Currently Reading: Chapter II

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schiksalgemeinschaft
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Just posted a fairly lengthy write up of a superb historical fiction novel on Weighing A Pig...


WOLF HALL --- Hilary Mantel (2009)

Wolf Hall pops up in several lists of best historical fiction ever, but I got turned to it by Kim Stanley Robinson, who mentioned it in an interview as superb – together with Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series. It is the first book in a planned trilogy spanning the life of Thomas Cromwell, advisor to Henry VIII, and famous for having had a hand in the creation of the Anglican church, as well as in the downfall of both Thomas More and Anne Boleyn.

Wolf Hall sketches the events of Tudor England up until 1535. Sequel Bringing Up The Bodies was published in 2012 and won a Man Booker Prize too. The Mirror And The Light will cover the last 4 years of Cromwell’s life and has yet to be published.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s 650 pages. It should appeal to lots of fantasy fans too, as the character of Thomas Cromwell makes for quite a hero. He is the first low born man to rise to such high stature in the English realm, an exceptional figure. What makes him remarkable is his intelligence: he is one of the first English people to notice the importance of the emerging financial, monetary world; speaks numerous languages; has a keen sense of the ways of humans that help him in his powerbrokering. Plus, he is a bit of a vagabond: fleeing an abusive father, he was a mercenary for the French, travelled through the Low Countries, and ended up serving a Florentine banker. Stranger than fiction indeed, a character that could have been plucked out of whatever court fantasy. It is the other way around of course, as most subpar fantasy is just medieval history with dragons.

Obviously historians are still debating this and that, and writing about history willy-nilly leads to making choices. Hillary Mantel paints a Thomas Cromwell in a more or less sympathetic light – contrary to commonly held beliefs. He mourns his wife and daughters that die too early, he is a loyal servant to his first English patron, cardinal Wolsey, he struggles with memories of his father, feels for Thomas More’s family, etc. Reviewers writing that they didn’t get to see Cromwell’s emotions haven’t read carefully enough. The emotions are there, and they are one of the many strengths of the book.

Hilary Mantel knows she writes fiction, makes choices. She admits so on the final but one page, in a passage that is obviously meta, yet fits the story and the thoughts of her Cromwell well – all of the last 50 or so pages are truly exquisite, moving, final.

He knows different now. It’s the living that turn and chase the dead. The long bones and skulls are tumbled from their shrouds, and words like stones thrust into their rattling mouths: we edit their writings, we rewrite their lives.

Still, even after 650 pages, Cromwell stays an elusive character. He is a mystery to himself, and multiple persona in one body – as we all are, I guess. It is to Mantel’s credit she has managed to paint somebody complex, without resorting to vagueness, without the painted figure out of focus, and at the same time without being too obvious about Cromwell’s complexity. The two following passages are among the very few that explicitly, overtly talk about his inner life.

He Thomas, also Tomos, Tommaso and Thomas Cromwell, withdraws his past selves into his present body and edges back to where he was before. His single shadow slides against the wall, a visitor not sure of his welcome. Which of these Thomases saw the blow coming?

&

I shall not indulge More, he thinks, or his family, in any illusion that they understand me. How could that be, when my workings are hidden from myself?

So yes, Wolf Hall is an ‘English’ book, subtle – as the cliché goes. Plus, occasionally brutal and upfront – the times were harsh, and Mantel doesn’t romanticize. Subtle, brutal, and funny too! Although it’s not a court drama, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell would be a good fantasy counterpart.

There’s so much to say about this book. In the remainder, I’ll focus on the conflict between two world views underlying the novel, and some remarks on Mantel’s style.

(...)


Please read the full review here

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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ARMAGEDDON IN RETROSPECT --- Kurt Vonnegut (2008)


Armageddon in Retrospect and Other New and Unpublished Writings on War and Peace was published exactly one year after Kurt Junior Vonnegut’s death on April 11, 2007. It’s a diverse collection: a moving 10 page introduction by his son Mark, a horrifically blunt 3 page letter from Kurt to his family, dated May 29, 1945 – written in Germany right after the war, a speech he was supposed to deliver on April 27, 2007 in Indianapolis, and – the bulk of the book – 11 short stories, undated, ranging from 4 pages to 26 pages each. Armageddon In Retrospect is also illustrated by Vonnegut’s characteristic drawings, often including text.

