Category Archives: Books and Literature

Those things I love to read …

Book Reviews of March 2018

Two short book reviews for March since in March I went on a pretty epic re-reading jag, and then didn’t write reviews for most of them. These two made it through though, so I hope you enjoy!

Fairy Tale (The New Critical Idiom Series) by Andrew Teverson

Fairy Tale by Andrew TeversonLately I’ve felt a renewed interest in doing more ‘serious’ scholarly work, so I decided to add some more serious reading to the rotation. I’ve been interested in fairy tale research for some time and have a respectable start to a fairy tale research library, but before I go into Zipes and Bettelheim, I thought a re-introduction to the genre would be in order. The New Critical Idiom series seems to be Routledge’s answer to Oxford’s A Very Short Introduction, but instead of brief, much more in-depth. That’s not the best explanation, but it’s early and I’m tired. Fairy Tale by Andrew Teverson discusses the schools of fairy tale creation, both the presumptive oral tradition, and the 19th century fairy tale creation wave, as well as major critical schools. There is a relatively low-level of engagement with the Disney machine, which I personally appreciated, since I do not respect their adaptations. The book is relatively light on the the feminist and revisionist schools, but focuses more of its attention on psychoanalytic and Marxist approaches. Biographical criticism, which I feel is much more important for ‘recent’ fairy tales like “The Little Mermaid,” is mentioned, but almost discounted. Still, it’s a dense-yet-engaging read, which is not an easy balance, and I definitely feel like it helped prepare me for tackling more fairy tale criticism.

Benito Cereno by Herman Melville

Benito Cereno by Herman MelvilleI am re-reading this novella for, I believe, the second time since my first reading in 2013. After reading the dense text (above) I wanted to read something short that moved quickly, and I picked Melville’s anxiety-producing novella Benito Cereno, of course. My copy is bundled with Bartleby, the Scrivener which I cannot believe I haven’t written about already. Right now, since I’m dealing with adjunct hell and general meh-ness, I thought Bartleby might push me over the stay-in-bed-all-day edge, so Benito Cereno it was. The story is amazingly well-written (ah, Melville) and extremely stressful to read. The strangest part is that there’s a lot of Amasa Delano’s thoughts, then just random violence out of nowhere, but it’s so brief I wasn’t sure if I had read it right. Like I guess someone lost all their fingers? I felt bad about it! I should probably mention what the novella is about. It follows the charming Amasa Delano, American captain of the ship Bachelor’s Delight, that has come upon a ship in distress. Almost all of the Spanish crew has died, except for Benito Cereno and a handful of others, but around 160 slaves are roaming free on the ship. Because Delano is super nice he cannot figure out that the slaves had a revolt and killed everyone, that Cereno is a prisoner, and that the slave Babo (pictured on the cover above) is behind it all. Everything sort of works out in the end though, basically, except for the people who died. Note: the same cover image is used for an edition of Blake, or the Huts of America, which I find interesting, though the image doesn’t make a ton of sense for Blake.

Books Reviews of 2006

File this post under blasts from the past(s). As my 10 years blogiversary approached last year, I was feeling nostalgic about my old, hand-coded website, so of course I looked it up on the Wayback Machine. I was braced for something really amazing, and instead I found a website with roughly ten book reviews and three recipes on it. Below you will find the un-edited book reviews from 2006 aka most of my website back then (spoiler alert: they’re kind of pretentious). I hope someone on the internet finds them useful someday.

The highlight of this set of review, I believe, is that it contains my first reading of Breakfast at Tiffany’s as well as my hilariously waffling on Science Fiction, which I now love. Part one of this series is Book Review of 2003, if you finish this yet crave more, and I also added my annotated bibliography on James’s The American to the site. These are all the book reviews that the vault holds, so I hope you enjoyed them!

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid A Small PlacePublished in 1988 Kincaid’s A Small Place is an unflinchingly angry portrayal of post-colonial, post-slavery life on the island of Antigua. To put it simply: Kincaid is as mad as hell, and she’s not going to take it anymore. If you’re white and can shelve your defensiveness for a moment this book is actually really enjoyable, it’s written in first person and directed at “you,” the British colonizer and/or the fat white tourist.

Kincaid’s sense of humor is wonderfully dark, and there are a lot of moments of humor, if you keep an open mind. Still, at the heart of the matter is the story of Antigua’s decay, left to rot by the British colonizers, with a population that doesn’t vote openly corrupt officials out of office. She openly points out the irony of the celebration of emancipation and the valorization of the Hotel Training School, which teaches the residents of the island to be servants.

