Whatcha reading?

Whatcha reading?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Garden of Forking Paths: Jorge Luis Borges

This author is interesting in that he writes in a way that hasn't been done before. The collection of stories I read were all focused on critiquing or retelling of "stories" that don't actually exist. I was confused at first, but then you realize there must be something else the author is trying to tell by not just telling the story. The author distances himself from the work by putting another, though fictional, author in between the story and himself. The story is about an Asian man, Dr Yu Tsun, who was living in England during WWII and became a spy for Germany. The only reason he became a spy was to prove that an Asian could pull it off. He learns of that his handler has been found out and that a British captain named Madden is after him, He devises a way to get his last mission completed and sets off, narrowly missing Madden at the train station. Once he gets to a man named "Albert"'s house he is shocked to learn Albert was expecting him. We learn Yu's grandfather had been a famous writer who had supposedly also created a labyrinth. No one understood his book, and no one had found the labyrinth. Albert tells Yu the book is a labyrinth and talks about the meaning of his grandfather's work. He explains that there are many times and places and that Yu could have come to his house as a friend or enemy. When reading you suspect Albert knows why Yu is there and accepts his role in the story as the one who will die. Yu asks Albert to get something for him once he sees madden coming up the road, and then shots Albert in the back. We learn Yu's last mission was to get the name of a town to be bombed back to Germany. The town's name was "Albert" and Yu hears that Germany does bomb the town while he is awaiting his hanging. This book haunts you long after you've finished reading it because you think "what are the chances he would end up at this Albert’s house who was familiar with his grandfather's work", it all seems predestined.

Nothing but the truth: Avi

This book made me mad because it could happen so easily. A high school boy doesn't like his English teacher and doesn't understand the books. So he doesn't try in her class and becomes disruptive as the class clown in order to get his classmates to laugh. He gets his report card and gets a D in English and then finds out he can't try out for track if he isn't passing all of his classes. Instead of being mad at himself he takes it out on his teacher and is disruptive during the morning announcements. The teacher asks him to stop and he does, but when he gets home he changes the story and his parents tell him to stand up for his rights. The next two days he is disruptive during the announcements and will not stop. The teacher sends him to the principal both times. The principal decides to suspend him for two days. The parents are upset because they work and this is a hassle for them, the father goes to the media thinking his son was suspended for singing the national anthem. Soon TV and radio talk shows get the story and begin bombarding the teacher with hate mail and demanding her removal. The boy goes back to school thinking he will be a hero and when he goes to the teacher to try to get extra credit she informs him he has been placed in another English class. He pouts and tries to get the track teacher to let him on the team because she can't change his grade now, the track teacher sticks up for the teacher and has two students try to get the boy to admit he lied. He no longer has friends at the school because he gets the teacher fired because of his anger at not getting a passing grade in her class. Both lives end up being ruined.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Elimination: Rithy Panh

This was a novel about the Khmer Rouge. It was told in two formats, Panh's memories of growing up and surviving through the Khmer Rouge rule and through interviews with "Dutch" a commander of the killings. Panh speaks of losing half his family, watching his dad, niece and nephew starve to death, the various duties he performed and the violence. The story is told in a semi-linear fashion, things are mentioned as they flash back for him. Towards the end he talks about how remembering what happened still makes him physically ill today. This was an incredible story of survival against all odds.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Long Way Gone; Memoirs of a boy soldier:Ishmael Beah

This was very well written and needed to be written. It is the Biography of Ishmael Beah during the 1990's in Sierra Leone's civil war. I appreciated how the story was told. It is in a linear order, but then after leaving the army the atrocities of war are told through flashbacks. This mimics the way he experienced the events since he was on drugs and caffeine pills while in doing the fighting and had very little emotional responses as the events transpired. Once something triggers a memory he has to deal with it, years after the event. This book leaves a lot of unanswered questions, I wanted to know if he saw his aunt again and what happened to that family. A boy’s village is taken over by the rebel army and he wanders the country with a band of boys searching for news of his family. He comes to the town they fled to and as he comes into town there are gunshots and fires. I am still bothered by how close he was to reuniting with his parents and brothers when the town was overtaken and no one survived. He is then taken in by the country’s army and becomes a boy soldier. All the children are then taken into the capital to be rehabilitated. He meets up with his uncle, who then dies when the rebel’s take over the capital. This was a very powerful story.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Light in August: William Falconer

