she refers to is the Myers Briggs test and the Enneagram. The problem with Myers Briggs, she asserts is that it's not reliable and she found the Enneagram too esoteric. Now I've done both and if you spend some time with the later, you will gain insight into your personality and motivations. Myers Briggs isn't a bad test I think, just an overpriced one. The real problem is that many career counselors use these systems, it seems, so that they can say they've done something with a client. Once you're in a job, there's little formal use of these or any personality systems to help you find your niche or progress.

She comes to realize how irrational this process is, how little one's talents, skills or experience are compared to a winning smile and a Brave New World inspired cheeriness. She learns that to remain in the corporate realm one shouldn't succeed too much since a big salary is like a target on one's back inviting HR to cut you from the fold.

Last January, hoping to get some assistance in becoming more strategic in my career planning, I paid for career counseling sessions and attended some networking events which were an awful lot like those Ms. Ehrenreich did. Yes, you will learn the importance of coming up with a good "elevator" speech and that you should make job hunting a job. You don't learn much, but they keep you occupied. The sharp job hunter will question the point of the busy work and abandon these groups in favor of a cheaper, more creative and more effective way to find work.

She spent $6000 in nine months on the various experts and travel to the useless jobfairs and networking events where little interaction was on the agenda. In the end she did not get a job. Her only offers were from Mary Kay Cosmetics and AFLAC, both independent sales "positions" with no office, no insurance, no vacation pay, minimal investment in your success. She realizes that usually a job hunter can use referrals, the best source of networking, but she didn't want her friends to lie on her behalf. It would have been interesting if she had because I'd like to have heard her take on real interviews and negotiations.

In an environment that claims to be so team-oriented, people she spoke with talked little of prior office cameraderie. Passion and cheerfulness, in the forms of a cheerleader smile or wearing one's company's logo, seem to count for a lot more than creativity, diligence or intelligence. How is today's white collar worker supposed to summon such emotion and devotion to company after company? As Ehrenreich points out prostitutes aren't even expected to cop to that attitude customer after customer.

In the end, Ehrenreich questions why the underemployed and long term unemployed, whose prospects are bleak, don't get active. Storm the Bastille or something. She suggests they organize like doctors, lawyers and teachers. Sounds like a good idea, though these professions are experiencing new hardships and uncertainty.
Some quotes from the book:
I may cite common white collar wisdom, "your most important client is your boss." If your boss is your most important client, what is your product--flattery?

  • Though most of us were taught that smarts, independent thinking, creativity and loyalty were valued in corporate America, we know now it's all a lie.
  • If you think out of the box, you're out in the cold.
  • If you tell a truth the company doesn't want to hear, you have a negative attitude.
  • If you miss the boss's Superbowl party for any reason at all, you're on the corporate fecal roster.
  • The real mantra of surviving in the workplace is "go along to get along."



Sunday, April 29, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love

Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love chronicles a year in her life when she spends four months in Italy learning the langauge and eating, in India meditating and seeking peace, and in Indonesia finding balance and ultimately love. Gilbert had just gone through a terrible divorce and that process left her defeated, depressed and disheartened. This journey helps her rebuild.

Given the destinations and the mission, I expected a lot from the book. I was disappointed. There are some great anecdotes and she meets some fascinating people like Richard from Texas who's at the ashram in India and Wayan, an Indonesian healer who's a single mom in a culture that has no place for such women. The observations others make here are often insightful, while Gilbert's own thoughts are often obvious Hinduism 101 stuff.

Her tone is just too cute for me. She's 35 during this year and she tries so hard to be likeable and cute. I can only take so much of that in real life or in literature. Thus it took me weeks to read a book I should have sped through. I did learn about Bali, which isn't the peaceful paradise the tourist board claims. Their history is quite violent and bloody. (I still would like to visit.)

A book to get at the library, not one you need to buy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thorton Wilder's Our Town

I love Our Town and have read it several times since high school. It's truly a classic in that it doesn't grow dated. I think Wilder accomplished this through the setting, the use of the Stage Manager, the scientific facts that make it seem like we're looking at the Webbs and the Gibbs objectively (yet he manages to make us care and feel for them).