In the end, Kincaid concludes that no one is to blame, that after slavery the masters are no longer evil and the slaves are no longer “noble,” but that everyone is merely human. She problematizes the matter, but offers no solutions, which might irritate those concrete sequentials among us. Also, she refers to Columbus, and the explorers in general, so adored in American culture, as “human rubbish” on multiple occasions. You might not agree with Kincaid, but this is one topic someone should be pissed off about, and her unapologetic narrative is about as honest as you can get.

Continue reading

Persuasion by Jane Austen, a Re-Read

Persuasion by Jane AustenAfter spending a great deal of my recent free time reading non-fiction, I found myself in the mood for something more immersive. I re-read both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice in 2017 thanks to a local hurricane, but I never connected as much with Austen’s other novels. I decided, however, to give Persuasion another chance, and I’m very glad I did. Looking back at my old review, I read the book at the exact same time of year, which is an interesting coincidence.

I don’t remember liking the book much, but reading it again, I definitely enjoyed it more the second time through. I sympathize a lot more with Anne Elliot’s plight than I did the first time. I had forgotten, really, that she has such an unlikable family; Sir Walter is vain, Elizabeth is a snob, and Mary won’t stop pretending to be sick. Anne’s mother dies before the text begins, and it’s implied that she would have kept her daughters from growing up to be so foolish (sort of a reverse Mrs. Bennet). Anne is almost the Pride & Prejudice Mary of the text, except she gets to fall in love, which I really appreciate, because I feel a bit bad for P&P Mary. (Also, what did Austen have against people named Mary?) Anne is underrated by her family, but has her late mother’s friend, Lady Russell, looking out for her. Unfortunately, Lady Russell looks out for her a touch too much, and persuades (get it?) her to back out of an engagement, which Anne regrets. Anne is trying to ‘do the right thing’ in the time before the novel, and when the novel starts, she is very much the worse for wear thanks to it. Lesson: Always look out for number one, ladies!

Anne’s family is pushed into financial troubles by Sir Walter’s incompetence; he is forced to rent his estate, and Anne get casually pushed out of the household in the process. This ends up being great for her because, as it turns out, two walks on the beach and spending time with anyone nice is all is takes to restore her beauty. It also lands her in much better company in general, and her ex-fiance, Wentworth, shows up, too. He tries to fall in love with Louisa Musgrove, but she throws herself down a flight of stairs like a dingus, and falls on her head. Since Wentworth was too charming near her, he is obliged to marry her, even though she’s the type of person who will just leap into the air expecting to be caught. Immodest! Facing a real predicament, Wentworth is saved by Louisa herself, who falls in love with a brooding young man whose wife had just died like six months ago. Move on faster, why don’t you? Everyone agrees that the poor, deceased young woman deserved better, but also that the bump on the head made Louisa a much better person, so that’s good enough.

Continue reading

Book Reviews of 2003

File this post under blasts from the past(s). As my 10 years blogiversary approached last year, I was feeling nostalgic about my old, hand-coded website, so of course I looked it up on the Wayback Machine. I was braced for something really amazing, and instead I found a website with roughly ten book reviews and three recipes on it. Below you will find the un-edited book reviews from 2003 aka most of my website back then (spoiler alert: they’re kind of pretentious). I hope someone on the internet finds them useful someday.

The Rise of the New Woman by Jean V. Matthews

The Rise of the New Woman by Jean V. MatthewsThis book was released just recently (May or June 2003) and I picked it up while browsing the new releases in the library at school. I’m fairly good with early American feminist theory and this looked to be more of a historical book which is why it caught my eye. I was impressed pretty much right away, it’s a really easy read but at the same time it’s not dumb’d down or artificially zazzed. The book begins with the struggle to vote and ends in the first anti-feminist backlash after the vote was won, making it a really great cultural study of Feminism’s first wave.

The great thing about it was that even though it would be a perfect introduction for a new Feminist, it’s still great for people who know a little about theory because it really covers American culture in a more holistic, pop culture oriented kind of way. For example the implications of fashions trends at the turn of the century are closely analyzed, it’s easy to forget that at one time having a skirt you could walk in and a shirt you didn’t sew yourself was the trademark of a liberated woman. In other words: it includes the little things that you really miss if you only read theory or are completely ignored if you only read contemporary feminist texts. All of the major thinkers, movers and shakers in the movement are also in the book. They’re covered in a way that will familiarize newbies without boring seasoned Feminists like myself (snicker). Par example, did you know Charlotte Perkins Gilman thought that sex, as in the biological function, was completely undesirable? It’s true!

A lot of the antifeminist backlash post suffrage was because the next issue on the agenda was birth control. It ended up alienating most older feminist and almost all of the southern women who turned their efforts to the church or the KKK. It’s things like this that are left out of textbooks and are assumed in theory so I would definitely and absolutely recommend this book to any student of feminism no matter their skill level.

Continue reading