Tag Archives: the sirens of titan

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.

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The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Chapter 1 “Between Timid and Timbuktu”

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt VonnegutBelow is a detailed summary and literary analysis of the first chapter of The Sirens of Titan for my students and for me … and for you. It is very long. As a side note, this post has been more popular than I ever expected, and I suspect people are Googling “summary of Sirens of Titan Chapter 1 that is better than Sparknotes,” because the search results are leading me to feel this way, and I’m flattered. Wayward students: please use my research as a supplement, but don’t rob yourself of the pleasure of reading the novel yourself. Also feel free to ask me questions in the comments, I’m always happy to help.

Chapter 1 of The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut is entitled “Between Timid and Timbuktu.”

Characters

Malachi Constant: “I guess somebody up there likes me.” Described in Ch. 1 as a playboy and depicted as an oaf (complete with clamoring up a fountain and being late for his appointment with someone “unstuck” in space-time) he is dressed as an “Edwardian dandy” and is “not even well-educated.” Malachi is described as a “well-made man” but also with a “Cro-Magnon brow-ridge.” He is thirty-one years old and worth three billion dollars, “most of it inherited.” He is intimidated by Winston Niles Rumfoord the moment they shake hands even through Rumfoord does not exist in any traditional sense of the word.

Beatrice Rumfoord aka Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord: She is thirty-four and has seventeen million dollars to her name. She is a “poetess” and the title of the chapter is a reference to her “reasonable well received” poetry collection of the same time. The collection – and arguably the novel – is a reference to time. The first (and only) time she met with her materialized husband he gave her news that was so unpleasant that she now refuses to see him. She is described as “marvelous” looking, but is described in the most unflattering terms, much like Constant, whom she detests. Her name is clearly a reference to Dante and The Divine Comedy, specifically Paradiso.

Winston Niles Rumfoord: While in his “private space ship” he and his mastiff (dog) Kazak intersected with a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum” and are now non-materialized, destined to forever appear on Earth every 59 days. He is described now as a “wave” and is – to use another Vonnegut term – “unstuck” in time, meaning that he can see the future as well as the past, and thus is bored. Rumfoord knows Constant from Titan (a moon of Saturn as Mrs. Rumfoord explains) and has requested his presence during the materialization that launches the novel. Rumfoord is genial and dignified to a degree that humbles Constant completely and Rumfoord is described only in glowing terms in the first chapter. He can read minds but, as he reminds Constant, he cannot “reproduce” (so Freudian), then again, as he explains, “Angels can’t either.”

Chrono: The son of Constant and Mrs. Rumfoord who is born on Mars (in the future) and whose “good-luck piece” is, as Mr. Rumfoord states, “unbelievably important.”

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