The moderator of my online bookclub asked what we thought of Emily's question as to whether humans appreciate and see life when they're alive. I think Wilder does what us to think that NO, we don't realize life, every minute, etc. and I agree that only some poets and saints do. I remember Wallace Shawn's character in My Dinner with Andre saying something to the effect that if we noticed everything in our environments it would make our heads explode. Yes, creation is that wonderful. We do have to function and while I think I should notice and realize more to see things from Emily's post-life vantage point would be just too much. That's why the others warned her not to go.

I like how Wilder uses lists to describe Grovers Corners and life in general. I like how the dry humor contrasts with the innocence of this town and of so many American traditions, so that Wilder writes about them with a tone that shows some of the town's shortcomings without mocking this way of life.

I just went to amazon.com to buy the DVD with Spalding Gray, but it costs $54 (used $43). I'll borrow it from netflix.com.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Women Don't Ask (But Should)


I saw this book at the airport and it grabbed me immediately. It's a must read for every woman, and really every man too. Written by an economics professor Linda Babcock and and a writer Sara Laschever, Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide focuses on how reluctance and lack of knowledge in negotiation affect women.

When Linda Babcock asked why so many male graduate students get to teach the best classes, while the women were placed as teaching assistance, she was told that "the women don't ask." Further experiences and research showed that men usually ask for what they want, while women hope their hard work and noticeable talent will result in their receiving good offers and just rewards. Guess what? It usually just doesn't happen.

I knew that women made something like 76 cents for every dollar a man earns in the U.S. I knew that men are more assertive, yet reading this book is still quite eye-opening. Here's an example:
Suppose that at age 22 an equally qualified man and woman receive job offers for $25,000. The man negotiates and gets his offer to $30,000. The woman does not negotiate and accepts the job for $25,000. Even if each of them receives identical 3 percent raises every year (which is unlikely, given their different propensity to negotiate and other research showing that women's achievements tend to be undervalued), by the time they reach age 60 the gap between their salaries will have widened to more than $15,000 a year, with the man earning $92,243 and the woman making only $76,870. . . . remember that the man will have been making more all along, with his earnings over the 38 years totalling $361,171. If the man had simply banked the difference every year in a savings account earning 3% interest, by age 60 he would have $568,834 more than the woman.

Men usually negotiate every job offer and this results in their getting 33% more on average than women who're hired for the same job with similar qualifications. Usually, if a woman receives a job offer and the money seems fine, she just takes it. She doesn't know that she should ask for more, that in some cases her not asking makes people think "She must not be very good." Boys negotiate and take more too as you might expect.

Another disadvantage is that women are told overtly and subtly not to toot their own horn. Eventually, we learn to downplay our accomplishments and skills. Since society tends to believe that we can't contribute as much or do as well, this doubly hurts our earning potential.

This book is filled with good research and pertinent anecdotes. Linda, who'd considered herself progressive, recounts going to the grocery store with her 4 year old daughter, who saw a toy she wanted. Her daughter asked whether Linda had enough money to buy her the toy. Then the little girl asked, "Do girls have money, or is it just men who do?" Linda was horrified and felt like a failed feminist. From then on she made sure her daughter saw her using and dealing with money.

This book will open your eyes. I haven't finished it yet--there will be a review part two. It's something I'm raving about and urging everyone to read. Please comment away after you have!

Proust, My Dictionary and Me

More words from In Search of Lost Time
vade-mecum, p. 250: 'come with me'; n. guide-book; manual

florilegium, p. 292: n. (pl. -gia) collection of flowers; description of flora

beadle, p. 294: n. officer of parish, church, court, etc., for keeping order; mace-bearer. beadledom, n. petty officialdom

sursum corda, p. 295: n. 'lift up your hearts'; versicle in church service

to take French leave, p. 313: French Leave To take French leave. To take without asking leave or giving any equivalent. The allusion is to the French soldiers, who in their invasions take what they require, and never wait to ask permission of the owners or pay any price for what they take.