(...)

The real value of this book aren’t really the stories. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, and some are even excellent – Spoils is haunting in its short, brutal simplicity. But the real value is (...)


The full review is here.
Last edited by schiksalgemeinschaft on Sat Nov 19, 2016 8:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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An enjoyable science for idiots book. Just my level.
"Freedom of thought and speech without available means of gaining information and methods of sound analysis, are empty. Protection and security are meaningless until there is something positive worth protecting." E.W. Hall

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Really interesting so far, not very far into the book, but it has mentioned the desiring machine and work/life balance the id and Freud...

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Just finished White Noise. Recommended!


WHITE NOISE - Don DeLillo (1985)

White Noise is a famous novel. It’s one of the prime examples of postmodern literature, and it’s the book that made Don DeLillo big. It won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1985 – Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home was nominated as well. It’s been analyzed to death: there are editions with the novel’s text & criticism side to side.

So yes, indeed, all of the stuff you have read about White Noise is true. There’s irony. Critique on television. Critique of consumer society. A lot of enumerations of consumer products. Enumerations of other stuff. Tiny snippets of commercials, documentaries, radio news, manuals. A protagonist that has been married 5 times to 4 women and who’s a professor in Hitler studies. Musings about death. Stuff about popular culture. General stuff. Specific stuff. Bleak stuff. American stuff. Meta stuff. 310 pages and about 10 meta lines for the literature post grad to feast upon. The novel is self-aware indeed.

I thought that when tradition becomes too flexible, irony enters the voice. Nasality, sarcasm, self-caricature and so on.

A description like that might be off putting to some. But it also misses the point, as postmodern meta-ness is not even the novel’s strength: it’s all fairly transparent anyway. What’s missing in most of the scholarly analysis I’ve read, is the humanity that underlies it all. White Noise, for me, was first and foremost a book with remarkable and deep emotional understanding of family life and fatherhood.

(...)


The full review is here.

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, 2013

An excellent and provocative read on a rich and controversial theme. Fowler's style in this book is an engaging mix of playfulness and erudition.

I was serendipitously prepared for the book's main theme by having read a piece in Harpers a couple of years ago on chimpanzee/ human experiments in socialization and language acquisition. Because 98.7% of genetic material in chimps and humans are identical, a number of experiments along these lines have been tried. Here's the Harpers' piece, not sure you can access it as non-subscribers:http://harpers.org/archive/2012/08/the- ... e-animals/. (8/12)

The novel deals with one of a number experiments conducted in the midwest in the 1930s, in which academic couples opened their homes to chimpanzees, specifically the one case in which an infant female chimp was raised as a quasi-fraternal twin with a human infant born within weeks of the chimp. The book is set in our times, so animal rights advocacies are in play, and intermix with personal and career issues.

None of these experiments worked out well for anyone, often ending when the chimp crossed the line into what humans categorize as criminal assault, sometimes when the experimenter lost confidence in the chimp's abilities to advance. The chimps then usually wound up in cages, which was a depressing let-down from partying in the living room with the people.

The novel's primary focus is the 'twin' sister, as well her older brother, who have been assured since the chimp was an infant that this 'girl' (not pet) was one of the family. What happens when that 'girl' is suddenly gone? What happens when the father's story that she was sent to live on a farm with other young chimpanzees is revealed to be a lie, and the 'siblings' learn she was living in cage in an experimental lab in South Dakota?

It makes for a wild and intriguing ride, and Fowler handles it imaginatively, both stylistically and in her (fragmented and rearranged) plot vector. The quirky brother and sister are in the foreground, wrestling with making sense of their bizarre childhood as well as life as they find it. The complex themes of our relationships with animals and our use of them in experimentation is explored in an intelligent and thought-provoking manner, embedded in a lively contemporary family drama. Recommended!

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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does anyone have a copy of Gravity's Rainbow that they'd be willing to sell on the DL?

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Bailed on my book club's upcoming selection -- The Tennis Partner, by Abraham Verghese. I previously bailed on his Cutting For Stone. One of those writers who can make interesting material tedious. I have no idea what others are seeing in his work.

So I'll return to A Blue Fire, by James Hillman, a very thought-provoking Jungian:

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And of course Henry VI, Part 1, by Shakespeare and Marlowe, featuring a somewhat slutty Joan of Arc.