This story follows the live of Lena. Her parents both die when she is a child and she goes to live with an older brother. She lives with him for several years until she gets pregnant and then decides to go after the man who claimed he would marry her once he made a living. She arrives in the town her boyfriend Lucas supposedly ran off to and sees a house on fire. As the story progresses we learn Lucas aka "Joe Brown" started the fire and murdered the woman in it. The story doesn't come right out and say this, but it can be deduced. The story switches back and forth between points of view and we learn pretty much every character's history. The story centers on Joe Christmas. He was raised in an orphanage until he stumbles upon the dietician having sex with a doctor. The dietician wants to get rid of him in case he gets her in trouble. He is adopted by a very religious couple. The man is obsessed on religion and abusive to Joe. Eventually Joe accidently kills him when he finds Joe with a prostitute. Present day, Joe comes into town and decides to live as a white man after spending the last 15 years crossing the lines every few years. The abolitionist he lives with gets pregnant shortly after "Joe Brown" comes to town and starts helping Joe Christmas with his bootlegging. Joe Brown finds out Joe Christmas is partially black and sleeping with a white woman so he kills the white woman and burns her house down trying to hide the evidence. There is a $1,000 reward for the murderer and he makes up a story that it was Joe Christmas, who recently left town. Since Christmas is black the town instantly believes he was the murderer and goes after him. He is eventually killed and castrated. During the man hunt we meet Christmas' grandparents who recognize him, his grandfather wants him killed, his grandmother wants him to live 1 more day as a free man. We learn Christmas' mother died in childbirth and the grandfather dropped him off at the orphanage after killing the black father. At the end of the story Joe Brown runs off after finding Lena and his baby. The man helping Lena, who had fallen in love with her, is seen at the end of the book with her still helping her track down Brown.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte

This is the second time I've read this book. This reading surprised me since I didn't realize how much it was a book about violence when I read it as a teenager. There is violence in Jane's childhood, Mr. Rochester, his wife Bertha, and her cousin St John. It seems like Jane and Mr. Rochester can only be equals once he feels inferior to her. The roles reverse where she picks on him. The book follows Jane through her rough life. Her parents die when she is an infant and her mother's brother vows to raise her as his own, but then he dies and makes his wife promise to care for Jane as if she were her own child. Jane grows up in a sad household where no one shows her love. Finally, at the suggestion of a doctor, Jane is sent off to school where she gets along quite well. Many girls die of tuberculosis, but she survives and eventually teaches at the school. Needing a change she advertises as a governess and is taken into a house where an orphaned girl is cared for by a bachelor who is rarely home. Jane ends up falling in love with the guardian "Mr. Rochester" who is engaged to someone else of his standing. This flirting goes on for a while, and then he finally admits he loves her and they decide to get married. When they are at the church she finds out he already has a wife, the crazy woman living in the house. She goes off to find work at another place and wanders aimlessly for a while. Quite by chance she ends up with her cousins and learns an Uncle left her everything from his estate when he died. She ends up sharing it with her cousins and starts a school. Her male cousin wants her to marry him and do missionary work with him, but she refuses because she doesn't love him. Right when she is about to give in she hears Rochester's voice. She goes back to him to find all she finds is a burnt up estate. From rumors in town she finds Rochester at another of his houses, blind and missing a hand. They get married and he recovers a little of his site, enough to see his first born son.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Lightning- Rod Man: Herman Melville

This was a short story about a man who hears knocking at his door during a thunderstorm. He opens it to a man that hurries to the middle of the house. He introduces himself as a "lightening Rod Man" he was selling lightning rods. He was frantic during the storm telling all the ways you can die. He is holding the lightening rod the whole time. The owner of the house seems to know more about lightening that the "expert" and is soon thrown out of the house.