The French retort this courtesy by calling a creditor an Englishman (un Anglais), a term in vogue in the sixteenth century, and used by Clement Marot. Even to the present hour, when a man excuses himself from entering a café or theatre, because he is in debt, he says: "Non, non! je suis Anglé ' ("I am cleared out").

"Et aujourd'huy je faictz soliciter
Tous me angloys."
Guillaume Creton (1520).


French leave. Leaving a party, house, or neighbourhood without bidding goodbye to anyone; to slip away unnoticed.

ephebe, p. 334: A youth between 18 and 20 years of age in ancient Greece

Aspasia, p. 335: Greek courtesan and lover of Pericles who was noted for her wisdom, wit, and beauty

ukase, p. ?: Russian edict

proleptic, p. 387: The anachronistic representation of something as existing before its proper or historical time


Yes, there's more to follow.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Fugitive

I finished "The Fugitive" of Proust's In Search of Lost Time.

After the narrator describing in great detail his suspicions, jealousy, boredom, and “love,” for Albertine, after him telling her a couple times that he wanted her out of his house, at long last she surprises him by fleeing. She’d be crazy to stay it seems. Yes, she got a nice place to live, food, servants (who don’t like her there), and lovely dresses and clothes, but the price is just more than any sane person would pay. Yet, is she of sound mind? What is she really like? I don’t have a clear idea.

Picture Albertine in the narrator’s living room and you the reader are there too trying to learn about this person because the narrator wants you to, you think. All the while Proust’s narrator won’t let you see her. He prefers to stand in front of her and talk in great, rich, charming, literate detail about her. He’s a genius, a master with words, so you often forget that you want not only to visit with him, but also to see her for yourself so that you can figure out how much of what he says you should discard. He just won’t let you. You crane your neck to get a better look at her, and he maneuvers himself so that the view is still blocked, but he’s quite adroit so you don’t always realize how he’s working on you. After all chances are your previous reading hasn’t quite prepared you for Proust, his analysis, his insights, or this game. Just go along for the ride. Reader, resignation is your best bet.

“The Fugitive” also contains a lot about Baron Charlus and allegations of his sexual orientation. This is the narrator's other consuming area of thought. Any Freudia is going to note the projection. The narrator’s own love life is secondary to his obsession with what Albertine and Charlus are doing with Andreé or Morel or whomever.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Feminine Mistake



















Leslie Bennetts writes an opinion piece at HuffingtonPost.com regarding her recently published book, The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?

It would probably annoy Bennetts to no end that, like those she complains about, I haven't read her book either.

But that's not going to stop me . . .

By presenting her audience as either the women who have chosen to stay at home and the women who have chosen not to, Leslie Bennetts is missing a key audience, an audience for which her book might just be the most helpful, the women who haven't made the choice yet.

As Bennetts explains her book, it serves to reinforce the decision of the working mom and serves to criticize the decision of the stay at home. It's unlikely to affect the behavior in any appreciable way in either of these two groups. The stay at homers will tend towards defensiveness (as Bennetts complains they have) and the working moms will tend towards smugness.

Just as telling a friend who's in a bad relationship that she is in a bad relationship is rarely productive, likewise, I suspect, a friend who's made the "Feminine Mistake" is unlikely to be receptive to having this pointed out to her.

But, the women who haven't had to yet make the choice . . .

Bennetts states that

My goal in writing The Feminine Mistake was to provide women with what I saw as one-stop-shopping that would help close this information gap. My goal was to gather into a single neat package all the financial, legal, sociological, psychological, medical, labor-force, child-rearing and other information necessary for them to protect themselves. My reporting revealed that the bad news is just as ominous as I'd feared; so many women are unaware of practical realities that range from crucial changes in the divorce laws to the difficulties of reentering the work force and the penalties they pay for taking a time-out. I devoted two chapters to financial information alone.

If this is the case, then clearly her target audience, the audience who would be most benefited by the information presented, is made up of the women, young, unmarried and/or childless, who have not yet been faced with the choice of whether or not to "abandon their careers and become financially dependent on their husbands." This is the group who can then weigh their options and make their choice more fully informed.

