Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book Review: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Again, I'm all sweaty.
Why do I always blog after I run?
     I'm going to name my next cat Toni.  I don't think I'll ever have time for children, but I'll always have time for cats, so I'll bless a cat with her holy name.
     The protagonist of Song of Solomon is Macon "Milkman" Dead, the son of the wealthiest Black man in his town.  His father, Macon Dead Sr., believes that money is freedom and nothing else matters, least of all family.  He hates his wife, disdains his daughters, and values his son only in that he hopes Milkman will carry on the family real estate business.  The family of Macon Sr.'s estranged sister, Pilate, is the polar opposite - there is no domineering patriarch, no money, and no interest appearing "decent." Pilate, her daughter Reba, and Reba's daughter Hagar run a winehouse.  Both Milkman and Hagar grow uncomfortable with their families and find an escape in each other.  But when Milkman finally puts a stop to their weird incestuous hookups, the families are brought together again, for better or for worse.
     Like any Toni Morrison novel, this one deals with racial inequality, gender inequality, and the screwed-up psychology of family life, all by inspecting the minute details of human relationships.  And of course, the language is stunning.
     I'd expected this book to be brilliant, and it was. Despite my high expectations, I am knocked flat each time I read another one of Morrison's books, and Song of Solomon was no exception.

     - Carly

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book Review: Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

The book +
my sweaty post-jog self
     I stepped outside my comfort zone this month and read...another Nabokov novel!
     This book messes with you.  The overall feeling is one of creepiness.  It begins with a death sentence and ends with a beheading, and in between, the protagonist, Cincinnatus C., wrestles with the suspicion that his world isn't real.  There is lots of evidence to back up his suspicion - the crime for which he has been sentenced, "gnostical turpitude," defies any definition, and his fellow characters are ridiculous.  For example, his jailers are offended when Cincinnatus doesn't express gratitude for their hospitality.  There are a lot of funny moments throughout the story, but even the humor is unsettling.
     Much of this creepiness comes from the fact that Nabokov makes his influence as the writer known within the story.  He does something similar in Lolita, but here the involution is much more obvious.
     The concept of Invitation is intriguing and the writing style is delicious.  I wish I could have read the story in its original language, Russian.   Oh well :P

     - Carly

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Review: Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

     Nights at the Circus is a brain-splitting ideal-smashing feminist fairy tale.  It follows the adventures of Sophie Fevvers, a woman with wings who becomes a famous trapeze artist at the close of the nineteenth century, and of the reporter who must transform his worldview in order to love her.
     Fevvers is the best thing about the story.  She's described as a "giantess" - six feet tall, buff, and curvy, with huge wings - and her personality is as big as she is.  She eats, drinks, talks, and farts a lot. She has a thick Cockney accent and a strong body odor.  She is also a world-famous sex symbol.  I love the way Fevvers challenges my understanding of what a beautiful woman is, and why a woman's beauty or femininity is considered her most valuable trait.
     There are a million delicious characters in this story - an activist ex-prostitute, a Princess who trains tigers, and a chubby capitalist who wears a stars-and-stripes suit and consults a pig for advice, for example. There's also a panopticon-style prison for murderesses.  I could go on but I won't.  Read the book!

     - Carly

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Lolita Scavenger Hunt

     Now that I've finished applying to colleges, I'm back to blogging!  Sorry for the hiatus.
     I read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, the tragic story of a pedophile's obsession with a little girl, this fall and it blew my mind.  I read it twice before purchasing an annotated version, which revealed to me how intricate the book really is.  I picked up on the protagonist's manipulation of language in order to warp the truth on my own, but not until I read the annotations did I notice Nabokov's use of involution or literary allusions.  This may sound a bit pretentious, but it was so satisfying to understand all the tricks at work in the writing.  So I've compiled a cheat sheet/list of some motifs, devices, and patterns to look for when reading Lolita.
1. Colors: Especially patterns of colors surrounding certain characters or emotions.
2. Quilty: It's an important name and it appears in different forms throughout the book, even before the character to which it belongs is introduced.
3. "Annabel Lee": The speaker alludes to this poem and its author, Edgar Allen Poe, in order to draw a favorable comparison to his own depraved "romance."
4. Freud-Bashing: Nabokov thought Freud's theories were garbage.  It's fun to watch him trash the Oedipal complex and Freudian educators through Lolita :)
5. Coincidences: Numbers repeat in different situations.  Anagrams reveal startling identities. Nabokov liked to play with the details of his plots for the sole purpose of showing that he was in control.  He had quite an ego :P

     - Carly