Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi (2005)

My latest selection from the St. Denis bookshelf in exile is Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi (2005). I read Persepolis for my DAFFODILS book club several years ago and really enjoyed it and its perspective on the experiences of Iranian women, so checking out another one of Satrapi's books sounded like fun.

This brief graphic novel collects together the various sexual and romantic exploits of a group of Iranian women told as they gather to gossip and drink tea while the men nap after a big family gathering. The individual vignettes are charming and Satrapi's cartoony, expressive style works very well in this context. The book as a whole, though, is pretty thin, and there isn't much here in the way of character development or depth. Still, spending a half an hour reading the stories of these funny, endearing women, isn't a bad way to spend your time.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

One Act: Eleven Short Plays of the Modern Theatre, edited by Samuel Moon (1961)

I am working on a plan to actually read all the books on my bookshelves that I haven't read yet. We'll see how far I get, but for now I've started with the very first one: One Act: Eleven Short Plays of the Modern Theatre, edited by Samuel Moon (1961).

I bought this at a book sale at the library where I work -- we had purchased it for the collection in 1968 and, according to the catalog card in the back, it didn't circulate one time between then and when the library was automated in the mid-1990s. I guess budding theologians don't think they need to read these intriguing lesser-known jewels by some of Western literature's best playwrights, but they were really missing out!

It had been awhile since I read a play, and a really long time since I sat down and read a one-act play. I forgot how much fun they are -- just like a short story, the author needs to fit a lot into a small space, and also like a short story, that constraint allows for a lot of experimentation and surprising depth.

I enjoyed all of these plays (full title list: Miss Julie, August Strindberg; Purgatory, William Butler Yeats; The Man With the Flower in His Mouth, Luigi Pirandello; Pullman Car Hiawatha, Thornton Wilder; Hello Out There, William Saroyan; 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, Tennessee Williams; Bedtime Story, Sean O'Casey; Cecile, Jean Anouilh; This Music Crept by Me upon the Waters, Archibald MacLeish; A Memory of Two Mondays, Arthur Miller; The Chairs, Eugene Ionesco), but the two that grabbed me the most were probably Tennessee Williams' 27 Wagons Full of Cotton (which he later developed into the script for Baby Doll -- I really want to watch this version sometime) and Arthur Miller's A Memory of Two Mondays (why look, an amazing YouTube version of this one is available as well, along with a neat introduction by Miller himself).

Interestingly, with the exception of Miss Julie and a few of the other plays, the majority of these works were written less than ten years before they were brought together in this collection. I like the contemporary old-school theatre feeling the collection has and the plays really work well together as  a group.

Here's to reading all those books on all our shelves!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

My sad books only book club (go, Debbie Downers!) recently read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005), the second Ishiguro book I've read (after The Remains of the Day).

I'm going to go with the idea that most people have either read this book or seen the movie, but if you haven't and you care about spoilers, there are some spoilers ahead.

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are childhood friends at an exclusive boarding school in the English countryside called Hailsham. We see their spats and friendships and growth through the eyes of our narrator, the grown up Kathy. While much seems just like you would expect it to be, little things start sticking out as strange, and Kathy's adult perspective hints that this isn't a normal boarding school. No one has any parents, they learn that none of them can have children, and from rumors and things the Guardians have said, everyone becomes aware that they need to stay very healthy because when they grow up their organs will be harvested for transplants. They spend a lot of their time making artwork and writing poetry that is sometimes collected up and taken away. No one ever leaves the grounds of the school. Ruth and Tommy become a couple, and Kathy and Ruth stay close friends (even though Ruth seems very hard to be friends with), but nothing is ever as relaxed as it could be, especially since adulthood is a kind of mysterious obligation.

When the children become teenagers they follow the footsteps of other Hailsham residents and move into The Cottages where they have a little more freedom and mix with other people their age that didn't grow up in a boarding house. The love triangle relationship between the three friends continues to complicate, with the added pressure of really living into their reality as clones (because that, we learn, is what they are). All the residents of The Cottages ultimately seem to voluntarily isolate themselves and then slide into their training as Carers (who shepherd around other clones through the surgery and healing process), and donors, who have 3 or maybe 4 operations before "completing."

As adults, all three try to be Carers, but only Kathy really has the disposition for it. And she is very good at it. So good, in fact, that she is sometimes allowed to choose her own patients. This allows her to get back in touch with Ruth and Tommy, both of whom have had multiple operations. The love and friendship between the three of them reblooms and things come to a head when Kathy and Tommy try to find a loophole in the life of a clone so that they can be together. Since we read this for the sad book book club, I guess you can imagine how things end up.

I saw the movie before reading the book, so I was already in on the conceit from the beginning. That let me pick up on a lot of things that I might have missed if I was reading it with fresh eyes, but I'd be interested to see how it reads for someone who wasn't familiar with the plot going in.

A quick Google search shows me that I've read Ishiguro's two most popular books, but I'd really like to check out some of his other, less hyped, books as well. In both this book and The Remains of the Day we have a solitary narrator looking back at their life with studied and controlled regret. We can't believe everything they say and, for Kathy especially, they don't even know if they are remembering things right themselves. That distance and doubt makes for a very compelling narration. There is something cool and studied about Ishiguro that really draws me in as a reader, and I'm wondering if that holds true in his other, less single-character novels.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Managing Copyright in Higher Education: A Guidebook by Donna L. Ferullo (2014)

I read a copy of Managing Copyright in Higher Education: A Guidebook by Donna L. Ferullo (2014), since I do a lot of the copyright management at my work.

