The Mill On The Floss

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , on August 30, 2011 by acousticchick


First of all, George Eliot was a chick. Neat, huh? You learned something new today (maybe)!

‘The Mill on the Floss’ is really, really depressing. The whole story revolves around Maggie’s devotion to her brother and her struggle for his approval. Unfortunately, her brother is a cruel jerk. While they’re kids, he’s always telling her he doesn’t love her if she makes any sort of mistake. When they grow up, Maggie falls for the son of her father’s rival, and her brother makes sure to forbid her from seeing the guy. Since this is mid-1800’s England and misogyny is the name of the game, Maggie goes along with her brother’s mandates and lets him make her life miserable, until both of them die in a flood which was probably a regrettable bit of symbolism for all the tears she had to cry.

Allow me to clarify one point here: I didn’t hate this book, and I don’t hate Maggie’s character. If nothing else, she provides an interesting conundrum. Everyone’s motivated by something, and it usually has to do with gaining or keeping someone’s approval (even if it’s his or her own), so I can’t really criticize Maggie for that motive. There’s also something to be said for making a choice and going with it. I can’t say I think her choice to hand over the reins of her life was a great one, but it was hers, and the fact that she didn’t waver is mildly inspiring to someone as easily distracted as I am. She seems to forfeit happiness (in the form of romance), but if she thinks her self-denial makes her brother happy, and her brother’s happiness makes her happy, then she is happy. Uh, right?

Chaim Potok Double Feature

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , on August 30, 2011 by acousticchick


‘The Promise’ and ‘My Name is Asher Lev’ tell the stories of young Jewish men. Chaim Potok fleshes out the straightforward plots of each by delving into the complex inner lives of his characters. He writes simply and directly.

Reuven, the main character in ‘The Promise,’ is studying to become a rabbi. Instead of relying on blind faith and traditional Talmud interpretations, he uses reason. One of his own instructors accuses him of heresy, but his methods of study are meant to reinforce his faith (and that of others), not dismantle it.

Asher’s desire to be an artist is in direct opposition to his father’s wishes. At the end of ‘My Name is Asher Lev,’ everyone he knows believes he has turned his back on his faith, but it’s still very much a part of him, both troubling and inspiring him. In spite of the conflict it brings, Asher keeps painting.

The beauty of these stories lies in their realism. Potok doesn’t present a black-and-white approach to faith, with fundamentalism and atheism in competition. He illustrates that faith is multifaceted, personal, and that it doesn’t have to look or behave in a certain way. Without vilifying religion or its adherents, his stories encourage independent thought.

The Blood Of Others

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , on August 9, 2011 by acousticchick

I read most of ‘The Blood of Others’ while intoxicated. I didn’t plan it that way; it just ended up happening. I’d just moved out of my friends’ dining room and into a real live apartment, and I had lots of space and silence to fill. I did that the best way I know how to: with lots of books and a bit of alcohol.

I’m pretty good at reading while drunk, so I can’t blame the vodka for the fact that I remember very little of the book’s midsection. Instead, I blame its angsty protagonista, Helene. She’s supposed to come off as spirited, but she only manages to be bitchy, demanding, and childish. There are already a wealth of uninteresting female leads out there, so having determined that Helene was one of them, I gave up and started skimming pages.

If you want the few plot points I managed to glean, though, here you go: Helene tries to manipulate some guy into being her One And Only. He tells her to leave him alone. In a storm of pouting, she goes out, gets really drunk, and ends up pregnant. (Not only is Helene boring, but she’s a terrible problem-solver.) The pregnancy gets complicated, Helene gets sick, and Mr. One And Only finds out and is overcome with guilt and decides he does love her after all. So they end up happily ever after, or as close as they can get with such a botched basis for a relationship.

Actually, Helene might die. I don’t remember. I don’t particularly care, either. I think at one point I found myself hoping she would.

Oh, and World War II is going on in the background. It’s almost not worth mentioning, but there are a few German invasions and some stuff about underground political parties. That part of the book could have been good, actually, but the author seemed to feel it was less interesting than the magnificent romance she was crafting. Or she was just using a wartime setting to add some depth to her novel, which is a pretty lame trick.

As a writer, though, Simone de Beauvoir isn’t hopeless or anything (if you can ignore the contrived romantic dialogues). She does kind of a cool thing with pronouns, switching perspective within paragraphs to give deeper insight into a character’s thoughts or motives. For example, she might start out by saying, “Sam walked into the room,” and then a few sentences later Sam becomes “I” and you start seeing the room through Sam’s eyes, which are now “my eyes.” It’s a bit complicated to describe and a bit more complicated to decipher at first, but it’s the one thing I liked about the novel.

I give it one Charles out of five.