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Reviewed a great book on later Rembrandt. Some pictures too!


REMBRANDT: THE LATE WORKS - J. Bikker & G.J.M. Weber (2014)

(...)

Enter me, 35, seeing Rembrandt Van Rijn’s final self-portrait in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, July 2014. That museum has Vermeer’s The Girl With The Pearl Earing too, but the 1669 self-portrait is the true gem of the collection. I was struck by lightning. I had seen paintings by Rembrandt before, but never one of his late works. The way he painted his hair, topped with a kind of turban or ribbon, is simply stunning. In a way, what I saw was the birth of impressionist and even expressionist painting, already in the 17th century. It took me half an hour before I could continue to the next painting, and before leaving the museum, I returned to it again. A profound delight.

(...)


The full review is here.

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walto
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Very much enjoying Thackeray's History of Pendennis. Such a wise guy--about 30% (which means about 300 pages) snark.
"Freedom of thought and speech without available means of gaining information and methods of sound analysis, are empty. Protection and security are meaningless until there is something positive worth protecting." E.W. Hall

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Weighing down my nightstand for some months:

Isaac Babel -- Red Cavalry and Other Stories
J.A. Baker -- The Peregrine
Lucia Berlin -- A Manual For Cleaning Women
Alfred Crosby -- The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (I've read this ten times, sharp wit, vibrant writing)
Fielding Dawson -- The Greatest Story Ever Told: A Transformation
Carl Sauer -- Seeds, Spades, Hearths & Herds: The Domestication of Animals and Foodstuffs
Carl Sauer -- The Early Spanish Main: The Land, Nature, and People Columbus Encountered in in the Americas
Adalbert Stifter -- Rock Crystal
Adalbert Stifter -- The Recluse
W.E. Woodward -- Years of Madness (insane, subversive look at the Civil War, 1951, on Olson's reading list at Black Mountain)

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walto
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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schiksalgemeinschaft wrote:Just finished White Noise. Recommended!


WHITE NOISE - Don DeLillo (1985)

White Noise is a famous novel. It’s one of the prime examples of postmodern literature, and it’s the book that made Don DeLillo big. It won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1985 – Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home was nominated as well. It’s been analyzed to death: there are editions with the novel’s text & criticism side to side.

So yes, indeed, all of the stuff you have read about White Noise is true. There’s irony. Critique on television. Critique of consumer society. A lot of enumerations of consumer products. Enumerations of other stuff. Tiny snippets of commercials, documentaries, radio news, manuals. A protagonist that has been married 5 times to 4 women and who’s a professor in Hitler studies. Musings about death. Stuff about popular culture. General stuff. Specific stuff. Bleak stuff. American stuff. Meta stuff. 310 pages and about 10 meta lines for the literature post grad to feast upon. The novel is self-aware indeed.

I thought that when tradition becomes too flexible, irony enters the voice. Nasality, sarcasm, self-caricature and so on.

The full review is here[/url].
I remember liking White Noise quite bit. Very disturbing. I do think we all have to set up layers upon layers of noise to shiled ourselves from deafening screech that is our mortality.

I do anyhow. Can't think about that.
"Freedom of thought and speech without available means of gaining information and methods of sound analysis, are empty. Protection and security are meaningless until there is something positive worth protecting." E.W. Hall

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES -- John Kennedy Toole

Current book club choice, hadn't read it before, enjoying it a lot so far, irresistibly disgusting, jarringly dissonant yet fascinating Platonic digressions, deliciously nauseating, great ear for delta dialects.

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Japanese short stories; mainly bought this because Kafū Nagai was recommended to me, and he is among the authors for the story The Fox. "Flash Storm" was a great, tense and picturesque tale about a young man urging for his friend's wife during a case of bad weather. The garden a melancholic, but strangely distant story of nature vs. urban progress. I like these for now.

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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A MAN CALLED OVE -- Frederik Backman

Swedish novel about a 59 y.o. curmudgeon. My wife loved it, and now another member of our book group has made it our July selection. Just started it, but his style is fun whether or not the book is going to go anywhere meaningful.