Ferullo's book is useful in that it covers aspects of copyright management outside of library / classroom use, which is unusual for this kind of book. Ultimately, however, I didn't find it to be very readable or easy to access as a reference text.

The book is divided into sections by area of administration (students, faculty, staff, etc.), and while there is an index, the large chunks of text without many section dividers or bullet points, makes the content a little hard to digest or refer back to later.

I was particularly confused about the author's choice to include an illustration of the three branches of the federal government (something that didn't really need to be illustrated anyway) with a figure taken from For a book with hardly any illustrations, graphs, or figures at all, this particular illustration seemed random and ill-suited to the audience.

Someone without much of a background in copyright would likely find some helpful tips in this book, but as someone who has done a lot of reading and taken some classes on the topic, I didn't find much here that I could use.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Rick Steves' Pocket Amsterdam by Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw (2014)

As part of our first-ever European travel and extremely exciting trip to Belgium this summer, we are going to do a quick one overnight trip to Amsterdam with our friends. In preparation for something like 36 hours in Amsterdam, I thought I'd get a guidebook, but one that matched the amount of time we'd be spending in that fair city. Rick Steves' Pocket Amsterdam by Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw (2014) fit the bill perfectly.

Although you really could fit this guidebook in your pocket if you really wanted to, Steves manages to cram it full of a lot of information and not make anything seem too skimpy. Generous with maps and color photographs, the guide gives an overview of attractions, walking tours through various neighborhoods, and a pretty helpful seeming set of tips and recommendations.

Amsterdam seems lovely, and while I'm sure I could happily spend much more than 36 hours there, this guidebook should help me make the most of the hours I've got. [And, because I'm a nerd, I'm going to spend at least part of one of those hours here.]

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (1860)

Our latest DAFFODILS selection is the uncharacteristically classic novel The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (1860), and I'm not sad about that at all since I really liked Adam Bede and Silas Marner and I wrote a paper on George Eliot's life when I was in college.

The Mill on the Floss follows the tragic saga of the Tulliver family, with a focus on the daughter, Maggie. Mr. Tulliver owns a mill that has been in his family for generations. He married well to the mildest of the regionally respected Dodson sisters, and they have two children, Tom and Maggie. He is reasonably successful, but for a unclear reason that seems to be a mixture of pride and foolishness, he recklessly pursues legal action against his neighbors and a combination of his recklessness and the determination of a local lawyer, Mr. Wakem, he ends up losing the mill, his health, and nearly all his pride. Maggie and Tom had, up to this point, had a pretty idyllic childhood. Maggie is curious and clever (really too clever for a girl) and adores her older brother, who is more practical and less imaginative than his sister. They spat and make up and get in various kinds of trouble, generally stemming from Maggie's wild emotions and creative ideas. There is more than a little Anne of Green Gables going on with young Maggie. Prior to losing the mill, Mr. Tulliver pays to send Tom to study with a nearby churchman, at whose house Mr. Wakem's hunchbacked and sensitive son, Philip, also studies. The two very different boys fight a bit, but Maggie is fascinated by the gentle and bookish Philip. All that ends when the mill is lost and Tom must seek his fortune to pay his father's debts and save the family name.

Maggie devotes herself to a life of isolation and denial, but her passionate and headstrong nature doesn't keep her there for very long. Ultimately she finds herself grown up and very beautiful, though inexperienced. Her lovely and wealthy cousin Lucy invites her to stay with her for a summer and there she meets Lucy's suitor Stephen, and they unexpectedly fall in love. The last third of the book hinges on Maggie's tug of war between the head and the heart, although her ultimate decision after an ill-fated boat ride with Stephen turns the respectable people of the town, as well as her brother, staunchly against her. The ending of the book is shocking and pretty brutal. At first I felt cheated and didn't like it at all, but the more I think about it, the more perfect it becomes.

This isn't necessarily an easy read, like much Victorian literature the plot turns on an unfamiliar moral code and the level of description (particularly of natural features and houses) is a little off-putting. Still, the lovingly drawn (and sometimes hilarious characters) and the rush of the plot in the last third make up for any difficulty in getting into the book. Maggie's aunts, in particular, are a perfect balance of hilariously provincial and sometimes unexpectedly sweet. Much has been written about how this novel in particular draws from Eliot's life, as a dark haired, isolated, too smart for her own good woman in Victorian England who carried on a long relationship with a married man. There is a lot going on in this book and I find myself teasing back through it even now, weeks after I finished it. That sounds like a perfect recipe for a meaty book club discussion...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Best American Comics 2006, edited by Harvey Pekar and Anne Elizabeth Moore (2006)

Following the format of the other "Best American" annual anthologies, The Best American Comics 2006, edited by Harvey Pekar and Anne Elizabeth Moore (2006) was the series' first dip into the world of comics.

I was happy to see that this first volume was edited by the great Harvey Pekar, and his introductory essay is worth the price of admission alone. The collection itself brings together both familiar and unfamiliar (to me) artists, and has a good mix of men and women, and new and more established writers. Some of the entries are selections from larger works that don't have the impact they could as a smaller selection, but others really worked well in the anthology format, particularly David Heatley's "Portrait of my Dad," and Jesse Reklaw's "Thirteen Cats of my Childhood."

The book itself is a well-produced hardcover of nice dimensions with high quality paper and color printing that shows off the detail in many of the submissions. While some of this collection ended up feeling a little breezy or disconnected, overall it holds together and was pretty fun to read. I'll definitely be picking up the other volumes in the series that came to me through the St. Denis graphic novel storage program.