Lyrical and Critical Essays by Albert Camus

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , on April 27, 2011 by acousticchick
I probably would have enjoyed reading a collection of essays more if I hadn’t been reading Harold Bloom’s new book at the same time. The two books were vastly different, but the lack of straight-up storytelling left me a little bogged down. Still, Albert Camus remains one of my favorite authors and if I have any criticism for his essays, it wasn’t that they were dry.

 The lyrical essays were split into three sections. The first section, “The Wrong Side and the Right Side,” were all philosophical musings with titles like “Irony” and “Death in the Soul” and “Love of Life,” and this was my favorite part of the entire book. The next two sections were more about nature and towns Camus had lived in lots of sunsets and seashores and a general feeling of freedom. This part of the book was a breath of fresh air at first, but being drenched in Camus’ sentimentality and nostalgia got a little wearing after a while.

 I only skimmed the critical essays, giving about six of the fifteen my full attention. None of the subject matter was uninteresting, but I was burned out and craving some fiction by this time. The last part of the book, “Camus on Himself,” was fun as far as biographies go, but it didn’t enhance anything I’d already learned about Camus’ outlook on life by reading his other books.

 At any rate, don’t let this ambivalent review curb any interest you have in Camus’ writing. If you’re in the mood for essays, this is a collection that won’t bore you.

I'm Albert Camus, and I approve this message.

Points Of View

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2011 by acousticchick

‘Points of View’ isn’t just a plain old short story anthology. Oh, no. Not only do you get to read a wide variety of stories (and by “wide variety” I mean that half of them sucked), but you also get to add a few notches to your intellectual bedpost. Originally a textbook, ‘Points of View’ features eleven categories, each preceded by a quick explanation of the perspective in which the following stories were written.

Instead of giving a run-down of each of the stories in ‘Points of View’ (there are over forty), I’m going to pick three to be Grand Master Champion Short Stories. To maintain the spirit of this blog, only stories written by now-dead authors get trophies, though half the stories I actually enjoyed were penned by people who are still alive. They get honorable mentions before the award ceremony. So let’s give a big round of applause for…

  • ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’ by Lorrie Moore, for an accurate portrayal of the role doubt plays in romantic relationships,
  • ‘My Sister’s Marriage’ by Cynthia Marhsall Rich, even though I’m not sure if she’s still alive or not (a thousand points to whomever finds out), and
  • ‘The Circuit’ by Francisco Jimené z, for making me sad.

The first and second runners-up are ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and ‘First Confession’ by Frank O’Connor. I really liked both stories for different reasons. The first is creepy and suspenseful (something that’s usually easier to pull off in movies than in writing), and the second handles the mix of religion and childhood with humor.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for!

In third place is ‘The Stone Boy’ by Gina Berriault. Berriault weaves several conflicting emotions together by placing her main character in a situation that would be damning if he were an adult.

Second place goes to ‘Doby’s Gone’ by Ann Petry. This story is also told from a child’s perspective, and I’m always impressed when authors get this point of view right. Ann Petry strikes the right balance of simplicity and depth, using an imaginary friend to symbolize the move from innocence to experience.

And the winner of the gold medal and a brand new car is ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson. This story takes first place purely because I can’t say a word about it without ruining it, and you’ll only know that’s not a cop-out if you read it.


Posted in book reviews with tags , , , on April 3, 2011 by acousticchick

‘Othello’ serves as a warning against letting jealousy control your actions. Iago, the bad guy, has some beef with Othello. Or Cassio. Or both. To be honest, I usually only get the gist of what’s happening when I read Shakespeare; there’s so much deciphering involved that I miss the finer plot points. Anyway, Iago decides to get even by convincing Othello that his wife is cheating on him with Cassio. He does a good job, too: He’s careful to keep his motives cloaked, he plants just the right doubts in Othello’s mind. Before long, Othello is caught in the throes of jealousy and kills his wife. (Just so you know, she takes it like a good woman in a classic tale and barely puts up a fight.) This act ushers in the typical bloodbath ending of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Iago’s wife exposes him for a liar, Iago kills her for it, and then Othello kills himself. The end.

The Razor’s Edge

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , on April 2, 2011 by acousticchick

Last time I tried to review a book by W. Somerset Maugham, I stared at my computer for hours and erased every sentence I wrote. This time around is no different. What am I supposed to say? “‘The Razor’s Edge’ is about people, and they do things, and they have conversations, and life events happen, and it’s amazing to read about because you feel like you know them and you feel like you are them”? That sounds stupid, right? It sounds stupid to say that I know why Larry reads all the time and I know exactly what prompted Isabel to be such a manipulative bitch and I know why Sophie is a drunk. But that’s the thing about Maugham’s stories: His characters are you.