My Challenges (timed)

See my list here
Completed 8 of 9

See my list here
Completed 2 of 3

See my list here
Completed 2 of 4

See my list here
Completed 71 of 81

See my list here
Completed 9 of 10

See my list here
Completed 34 of 50

See my list here
Completed 1 of 2

See my list here
Completed 1 of 2

See my list here
Completed 1 of 5

See my list here
Completed 3 of 5

See my list here
Completed 5 of 100

My Challenges (perpetual)

See my list of stories read here

See my list of stories read here

See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here


See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here


New York Times Book Review: 6/40
New Yorker: 0/36
New York Review of Books: 0/20
Vogue: 1/16
Email: 841/1373

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

This multi-layered tale tells us the life story of Iris Chase Griffen and her sister, Laura Chase, through a combination of flashbacks, present-day events, and what we are told is Laura's posthumously published novel, entitled The Blind Assassin. The two women are born into a well-to-do family, but wealth is not all it's cracked up to be. The girls' mother dies of a miscarriage during their childhoods, the father suffered severe injuries in World War I and is never much of what we would think a father should be. The family's wealth is threatened and eventually lost, and Iris makes a marriage to her father's competitor in an attempt to save the family business and the family itself. But, not surprisingly, the marriage provides Iris no happiness or comfort, and is doomed from the start.

The story is interesting, but the characters are somewhat one-dimensional -- Iris is that all-too-familiar picture of a powerless woman in a loveless marriage, the husband and sister-in-law have no redeeming qualities, the sister Laura is described as "different" and "odd" but we aren't provided with enough information to truly understand her. The plot itself held my attention, but mainly to see if I was right about various details -- I thought I had it all figured out by no more than halfway through, and the end merely confirmed my deductions.

This is not my first Atwood book, so I was not surprised to find female empowerment (or the lack thereof) a theme of this novel as well, but I was hoping to find at least a likable, if powerless, heroine. However, Iris's lack of power just made her more irritating to me as the book went on, for the reason that she makes no attempt to help herself. It's no surprise to find characters intent on keeping a woman "in her place," but it is, if not surprising, at least very frustrating to find the woman content to let herself be kept "in her place." This is Iris in a nutshell, a woman willing to let herself drift through life with no spoken opinions, no knowledge of what was going on around her, no assertiveness of any kind. This is a type of female that I will never understand and whom I find it nearly impossible to sympathize with.

In addition to Iris's docility, she's full of negativity, seeing the downside in just about everything. I've no doubt that she'd be a full believer in Murphy's Law -- "if there's the slimmest chance that something bad will happen, it probably will." This makes her not only unsympathetic but also unlikable. Thomas Mallon wrote in his review of the novel (published in the New York Times, September 3, 2000) that Iris "comments on the difficulties of her own aging with an endless, rote sourness that seems more adolescent than geriatric." I believe that this can be attributed to Iris's emotional immaturity, that she never advances beyond childhood. Iris and Laura were both raised to be spoiled children with no responsibilities and no knowledge of how to take care of anyone, not even themselves. They had little schooling, no practical abilities, nothing that would prepare them to face the world as adults. While we can't blame a child for the failures of its parent(s), at some point you expect the child to grow up. Iris never does.

The novel within the novel tells us a story of a blind assassin hired to murder a sacrificial virgin the night before the sacrifice. There's not much doubt that we are intended to see Iris in this story, and the knee-jerk reaction is to see her as the sacrificial virgin (who, incidentally, has had her tongue cut out to keep her from protesting at an inopportune moment), and I'm sure this is how Iris would see herself. But I see her equally as the assassin. Though hers is a willful blindness, it brings about the same pain and destruction as does the assassin blinded through forced labor. And, in viewing Iris as both the assassin and the virgin, we can see a truth that, unfortunately, Iris never seems to learn -- that the only person who can save you is you.


Juli at Can I Borrow Your Book?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Beloved by Toni Morrison

This was my first book for the Book Awards Challenge (click on the link on the left for more information about the challenge) and it was simply one of the best books that I've read in a long time. The story revolves around Sethe, a former slave who had escaped to the North, and her family, and the scars (both physical and mental) left over from slavery. This was at times a very uncomfortable book to read. And, I'll admit, that there were some parts where I had no idea what was going on, although I think this says more about my abilities than Ms. Morrison's.