Benito Cereno: Herman Melville

This short story was based on actual events. The protagonist and narrator is the fictionalized character of Amasa Delano who actually battled against the slaves who took over the boat. The story begins with Captain Delano spotting a boat in the distance with tattered sails moving listlessly. He drops a boat and goes to investigate. One he meets up with the boat he is surprised there are so many black crew and so few white. The captain of the boat, Benito Cereno, welcomes him aboard and is a very jittery man who seems to lose his train of though. Delano sends his men back to get this boat some supplies, and spend most of the afternoon aboard with the strange crew. Cereno has a very attentive personal slave, Babo, who seems to help Cereno focus and answer Delano's questions about events that brought them to this ruin. Delano has trouble understanding a lot of the story and eventually realizes there has been mutiny and the slaves have taken over the ship and Cereno's Slave is actually the new captain of the ship and Cereno has become the slave. Delano orders his boat to attack and they take Cereno safely to shore. Once in the court the whole story comes out, but Cereno dies a few weeks after the trial finishes.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Country Doctor: Frank Kafka

This was an odd short story that I couldn't find a simple explanation for. A doctor is summoned to a home of a sick boy 10 miles away. His horse died the night before and as he walks to the stable is unsure what to do. Just then a man comes out of the stable with two beastly horses. He puts the doctor in the carriage and claims his payment will be the servant girl, and then slaps the horses so they take off. The doctor can't control the horses and leaves knowing Rosa, the servant, is going to be raped. He arrives to the home in record time and finds a healthy boy who asks the doctor to just let him die. After some weirdness where people make him strip and lay down with the patient he sees the boy has a huge gaping wound with worms coming out of it. He leaves knowing the boy will die and it takes for seemingly ever for him to get home. The book seems to be describing a dream the doctor had, or is having. There seems to be these ideas that the Doctor wants to “have” his servant Rosa, and maybe there is a fear of not knowing what is wrong with a patient, hence the gnarly wound.

Metamorphosis: Frank Kafka

This was an entertaining, yet heartbreaking read. A young man, Gregor, wakes up one morning to find he has turned into a beetle. (I originally pictured a cockroach, but the maid calls him a dung beetle.) We learn he is the sole provider for his family and is stressed about getting to work on time, but since he is in bed on his back he has trouble getting up. Eventually his family comes to the room to rouse him, but he had locked his door, then his boss shows up. Once Gregor finds the strength to get up he shocks and horrifies all waiting by the door for him. His father shoos him back into his room and he scraps his side. He remains injured and locked in his room until his sister leaves him some milk and bread, but now he doesn’t like milk. We learn Gregor had intended to send his sister to the conservatoy since she was a violinist that was going to be her Christmas gift. We also learn he had a girlfriend, but didn't court her too quickly because his family needed him to provide for them since his dad had been out of work for 5 years and in debt. Once Gregor doesn't have money coming in we learn Gregor’s father had been keeping a stash of money, some from his previous job, and some from Gregor’s earnings. Gregor has mixed feelings because he could have left his job earlier if he had that money since he was paying off his family's debt, but then again they would have something to live on now. Eventually each family member gets a job and Gregor seems to be forgotten about. The food he is brought he doesn't enjoy or eat and he becomes thin. His father threw an apple at him when he wandered out of his room and it became imbedded and infected in his back. the family takes on renters and once they see Gregor leave, but his family gets outraged and his sister says they need to dispose of him, he is no longer their brother, if he were he would have left the place and let them live in peace. It seemed as though as soon as they realized he was never going to be human again, he disgusted them and they forgot all about what he had done for them. He does die that night whether from infection, starvation or a broken heart we do not know. When the family finds him, they are delighted and call off sick for the day and head downtown to celebrate. The physical injuries are all inflicted by his father, hurting himself getting back into the room, the apple stuck in his back, but the most painful to gregor seems to be the verbal abuse from his sister whom he was very close.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bartleby, the Scrivener: Herman Melville

