Friday, May 28, 2010
But, according to Cass, when the going get tough, the tough get blogging. So she proposes a plan - Voluntary Transitioning, she calls it - to her sizable population of under-30 blog readers, which calls for government incentives of legalized suicide for people over 70. If even only 20% of baby boomers followed through with "Transitioning," the social security system would be saved and the government might actually move out of its gigantic debt.
This book is entertaining, but sometimes it seems the satire is stretching too far, like when Cass (who works as the protege for the one-time protege of Nick Naylor, from Thank You for Smoking) is trying to boost the positive image of North Korea by hosting a celebrity golf tournament there. Still though, this book has many funny parts and is a nice, quick read. So maybe it is unrealistic and immoral, but it does make you think twice about social security reform.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
J.K. Rowling crafts the absolute perfect resolution to the series, and then immediately disses her own brilliant work by tacking on an immature and indulgent flash-forward epilogue that I now just pretend doesn't exist when I reach the end of the book.
Harry, Ron, & Hermione flung out into the world. So crazy different.
Harry & Hermione without Ron. My favorite section of the book. No offense, Ron.
This book is really funny. Also.
"The Forest Again"
Reading this book is an intensely satisfying experience for those who've been following the series all along. Rowling's development as a writer is significant. She frees herself (and the reader) from any exposition at all. She breaks her own conventions right and left. And she proves that she knew all along what was going to happen. All the adventures and details end up being important. So she means it when she dedicates the book to "you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end."
A word of advise, though: skip the epilogue. Rowling wrote it first, way back before any of the books. And it shows. And it's not necessary.
Dumbledore prepares Harry.
- "The Other Minister" and "Spinner's End": great opening two chapters, with a graceful and ingenious recap of events in the previous five books, then a truly puzzling and ominous start to the action in Snape's house.
- More teen angst
- Dumbledore's theories/the Pensieve/HORCRUXES
When the movie came out, I read an article about the screenwriters having trouble adapting the book because, as they claimed, flashbacks are always boring and you can't have a movie filled with flashbacks. So, to those writers, the Pensieve journeys were just flashbacks. Too bad. They cut most of them out and actually added a gross action sequence involving the Burrow getting bombed and Harry and Ginny kissing in a cornfield. The Pensieve scenes are the most important in the book. They're the setup for Harry's task (Book 7). And - in case the fact that they contain tons of necessary information is not enough of an argument for keeping them - they are gripping. Okay, fine. Stupid writers.
My point about the movies, as we wait for the two Deathly Hallows films, is: the film adaptations have been sometimes saccharine (1 and 2), sometimes aesthetically brilliant and true (3), and sometimes tragically unfaithful, cutting details but that were both deeply meaningful and of vital importance in the unfolding of Book 7 (3, 5, 6). The fourth movie is the most faithful, I think, and is still funny, visually interesting, easy to follow, and rich. So what's the problem? Rowling, in the end, proved to be a thorough and thoughtful storyteller. These books don't have a whole lot of unnecessary elements, especially where the plot is concerned, and especially in the final three or four books. The films have tended to be rash and short sighted. We'll see how they reconcile the information they've left out (don't get me started) now that they do have to actually film the final book.
We get used to the world after Voldemort Is Back.
- Rankling injustice: This is the Teen Angst Book of the series, but Harry's adolescent frustration is only the beginning. He happens to be at the center of a confusing and unfair whirlwind that Rowling depicts vividly enough to inject much of Harry's angst right into the reader. See: Dolores Umbridge, irresponsible media, incompetent leaders, aloof Dumbledore. Plus Tonks is annoying.
- McGonagall vs. Umbridge (supremely enjoyable; well done, Rowling)
- Harry & the D.A.
