I bought The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac in City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 2008, along with a postcard of Jack and Neil Cassidy that I planned to use as a bookmark when I started the book on the flight home.
It is almost four years later. That book came with me from San Francisco to Buffalo to two homes in California, an apartment in Dublin and four apartments in Idaho, and I hadn’t opened it until last week.
Books like this haunt me–books that I meant to read, I still intend to read, but which never seem make it from the To-Read shelf to the main bookshelf area where all the cool books hang out. Few of them last on that shelf as long as The Dharma Bums did, but they are there nonetheless. They sit there, haunting me, contributing to my bad book karma.
There are only two ways to get rid of bad book karma from an unread book: get rid of the book or read it. And when I was faced with that choice last week while packing up my shelves to head to my fifth Idaho apartment, I chose the latter when it came to Kerouac.
I’ve tried Kerouac before, I promise. I read On the Road like every teenager did, and found certain sentences so profoundly beautiful that they stuck in my mind for years. Unfortunately, those sentences are so buried in lines like “The hog dogs were too thin because they ran out of Mexicans so I went round to the old rose bush out back and slept until the truth of the emptiness and awakeness of the world came to me in a flash of holy white pure snow behind my eyes.”
The dude’s whacked, for lack of a better turn of phrase.
But I pressed on with the Dharma. I kind of hate it, but I know there are people out there that love the beat poets, even though they are not my thing. At least, when I go to pack up my to-read pile next week, there will be one fewer book in it this time.
Do you suffer from book hauntings? What books? Maybe we should do a book-haunting swap! :D
I know Corey has already written on this book, but I had to tell you about my experience with it. It changed my life, changed my reading and made me rethink my career.
This book is as rich and complex as the circus it depicts. I want to teach this book, if only so I can spend more time analyzing the symbolism, the rich themes that underpin the plot and characters and make the entire novel run as magically as one of Herr Theissen’s clocks. I don’t know if Erin Morgenstern knows she has created a masterpiece, but I hope she does – the entire work is genius.
An examination of the function of Tarot in the novel is where I would start. Isobel, the card-reader, is a minor character, but an important one – the cards she turns over, when read with a tarot reader’s eye, constantly tell the reader what will happen, even if the hints, like the tarot itself, can be vague and interpreted to mean multiple events and people.
But like most books that stand the test of time, this novel also follows the general model of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey—except Morgenstern does him one better and allows at least three of her characters to follow that journey. Bailey, Le Chevalier des Epees, or Knight of Swords, enacts the Hero’s Journey on the most basic level, while the events surrounding Celia and Marco is far more lush, complex and multi-faceted. (more…)
Like hundreds or maybe thousands of people across the nation, I got a Kindle for Christmas.
I know what you’re thinking — I have been anti-Kindle in the past, much preferring paper books that one can get for about a dollar at any thrift store. I collect used books, I love old books, and I take an intense amount of pleasure in hunting used book stores for the perfect edition of my favorites. In short, the printed (not displayed) word is my one true love.
But my other love–my well-meaning boyfriend–had somewhere along the line heard that I had been considering getting a Kindle or other e-reader, and decided that a Kindle would be the perfect Christmas gift.
“You love to read!” he said as I opened the gift. “This is perfect! You can carry all your books everywhere! How awesome is this?”
His enthusiasm caught on, and I warily but gamely spent most of the weekend and the weeknights afterward playing with my Kindle.
The reader itself has its advantages, but it also also has its frustrations. In the interest of informing those of you (ahem, Corey) who may be considering a Kindle or other e-reader, here’s the pro-con list I have compiled so far:
Storage and Portability
The Kindle is TINY. Rather than having to lug around my giant copies of Anna Karenina or all four volumes of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, I have them on my Kindle and can take all of them everywhere — a plane, a bus, the coffee shop, anything. Sure, this doesn’t help for newer books that I only have in hard copy, but it’s great to know I can pick up Anna right where I left off, any time I want. (more…)
I have been reading a lot of chick lit recently. After struggling through A. S. Byatt, and undergoing a significant amount of family drama, I couldn’t bring myself to start anything more strenuous than Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger and Something Blue by Emily Giffin.
Now that I live with my boyfriend, reading chick lit is somewhat of a struggle. I couldn’t do it at all for the first few weeks, only venturing to break out the books with pastel covers and cleverly-named heroines when he wasn’t around. Now, I’m a little more comfortable, only because he seems to find it hilarious that with all of my English education, sometimes all I want is to read a trashy book.
