Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dawn by Elie Wiesel

Dawn follows the thoughts of eighteen-year-old Elisha, a Hasidic Jewish survivor of Buchenwald, on the night before he is to execute a British officer in Palestine. The event is to take place at dawn, leaving Elisha an entire night to think about the moment that will permanently change him into a murderer. For me, the most striking moment was when the ghosts of his past joined him in the room to remind him that by becoming a murderer he was also making them, the people who had contributed to the man he had become, murderers as well.

These photographs are ones that I took last summer in the Brazillian cerrado. The first one was taken around 5:00 AM; the last one was around 6:00AM.

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

I found this play jammed amongst other classics at the library booksale. Since I've heard/read it referenced in several places, I figured it was worth a read. It was my first absurdist play, and I believe it may be my last.

As an aside, this post marks book number fifty for the calendar year. If you care to recall, I estimated that I would read that number in twelve months. Through some happy turns of events, I have been able to embark on some much needed self-education during these first six, which has meant much reading of very different types of books. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your attitudes toward formal education), this period is about to end, and my reading will become much more topically focused as I start my graduate program. Some of my books for my first semester recently arrived in the mail, which means that my somewhat carefree novel and nonfiction reading will be curbed. However, there is still much "pictorial literature" to come; the pace and variety might just slow down a bit come August.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

"The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?"

Good question. Thanks to Gayle Katz for donating this book to the Friends of the Library booksale where I picked it up for a quarter. Your eco-friendly action introduced me to a very different type of literature.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

Love stories are intriguing. There are the sentimental, sappy ones that a reader could never take at face value. Then there are the ones filled with unhappiness and suffering. And of course there are the ones that are more about lust than love. Only rarely does an author manage to combine the three in a way that can leave a reader feeling satisfied. Márquez manages to tell the stories of Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza in such a way that neither is presented as completely a sinner or perfectly a saint. He characterizes them as unique people whose lives took very different paths that eventually led them to each other, although not exactly how one of them planned. It has been a while since I read a novel that captured my imagination so completely. It is no mystery to me why Márquez won a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Southern Belle Primer: Or Why Princess Margaret Will Never Be a Kappa Kappa Gamma by Maryln Schwartz

I do not belong to the correct socio-economic class to be considered a Southern belle; however, there are aspects of Southern culture that will stay with me no matter where I live. I will always think sweet tea is God's gift to make summer more bearable. I know that "hot" does not start until the heat index starts creeping into the upper nineties (although it is time to start "buying the air" in mid-April). Eating sliced tomatoes at dinner is a summer staple, and you have to be careful what you say because everyone seems to be related to everyone. Most importantly, I know that to show proper respect, you tack a sir or ma'am onto everything.

This book was silly on purpose, and presented a picture of the Old South that focused on teas, Junior League, silver patterns, and sororities at Ole Miss. My favorite part was the pictures of the "royalty"--from Memphis Cotton Carnival to Natchez Pilgrimage (always a guilty pleasure). I found this book for 25 cents at the Friends of the Library Booksale and thought it would give me a chance to look at my region from a new perspective. I now know for sure that I am not a Southern belle (thank goodness), but I love my region's quirks all the same.

The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela

¡La Revolución!‎

Azuela wrote his short novel while living in El Paso after having fled Mexico during the revolution. His story is filled with circular irony and the constant questions of for whom and for what Demetrio's rebels are fighting. As with most revolutions, there are no easy answers, only questions that lead to more questions as the revolution consumes its own. As Quail put it after learning of Pancho Villa's defeat, "What the hell, boys! Every spider's got to spin his own web now!"

The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto "Che" Guevara

The little that I knew about Che before reading his autobiographical account was certainly colored by the context in which I was learning (that context being the post-Cold War United States). I wanted to give Che a chance to speak for himself, and what struck me the most is how similar we are. He made the notes that became this book when he was 24, loved to travel, and was still full of his youthful idealism. Without delving into my own politics (because I do not feel they have any place here), suffice it to say that I understand the spirit that motivated him.

Thanks to Chris Peterson for the loan.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I Am the Clay by Chaim Potok

Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way. Thou art the potter, I am the clay.

This book is very different from the other Chaim Potok novels I have read. Instead of focusing on Jewish family life, this story follows a boy left orphaned by the Korean War. Ancestor worship and appeasement of spirits play a central role in the characters' lives, and the boy's "magic" comes to bring his new, odd family together. It left me wondering who was the potter and who was the clay.

Friday, June 4, 2010