>>Another silence, as if two gunmen have suddenly realized they have forgotten to bring their pistols.<<

>>Ove has paid his mortgage. Done his duty. Gone to work. Never taken a day of sick leave. Shouldered his share of the burden. Taken a bit of responsibility. No one does that anymore, no one takes responsibility. . . No one wants to work. A country full of people who just want to have lunch all day.<<

>>The husband just nods back at her with an indescribably harmonious smile. The very sort of smile that makes decent folk want to slap Buddhist monks in the face, Ove thinks to himself.<<

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

Post by schiksalgemeinschaft »

Posted a review of the sequel to Wolf Hall: Bring Up The Bodies. Great stuff too!


BRING UP THE BODIES - Hilary Mantel (2012)


Writing a review for a sequel is a bit harder: you can’t spoil too much for readers that haven’t read the previous book, and there’s the danger of just repeating oneself if the books are similar.

None of that in this review of Bring Up The Bodies – the much-lauded sequel to the equally lauded Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s historical novel about the rise of Thomas Cromwell, the troubles surrounding Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and the downfall of Thomas More.

Spoiling stuff is not a problem, as most people are familiar with the most famous story of 16th century Tudor reign. Book 1 ended with the execution of Thomas More, and this book will end with the execution of Anne Boleyn: it’s even out in the open on the back cover.

And I won’t be repeating myself when I discuss the core ideas of this book, as it’s way different in scope and focus.

(...)

While Wolf Hall could be read as part Bildungsroman, part philosophical novel about the clash between the old and modernity, Bring Up The Bodies is very much a courtroom drama about alleged sex crimes, or better, a brutal investigation of a post-truth society obsessed with sex & power & canon law.

(...)

The show trials, their judicial aspects and the sophistry involved achieve a strange doubling effect. Both the accusers and the accused talk and act like actors on a stage, saying things they know not to be true, yet both we as contemporary witnesses and the public in the novel too aren’t always fully in the know. This results in something like a play within a play, fiction within fiction. But as these events did happen in reality, and the subject matter of Bring Up The Bodies is non-fictional, we experience some strange double hybrid between truth and lies while reading these passages: the lies told are truths at the same time: historic, historical, and judicial truths.

(...)

Full review here: https://schicksalgemeinschaft.wordpress ... ntel-2012/

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Finished A MAN CALLED OVE mentioned above, a unique blend of crankiness and sweetness, beautifully done and an original read. Recommended!

>>Not because Ove did not believe in God, he explained to the vicar, but because in his view this God seemed to be a bloody swine.<<

>> . . . in a tone of voice pitched somewhere between intransigent anger and the fetal position.<<

Now, off to 3HVI.

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walto
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Sam Shepard, RIP.

Here's Patti on her buddy:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultur ... hepard/amp
"Freedom of thought and speech without available means of gaining information and methods of sound analysis, are empty. Protection and security are meaningless until there is something positive worth protecting." E.W. Hall

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walto
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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{Just moved this from the Shakespeare thread where I'd mistakenly originally posted it}

I'm finding Trollope's non-fictional North America fascinating. He visited both the North and the South during the Civil war and talks about various state constitutions, commerce, Harvard University, the Wilkes Incident, Lincoln, Seward, Emerson, Philips, abolitionism, the inevitability of the war, public lectures, American literature, and U.S. attitudes to everything from dating to public education, all from the unique perspective of a towering genius who was also a creature of his Victorian culture. I think it should be required reading for American History students. History buffs too.

Also finding an almost completely forgotten ethics text of 1928 by (also almost completely forgotten) American philosopher Frank Chapman Sharp very illuminating. I'd never heard of him (there's not even a Wikipedia entry on him--might have to remedy that some day) but he was the author of a bunch of very engaging works on ethics, including business ethics, moral education, and ethical war practices. Taught at the University of Wisconsin, I believe, and was one of the first philosophers to heavily use surveys of students (including agriculture students with very little formal education) to empirically study our intuitions about various ethical situations. He was also the first to pose the now very famous "trolley problem" which I had always believed had first been put by Philippa Foot.
"Freedom of thought and speech without available means of gaining information and methods of sound analysis, are empty. Protection and security are meaningless until there is something positive worth protecting." E.W. Hall

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walto
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Postscript: I did just slop together a wiki entry on Sharp. If anybody notices any typos (and as y'all know me, you know there will be typos), please correct them!
"Freedom of thought and speech without available means of gaining information and methods of sound analysis, are empty. Protection and security are meaningless until there is something positive worth protecting." E.W. Hall