But Bennetts doesn't seem to get it. She's surprised by the defensiveness of the stay at homers and wants to save them from themselves. This is highly unlikely. Like the millions who play the lottery, they will continue to hold out hope that each will be the one to beat the odds, the exception to the rule.

Instead of complaining about the lost causes, she should be focusing her energies on those she can sway.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Courtier and the Heretic by Matthew Stewart

This is a book in the vein of Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter and Longitude and The Measure of all Things by Ken Alder, but where those books deal with the discoveries of physical science, this book deals more with philosophy and religion's response to those discoveries.

The approach of the modern world was very threatening to religion and the concept of God. Things which had previously been accepted on faith or because the Bible or the Church told us it was so were increasingly coming into question.

It is in this environment which Leibniz, Voltaire's model for Dr. Pangloss in Candide and Spinoza, the moral atheist, formulated their differing, yet intertwined, philosophies.

Stewart's argument is that Leibniz and Spinoza were both ahead of their time in understanding the portent of modernity but that they reacted to it very differently. Spinoza welcomed and embraced the shifting definition of God while Leibniz did all that he could to forestall the impending storm.

As a philosophical dilettante, I found this book hard and yet fascinating. Many a paragraph I had to read and reread, only to still not quite grasp its point. For all that, Stewart presents the conflict between the two men in an engrossing way which kept me reading through the depth.

I came away finding references to these two philosophers recurring around me and am inspired to read more. I've already started to reread Candide which is, in part, Voltaire's critique of Leibniz' theories. I'm also intrigued by Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion which draws on Spinoza and which was featured with an interview of Dawkins on Fresh Air the same night I finished this tome.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Biting the hand that feeds you

Like millions of other people, I read and enjoyed Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code.

Like a significant percentage of those millions, I then bought and read Holy Blood Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln almost entirely due to the fact that Brown acknowledged it as one of his resources. (Hey, I like to read fiction.)

Holy Blood Holy Grail experienced quite a healthy sales increase in the wake of The DaVinci Code.

So, I was puzzled when I first heard that two of the authors (that's right, just two, not all three) of Holy Blood Holy Grail were suing Dan Brown's publisher (not Dan Brown) for plagiarism.

If you're plagiarizing something, do you reference it repeatedly?

Apparently Britian's Court of Appeals, which today affirmed the lower court's decision rejected the plagiarism claim, wondered about this also.

According to Danica Kirka of the AP,

Lord Justice Bernard Rix said Brown hadn't disguised his use of the work of Baigent and Leigh.

The character of Leigh Teabing is an anagram of Leigh and Baigent, Rix noted, and at one point Teabing refers to "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" as "perhaps the best-known tome" on the subject.

"That is not the mark of an author who thought that he was making illegitimate use of the fruits of someone else's literary labors, but of one who intended to acknowledge a debt of ideas, which he has gone on to express in his own way and for his own purposes," Rix wrote in his opinion.


However, in terms of motives for the lawsuit, it was found that the publicity of the trial had significantly boosted sales of Holy Blood Holy Grail.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This book is one of my top five favorite books.

Of course, my list of top five favorite books probably contains more than five books at any given time.

We had book club again last night and this was our chosen book. So, even though my list of books to be read is longer than even I know, I had cause to read this one again. Yay!

I'm almost always intrigued by narratives woven around the idea of time travel. The philosophical questions time travel engenders and each creator's way of answering those questions fascinates.

The work in crafting Henry and Clare's love story is wonderful. Niffenegger weaves joy, longing, redemption, pain, grief, and humor into a confusing, riveting, ingenious tale.

To a woman, our book club liked the book. Some did find the book a bit hard at the start, a complaint my mom echoed when I gave her the book as a gift.

Among other topics, the book led us into a spirited discussion of morality and the defensibility of shifting the lines of morality in the pursuit of self-preservation.

. . . there is only free will when you are in time, in the present.

Henry DeTamble