This was a humorous story told by a lawyer who hired Bartleby to be a scrivener (a clerk or copyist). He starts out actually doing some work, but then when the lawyer asks him to do tasks, Bartleby does less and less work retorting with "I would prefer not to" when asked to do something. It is around this time that the lawyer realizes Bartleby has actually moved in to the office. The Lawyer tries to find him other career choices, but Bartleby replies to all the ideas with "I would prefer not to". The lawyer has become fond of Bartleby and doesn't have it in him to kick him out; he decides instead to move his office leaving Bartleby behind. He later finds out the new tenants have forcibly moved Bartleby out and he was living in Prison. The lawyer bribes a guard with money to ensure Bartleby eats, but when he returns a while later he finds Bartleby had died from starvation. He preferred not to eat.

To The Lighthouse: Virginia Woolf

I did have some trouble at the beginning of the book with the stream of consciousness way it was presented. I had some stumbles on who was thinking what, but once I got into it, it was an enjoyable read. The first part of the book takes place over only a matter of hours and follows Mrs. Ramsey and her evening. She spends time with her children and entertains in the evening. Her youngest son wants to go see the lighthouse, but the father says it will rain and he cannot go. A friend, Lily starts painting a portrait of Mrs. Ramsey. Mrs. Ramsey plays matchmaker to Minta and Paul The second section goes through the deaths in the family, first Mrs Ramsey followed by Prue who died in childbirth, Andrew in war. The house falls apart since no one visits it, then one day the remainder of the family comes back- we find out Minta and Paul are not happily married. James, the baby, still resents his father for not letting him go to the lighthouse, which he never did get to see. They go to the lighthouse and Lily finishes her painting. The book ends in a feeling of peace. I have done some reading on this and was interested to learn this was supposed to be a portrait of Virginia's parents in the characters of the Ramseys.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Manon Lescaut: Abbe Prevosts

This was an amusing story very similar to Romeo and Juliet in that instead of star cross lovers, they are "class cross" lovers. Maybe I am cynical, but I didn't read the story as both characters being in love. The man seemed infatuated to the point of obsession, but in the beginning he was always overly in love with her. It seemed too showy for it to be believable and he made his affections known in front of a crowd. I read it as he may be homosexual, then after chasing this girl did develop feelings for her. She, Manon, on the other hand never seemed to show genuine affection for him. She was poor and constantly strived to have nice things and he was a means of getting them. When she first meets him she is on her way to a convent and he offers her an escape. She then becomes a mistress to an older rich man, who gives her pretty jewels. Once she is imprisoned for prostitution and sent to America he comes back. She seems resigned to be with him now in America because she is lost and believes he is her only way to a better life once again. Towards the end she seems to settle herself into her life since she has come full circle. He was there at the beginning and there at the end.

Points of View; An Anthology of Short Stories: James Moffett and Kenneth R McElheny