- Harry & the truth about James Potter (i.e. he was kind of a d-bag)
- The Longbottoms
- Exit Fred and George Weasley
- Bellatrix Lestrange
- Harry & Sirius (still can't believe it)
- Harry & Dumbledore (in the penultimate chapter, Dumbledore answers (most of) Harry's questions, and throws in the most beautiful and devastating explanation for why he didn't make Harry a prefect: "I must confess...that I rather thought...you had enough responsibility to be going on with."
But it's much, much more than that. Of course.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Unlike Eggers' last injustice-laden non-fiction book, What is the What, which at times feels almost preachy, Zeitoun tries to be as simplistic and objective as possible. And, in large part, it is successful in this attempt.
The story goes something like this: Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a well-known and upstanding resident of New Orleans. He's got roughly 4 kids and a loving wife, Kathy. He was born in Syria. He is Muslim. When everybody flees New Orleans before Katrina hits, Zeitoun stays and his family goes. In the days after the storm, Zeitoun paddles around the flooded city in a canoe he bought several years beforehand, carrying out "God's work" by helping stranded dogs and trapped residents. But one day Zeitoun is arrested and sent to a maximum security prison under suspicions of looting and terrorism, both of which are very false. And yet he spends close to a month in prison, dehumanized and humiliated, while his family suffers not knowing where he is.
The objectivity of this story leaves me with two conflicting feelings. On one hand, this story makes me very angry. I found at times while reading that my heart would pound with frustration at the way this man was being treated and how many people were dealt with by enforcement agencies after the hurricane. One thought of the book that is constantly stressed is that the makeshift prison in the New Orleans greyhound station was built just days after the hurricane while people were struggling for survival. Instead of the enforcement agencies looking for survivors to help, they were building a prison. And the human rights violations - no phone calls, no reading of rights, etc. - told of in this prison and the maximum security prison told about later on, seemed unreal in a civilized country.
On the other hand, part of me wonders why Zeitoun didn't just leave New Orleans with his family to spare them this whole ordeal. Kathy, Zeitoun's wife, now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. Zeitoun's children didn't know if he was alive or dead for 2 weeks. Was it really worth it, knowing the risks? Zeitoun felt as though he was meant to stay behind in New Orleans to conduct God's work, as though he were an angel. And yet it seems to me the most valuable work he could have done was to make sure he and his family were safe. But he didn't.
So I am torn between these two viewpoints, though I take from this story more of the first one than the second. Maybe the real purpose of his stay in New Orleans, if it was God's plan, was to have this book published to enlighten us all on the unjust and anger-inducing actions of our government's enforcement agencies in the midst of chaos. How nobody seemed to have a clue. Or to show us that it is always best to stick with family. Or that, even in the United States in 2005, it is possible for society to break down and martial law to take over. Or maybe Zeitoun was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This book is simple, but there is much to take away from it. I know I'll be thinking about it and dissecting it for awhile. It should be read.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
The book is about Easy Company, part of the 101st US Airborne division during WWII. Ambrose spent years interviewing the surviving members of Easy and draws heavily from these talks, as well as from journals and memoirs.
I ended up being most interested in supplementary writing Ambrose includes in the book. Private David Webster kept detailed journals throughout the war; his writing is featured often, and is a breath of fresh air. There are also lots of passages from two books that I'd like to read now:
Rendezvous with Destiny: A History of the 101st Airborne Division
(L. Rapport and A. Northwood Jr.)
The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle (J. Glenn Gray)
The excerpts from The Warriors in particular offer a more thoughtful take on the questions brought up in war and soldiering. I'm more interested in this type of focus. Ambrose seems to jump back and forth from ill-structured descriptions of Easy's campaigns to grapplings with the band-of-brothers idea that I usually found to be rather generic.
I will hunt down a copy of The Warriors and read that. And then let you know what I think. In the meantime, Band of Brothers has some good parts, mostly thanks to Ambrose's sources, but as a whole was less than I'd hoped it would be.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Friday, May 21, 2010
Sudhir was a first year sociology grad student at the university of Chicago when he was asked to perform a survey at The Robert Taylor homes projects about urban poverty. The question he was to ask: How does it feel to be black and poor? He asks this question to one of the most powerful gang leaders in Chicago and is laughed away.