One of the things that I liked best about this book was that we are told about slavery from the slaves themselves, instead of from the viewpoint of the slaveowners. And the telling is done in such a way as to not just tug at but absolutely strain our emotions -- there is no feeling of being at a safe distance from the horrors. We are put inside the characters' heads and forced to see them as human beings, subject to the same wants, fears, and joys that we have.

The main theme of the book involves the necessity of facing the past and dealing with our demons before we can truly move on. I think this is an important lesson for everyone, no matter what their past may contain. And the specific example of facing the horrors of slavery is also a lesson for the United States of today, as so many of our race-related issues can be traced to that time period and its aftermath.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Book Review #1: Sweet Potato Queens' Cookbook

So's here the first book I've finished since starting my blog -- not exactly heavy literature that will require a psychologically probing review, but then I didn't read it expecting it to make me smarter. What I did read it for was for some laughs and some good recipes to add to my collection, and on those two points, this book rocks. Now, being born and raised in the South, and coming from a family that was born and raised in the South many generations back, I know what other, non-Southerners, think of us and this book (along with all the other SPQ books) doesn't exactly help those images. But I don't think that's a bad thing. Sure, this book and many more like it generally make us look and sound like a bunch of loons, but I personally believe that people are crazy wherever you go, and Southerners are just the only ones that take pride in admitting it. So as long as you're admitting it, why not go all out and 'fess up and make it funny? This is exactly what Jill Connor Browne does in all her books, while still getting across her main message -- that women are fabulous and deserve to be treated like queens, and if no one else will treat you like the queen you are, then treat yourself like one. That's the other main reason that I enjoy these books so much, nothing like female-empowerment to get my approval.

Along with the laughs, you'll get some scrumptious sounding recipes from this book. They won't be good for you (the SPQs love cheese, bacon, butter, chocolate, etc, etc) but they will bring a smile to your face, which is what all good Southern cooking has always been about. The Financial Planner part of the title should NOT be taken seriously, as the financial tips consist of things like, "Retirement plan -- marry a rich old man without children and hope for a quick demise." Well, not exactly, but close. But, again, if I'd wanted real financial advice, I would have picked up Suze Orman, so the fact that this book didn't provide that advice is not a shortcoming.

If you're looking for a quick and enjoyable read with no purpose other than to make you feel good, I highly recommend this book and all other SPQ books. Also, if you're the type that enjoys audiobooks, I recommend listening to any of the SPQ books that are read by the author -- she has a delightful Southern drawl and I always think it's better to hear a funny story than to read one.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

My first post

I'm currently in a book-reading mode, so there probably won't be much about movies on the blog. But one of my ongoing projects is to watch every movie that has ever been nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Acting categories -- so once I get back to that, there will be more movie-related stuff on here. I'm currently about 40% through that project but I burned out at Oscar time, so I've switched back to books for now.

What type of books do I read? Classic literature, travel essays (Bill Bryson is one of my faves), historical biography, European history, American history, and American law. I've read Bridget Jones and the Shopaholic series, but avoid Chic Lit for the most part. My only current guilty pleasure is the Sweet Potato Queens books, which are just hysterical and remind me so much of Southern women I've known my whole life, which I'm sure is the main reason I enjoy the books so much.

My personal library is over 600 books, most of which have yet to be read, and I'm a regular at the local library. As well as getting recommendations from other online bookaholics, I also subscribe to the New York Times Book Review and, for some twisted unexplainable reason, have also recently subscribed to the New York Review of Books (like I need extra help adding to my TBR). And, on top of all that, I also subscribe to a number of book-related podcasts, although I haven't noticed them adding significantly to the pile, so I don't think they're part of the problem.

Due to the nature of my posts (the rambling issue), for those of you kind enough to visit and read, my plan is to separate future posts into categories, so that anyone interested in book reviews can jump straight to one without having to wade through Lord-knows-what else I may have felt compelled to write about. A caveat: I've never been one to write reviews of books I've read, so I can't guarantee the quantity or quality of reviews on my blog. But I will give it a shot and see how it goes.