This is a collection of stories A telephone call: Dorothy Parker In this story the protagonist talks to herself about why her boyfriend isn't calling at 5:00 like he said he would. She goes back and forth between praying to god and telling herself to be strong, then starts all over again. I Stand Here Ironing: Tillie Olsen This story is about a mother being asked by the school to come in and talk about her daughter. The woman spends the afternoon reminiscing about her daughter's childhood and feeling guilty about what sort of mother she was. Straight Pool: John O'Hara A man talks to a buddy of his about the problems he is having with his wife. In his story he and his wife are always arguing about him telling his pool buddy about her (which is ironic because that is exactly what he is doing) and it is obvious she is in love with the buddy, which the husband doesn't see. The Lady's Maid: Katherine Mansfield A maid is talking to someone, though I couldn't figure out whom, about her "Lady" who is elderly, and how she takes care of her. She reminisces on how she didn't get married so she could watch over the lady, who guilted her into staying. She mentions that she doesn't know what will happen to her one the woman passes away. ...& Answers: Joyce Carol Oates A woman talks to a psychologist about an accident she was in that killed her daughter. She says there was another car on the road, of which there is evidently no evidence. We only see the woman's dialog and must surmise what the man interviewing her is asking. He believes the accident was a suicide. When the woman woke up in the hospital she asked if the man (other driver) was ok instead of asking about her own daughter. Inter-office: Rosellen Brown A man talks about what he sees in his town walking around and how the community has declined. A Bundle of Letters: Henry James This story was amusing in that it is a collection of letters from People staying at the same house together to their family. You get to learn who likes who and how each character acts based on these letters. A Wilderness Station: Alice Munro An odd story that alternates between letters to tell the story of a woman and her knowledge that her brother-in-law killed her husband. She starts the story out seeming insane. Once we find out what happen she becomes "the victim", then she seems destined to spend the rest of her life as a recluse before she becomes a servant for a family. The Yellow Wallpaper: Charlotte Perkins Gilman This story has always confused me. A woman suffers from postnatal depression and her husband who is a doctor prescribes a month in the country in a rental house. He chooses an airy room with hideous wallpaper for her recovery. I don't understand if he chooses this room to torture her or if he actually wanted her to get well. There is mention of a gate at the top of the stairs, but she is able to come and go as needed and takes walks around the property, but I get the sense we are to believe she is locked up in the room which makes her eventually go crazy and she doesn't want to leave. In the end her husband comes up to get her because their lease is up and faints when he sees her crawling around the room in madness. When she gets to his fallen body she simply crawls over it and continues her circle around the room. The Night Watchman's Occurrence Book: V.S. Naipaul I found this humorous though the tone is serious. The story is told through entries in the watchman's log book. The first entry in the log claims the night was uneventful. The next log is from the manager and explains that the watchman was sleeping on the job and fired. The next log is by the replacement and he claims the night was calm. The next entry is from the watch manager telling the newbie that the bar is to stay open all night and people can come and go as they please. Then the log becomes interesting, every night the hotel guests get drunker and rowdier and every morning the manager asks the watch man why the notes are detailed enough to explain everything that's occurred. The watch man's logs get more and more comical as he claims he doesn't have enough time to write everything down and the job wasn't what he expected. During one of the last entries we learn a woman is kidnapped and seemingly murdered while the local cops are in the bar getting drunk. The next log is from a person taking over for the manager who was injured in the nightly brawls. His entry asks for as little documentation as possible. One humorous thing is that the watch man keeps writing "cigarette cartoons" instead of carton, which drives the manager batty. Amahl and the Night Visitors: Lorrie Moore This is a sad story about a woman who knows she is losing the man she loves and we never find out if he is in fact having an affair and if it would be with a man or a woman. She lets her cat outside on the same day the boyfriend moves out and you know neither is coming back. The Somebody: Danny Santiago This was an amusing read. A teenage boy is in a gang that has basically disbanded. He acts like he thinks it is cool he is the last member, but he is constantly watching his back for other gangs. He gets a kick out of writing his name all over town- graffiti- even though the other gang members know where he lives. My Sister's Marriage: Cynthia Marshall Rich This was a story about two sisters fighting for the attention of their widowed father. The eldest sister gets a boyfriend that the father doesn't approve of, she elopes and the family decides to have nothing to do with her. The little sister expresses excitement that she has her father all to herself. The obsession she has with filling the deceased mother's shoes is disturbing and she vows she will never leave her father. Why, You Reckon? Langston Hughes The protagonist tells his side of the story of a robbery and how the other party made off with everything while he was stuck with the victim. He is more concerned at the end of the story on why the robbed white guy thought it was exciting and complained of his life when he had food and money all the time. A&P: John Updike A young boy is a cashier at the local grocery store and one day three girls come in wearing just their bathing suits, after the men watch them walk all around the store the manager tells them once they hit the checkout line, that the need to wear clothes. The cashier, seeing the girls blush, decides to be heroic and quits. Of course the girls didn't seem to notice and once he gets to the parking lot they have disappeared. He realizes this moment has probably defined the rest of his life. Distance: Grace Paley This story doesn't really tell you anything. It is about a woman whose son states he is going to ask the town floosy to marry him, the mother has a fit and he ends up marrying a plain girl who he cheats on like his father did to his mother.