“Is it, like, a rebellion?” he asked this weekend. “Is it like, ‘Oh, I could read Dickens, but I’m going to be bad and read trash instead?’”
I had to think about this for a while, but I eventually concluded that no, it wasn’t that. Though chick lit might not exactly top required reading lists worldwide, it does have its merits—one of them being accessibility, and another being a reassuring conformity to genre. No matter what happens during the course of any given chick lit novel, the reader can relax into the plot, knowing that it will end happily.
In Something Blue, the heroine has cheated on her fiancé only to have the fiancé run off with her best friend. Not only that, but she finds herself pregnant with the guy she cheated on, who quickly flees the picture. It is impossible to imagine that this woman, who up until now has shown herself to be shallow, delusional and self-centered, could ever come out of this situation intact.
In Everyone Worth Knowing, the main character quits her banking job and is thrust into the high-end P.R. world, surrounded by anorexia, cocaine and celebrity gossip. She finds herself a target of a vicious gossip columnist and trying to figure out a way to save her best friend from marrying a party boy.
Of course, everything works out fine in the end. They both find love, they both solve many of their problems, and they both live happily ever after. As well they should; this is chick lit, after all, and that sort of thing is expected. But Weisberger and Giffin are such good writers that you don’t mind the ride to entirely predictable endings.
In the interest of full disclosure, I make roughly 50 percent of my area’s median income, which qualifies me for subsidized housing. Rent for a studio in my town is roughly $500 to $600 a month, and at my salary, I cannot afford anything more.
Heating bills are high, gas prices are skyrocketing and to be honest, some months it’s tough to pay all of my bills (student loans and car payments making the biggest dents in my income).
The above paragraph, however, is only to let you know that while my life might be hard, it is nothing compared to what Barbara Ehrenreich endures during her work on Nickel and Dimed. Her goal is to find the lowest-paid job and the cheapest apartment she can in any given town and see if she can make ends meet.
The results are startling. Simply, she can’t. She ends up paying $50 a day for the privilege of working at Wal-Mart somewhere near the end of her experiment, when the cost of gas, rent and food are taken into account. The closest she ever comes is while working two jobs, one as a maid and one as a nursing home assistant, working 7 days a week at minimum wage.
Granted, some of her figures are outdated. The book was published in 2001, and therefore some of the numbers are slightly off. For example, I believe the $7 Ehrenreich made working at Wal-Mart might now be illegal in many states – minimum wage in California was $8.50 last time I checked.
Her point remains crystal clear, however: the poor, even the working poor, are always with us, and nothing will change until wages are hiked. Telling residents on welfare to simply “get a job” is not enough – the jobs have to be able to support a single person, at least.
This is the most compelling piece of non-fiction I have read in ages – definitely worth the entire dollar I spent on it at a thrift store. I might recommend borrowing it first, but definitely give it a read.
After struggling through The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt, I needed a refreshing read. The Corrections, Lonesome Dove and We Need to Talk about Kevin were all in my to-read pile, but I simply could not face tackling one of these quite yet. It would have been like running a marathon only to enter another marathon the next day.
But I couldn’t face a fluff book, either. I’ve read all of the Jane Green novels my library has to offer, ditto Sophie Kinsella, and rather than turn to Marian Keyes, I decided to find some book that would be timeless, captiviating and an overall excellent reading experience.
Enter Jewel by Bret Lott. The novel opens with a woman telling her husband that she is pregnant with their sixth (and last) child. Set in 1943, the novel is epic in its scope, spanning two states and four decades as it depicts a unique relationship between a mother and the daughter who is both a burden and a blessing to her.
Part of what makes Jewel so appealing is how familiar it feels. It seems like a cross between The Grapes of Wrath and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, maybe with a splash of Faulkner-esque Southern Gothic and maybe a little Toni Morrison for good measure.
Over and over, Jewel tries to find the American Dream for her child—and herself—by heading as far West as fast as she can. When she loses it, you cannot help but cheer her on as she clings to her dreams despite a husband with emotional problems and a crumbling family dynamic.
The novel is written in a beautifully sincere style, and Lott has captured Jewel’s voice so perfectly that I could not believe it when I discovered that 1) Bret is definitely a man and 2) was not raised in Mississippi, where the characters hail from.