For Venkatesh, this seemingly small event would lead to over a decade of being entrenched with the gang and people of the Robert Taylor homes with an intimacy that most sociologists could only dream of. Sudhir became close friends with one of the heads of The Black Kings, a powerful gang whose primary export is crack(although they have a hand in every pocket and activity in the complex).
Sudhir and JT's friendship is complicated and so are the feelings that arise as you read Venkatesh's story. Though he does become friends with many in the building, he is using them to further his research and career. This is troubling to him and was troubling to me as a reader. As an observer he watches abuse, beatings, shootings, prostitution, drug use, and selling narcotics without stepping in or trying to stop it. Many ethical questions come up when reading this book.
The ethics of the community life at the Robert Taylor homes are very complicated themselves. For instance, the gang leader JT (who is by the way a college grad) justifies his selling drugs by saying that the gang does pour money into the community. Drug users are going to find a way to buy drugs no matter who is selling them, isn't it better for the black kings to profit off of that when they will put some of that money into helping the community? Or another example, Building managers take bribes from the gang and allow them to sell in their building. In exchange the gang promises to protect the residents of said building. Which makes sense when police and ambulances refuse to come (police mostly because they also have taken bribes too).
The world that Venkatesh shows us made me feel gutteral reactions of disgust, anger, and sadness throughout. He truly became friends with these people and his portraits of them and the choices they have had to make are often understandeable and bittersweet. Though at times there is an academic (and maybe a classist) detachment that made me angry, he does seem to truly care about the people he is studying.
Knowing that the projects were torn down shortly after this book ends is also strange. There is no doubt the projects begot poverty and violence, but thousands and thousands of people were forced into them where they made families and networks and then just as easily forced out of them. You are left with a deep sadness at the powerlessness the people have to determine their own lives and the well-meaning but misguided wealthy people who force them to go where they decide is best.
I would absolutely recommend this book as a fascinating look into the relationships gangs have with a community and the infrastuctual aspects of a gang economy.
Shanghai Girls is a historical novel set in 1930's China that follows two fictional sisters over the span of about 25 or so years. We follow May and Pearl's lives from the vibrant, modern Shanghai of their youth to the war-torn Japanese occupied China they know as young adults and finally to their immigration to Los Angeles where they are sold as brides for American men.
I probably wouldn't have picked this novel off the shelf if I were in a bookstore, but a girl at work recommended/lent it to me and I thought (I have to read 50 books by november, ahhhhhhhhhhhh ILL READ ANYTHING TO FINISH ANYTHING AHHHHHHHH) I'll give it a try.
I appreciate the historical research that went into this novel as well as seeing the toughness of the immigrant experience. But in this novel, appreciation did not translate into enjoyment for me. After they left China, I found their new lives in America tedious to read about, and found myself fighting boredom to reach the ending. When I finally got to the ending and excitment and danger were about to ensue the book just ends abruptly. I have to say it just wasn't the book for me! (and my opinion is the only one that matters in most literary circles-so take that as you will)
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Candido and America Rincon live in a hidden lean-to shelter at the bottom of some canyon only a mile or so from the soon-to-be-gated community of Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher (along with son Jordan and dogs Sachaverell and Osbert). America is pregnant. Candido is constantly looking for work to save up money so they can live in a place with a real roof. But when Candido gets accidentally thrown into the bushes on the shoulder of Canyon Road by Delaney's spotless white Acura, the lives of each spiral rapidly downward.
Dogs are lost. Walls are built. Open-minded liberals turn into full-fledged racists. The book is entertaining, truthful, and quite sad when you take a step back to look at it. And like Grapes of Wrath, it always leaves you wondering when there will be even a trace of good news.
And word has it that Leonardo DiCaprio is set to star in the movie version. At least that part we know will be dreamy.