If you are looking for a book that feels timeless but is not too taxing, please check out Jewel—and don’t be deterred by the Oprah’s Book Club stamp on the front cover. Even though I got it at a rummage sale and paid, oh, a quarter, this is a book worth buying — at full retail price, nonetheless.
Okay, Challengers, here is the belated The Handmaid’s Tale discussion!
While most of Atwood’s novels deal with women and female identity, this is one of the first that deals with maintaining female roles and identity while struggling to stay alive in an openly hostile environment. A woman can literally be killed for being infertile, for having consensual sex…and her existence relies on being raped on a regular basis. Let’s discuss:
Obviously, the focus of the book is on the Handmaids, especially Offred. In what ways does Offred attempt to maintain her identity –and femininity — in the face of a patriarchal society? How successful is she?
Offred does a couple of things, namely remembering her past life, using her body to control men and having sex with Nick. Sadly, she is not quite as successful as she could be. First, remembering her past life does not do her any good, only makes her miss her daughter and her husband much more. She does repeat her old name to herself, she says, in a desperate attempt to define herself in terms outside her role as a Handmaid — perhaps that gives her some sense that she can be the person she was again at some point in the future.
The second two ways are perhaps less successful than the first. (more…)
Hello, Challengers! Again, I apologize for the lateness of this post — Corey and I are in utter shambles, I believe. I apologize if these questions seem elementary, as I’m majorly rusty on my literary criticism.
Anyway, as promised, here are the questions for The Handmaid’s Tale:
* Obviously, the focus of the book is on the Handmaids, especially Offred. In what ways does Offred attempt to maintain her identity –and femininity — in the face of a patriarchal society? How successful is she?
* The Handmaids are not the only victims here, however. To what extent do the wives have to contend with constraints on their own identities? How does that affect the relationship between the Wives and the Handmaids?
* How does Offred’s role affect her relationship with her body? Do you believe this relationship was anticipated and deliberately crafted by those in charge?
* The Commander, Nick and Luke all respond to Offred in different ways. What factors impact those relationships, and what does it say about the men’s views of female roles?
Welcome, Challengers! Sorry about the lateness of this post — let’s get right down to it!
How do Tony, Roz and Charis represent different aspects of femininity?
I know this sounds New-Ageish, but Tony, Roz and Charis very clearly represent the different faces of the threefold goddess. Tony, with her child-like body and her child-sized clothing, as well as her jealousy of Zenia’s sexuality, makes her the pure Maiden. She is also very interested in war and knowledge, making her a bit like Athena, one of the virginal Greek Goddesses (though not the goddess of virgins).
Roz is shapely, round, having given birth to three children and caring like the Mother goddess for everyone around her. Charis, with her knowledge of all things spiritual and her possession of her grandmother’s healing power, is the crone — in fact, near the end, the other women even refer to her as such. She’s been the maiden, but that was ripped away from her, and she has also been the mother by giving birth to August, but all of the women have some aspect of the other Goddess faces.
“I don’t want to die, Mommy, but I feel so guilty…I ate a whole Popsicle and I wasn’t even hungry. I ate a piece of fish. I’m a pig, Mommy.”
“‘I’m supposed to be smarter than this,’ she says. ‘I’m supposed to be able to figure things out without screwing up.’
“‘So you think you’re supposed to be better than everyone else in the world?’ I ask, smiling so she knows I’m making a joke. Clearly I am no comedian, because she hears my words as criticism and stalks off.
“The answer is yes, she really does believe she’s supposed to be perfect in a superhuman way.”
“‘If I choose to eat something I don’t have to, then I’m bad,’ she explains. If I choose to eat something I don’t have to. Anorexia is a prison sentence for a crime you didn’t commit, a crime that fills you nevertheless with guilt and dread.”
This book should be mandatory reading for everyone who 1) has an eating disorder, 2) knows someone with an eating disorder or 3) thinks they know something about eating disorders.
Brave Girl Eating is a partial memoir written by a journalist who watched her daughter struggle against anorexia (and a very severe case of it) for over five years. Over the course of six months, she watched her daughter turn from a bright, cheerful 14-year-old girl into an emaciated wreck possessed by guilt, fear and desperation.
Brown writes for a living, and it shows. Her story opens with a parable of sorts; a vivid vignette in which she asks the reader to imagine him or herself in a bakery, starting at french pastries, chocolates and even simple things like sourdough bread through glass cases. (more…)