Category Archives: #CBR7

#CBR7 Review #222: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Whew. I have spent the evening blogging about books. I did not mean to let myself get this far behind in my reviews, but Christmas vacation happened, and travelling made it much easier to read than to blog. And travelling makes me nervous about having a lack of things to read—so I loaded up my Nook with borrowed library books and sat by a charger at the airport so I would not be bored or bookless (which is kind of the same thing, ya know?). And it was in the delayed flight, delayed arrival at the gate, and delayed baggage arrival (yesterday was a LONG DAY), that I polished off Sister Carrie.

Carrie Meeber, also known to her family as Sister Carrie, aspires to catch a big break in Chicago. She leaves the family home in Columbia City, Wisconsin for her sister’s flat in Chicago. There, a fussy baby, poverty, and a taciturn brother-in-law dampen her enthusiasm for the glamorous life she hopes to lead. Further, her poor factory job discourages her with its long hours, back-breaking work, and miserable pay. She falls into the company of Charles Drouet and becomes a sort of companion/mistress to him. Then she meets George Hurstwood, a successful upper-to-middle-class manager and discovers the power of infatuation. Her rise to the stage is mirrored by Hurstwood’s fall, a double-examination of the power of the American dream in everyday life.

This book was engaging, compelling, and a fast read. I thought that Dreiser’s social criticism was spot-on. I will say, though, his depiction of women is not as nuanced as his depiction of men. I think that as far as a portrait-of-the-artist (or Kunstlerroman) is concerned, Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark is much better, particularly in its characterization of women. That said, I found this novel well worth the time, and a much faster read than the dense and slower-paced An American Tragedy.

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#CBR7 Review #221: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

There are some books that do really well as audiobooks, particularly if you have a long commute or need something that will engage your attention. There are others that have long, slow, winding threads of story and just don’t grab your attention the way they should when you are exhausted and stuck in rush-hour traffic. The Golden Notebook is a really difficult, dense book, and it does not a good audiobook make.

Anna Wulf is a conflicted writer. After publishing one highly successful novel, Frontiers of War, she finds herself in the ties of writer’s block. In the main thread of the novel (called The Free Women), she and her best friend Molly are conflicted about Molly’s ex-husband, current wife, and son Tommy. She finds herself returning to four notebooks—black, red, blue, and yellow—and wondering how to collate them all into a golden notebook that will make sense of her existence. She has considered herself a sexually liberated woman, but the novel continually intersperses the lost love she mourns, as well as those lovers who have impacted her in various ways. She struggles with her identity as a woman, an ex-Communist, a feminist, and an individual.

While the idea of this book is fascinating, it’s sometimes hard to decide if it works in execution. The fragmentation that the various notebooks bring up make me wonder if there is any cohesive storyline to find at all, if that’s even the point, or if postmodernism is just a sort of sloppy label to make this narrative work. Also, I want to bring up a point that’s been kind of bugging me. This is considered a feminist masterpiece, but it takes so much time to explore female insecurity and male sexual partners that it feels counter-productive. Also it’s very Freudian in a way that is anachronistic. I feel like this would have been much more widely studied 30 years ago, but not so much now. I don’t know if I would teach this book, or just merely a few excerpts. It’s a tough call, and it’s a tough book.

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#CBR7 Review #220: Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

The Chancellor and I went to my parents’ house for Christmas this year. To get great tickets, we flew out of our major city’s airport at 7 am. Which meant we had to be there at 5. And be up at 3:30 am. We’re not morning people. And here’s the kicker: it was my 31st birthday. So apparently, my addled brain thought it would be a GREAT idea to start Tess of the D’Urbervilles that morning. Because apparently, my self-hatred knows no bounds.

I started to read Tess in high school, got angry, threw it across the room, and gave up. Then, I decided that I needed to finish it. Just so that I’d know. And believe me, I know.

Tess Durbeyfield is part of an impoverished family that cannot seem to get its act together or catch a break. Then, when the parish priest finds out that they’re actually part of an ancient family, the D’Urbervilles, the father decides they must rely on their connections. He sends his innocent daughter Tess to a strain of wealthy D’Urbervilles (who have actually no filial connection and just appropriated the name to legitimize their wealth) for assistance. Tess is taken advantage of by her “cousin” Alec and runs back home in shame and pregnancy. Two years later, she moves to a country dairy, where she meets the saintly cold fish, Angel Clare. His idolization of her quickly turns sour, and she is left in even more dire straits than before.

This book is the misery Olympics. Seriously. I get the point that Hardy is making, and he makes it well—that women are so vilely abused and held to a ridiculous sexual double-standard to their detriment and society’s—but it is not a pleasure to read by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I got angrier and angrier as the book went on, and I just wanted it to go away. Tess is a poor, sweet, naïve little flower, Alec is a disgusting pig, and Angel is a sanctimonious asshole. I do not ever want to read it again. As I said in my Goodreads review, this book is about as pleasant as an annual pap smear. Or a root canal. If you want to read Thomas Hardy, go with Far from the Madding Crowd instead. You’ll thank me later.

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#CBR7 Review #219: Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

I’ve been trying to read my way through Margaret Atwood, and I thought with the end of the year approaching, I would try out a collection of short stories. While I tend to prefer Atwood’s novels best, I do like the collections I’ve encountered thus far (admittedly, though, Atwood is an incredibly prolific writer, and I’ve only scratched the surface of her work). Moral Disorder is an interesting and engaging collection.

Told from various vantage points, Moral Disorder connects the same timeline from various points in time. Nell is one of the major characters, whose life from childhood to her late adulthood is covered, though not in chronological order. Her partner Tig is also featured, as well as his ex-wife, his children, and the child they have together. The circle of life, from childhood, to young love, adulthood, old age, and death, is covered in entirety. People and animals find a way to coexist, even as they clash and conflict. The world dramatically changes from its existence in the 1930s to a world that may not exist as we know it today. It’s all depicted from a typical Atwood lens—that is, wry, dark, and well-fashioned, and sharply funny.

This collection is interesting and engaging. While I would not count it as a favorite stand-alone short-story collection, I definitely find it worthy of Atwood’s canon. It wouldn’t be my starting point if you’ve never read Atwood, but if you have, definitely give it a try. I’ve not read a short story collection that was both inter-twined and written out of chronological order, and this one was very well-executed.

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#CBR7 Review #218: Far from You by Tess sharpe

When I went to my conference in November, I attended a young adult literature panel in which two of my brother’s friends presented papers. His friend D talked about bi-erasure in YA lit and standards by which we should measure literature. It was a fascinating conference paper. In the question-and-answer time, I asked him if there was a book in which a bi character was depicted most positively. He suggested Tess Sharpe’s Far from You, and I was happy to give it a try.

Sophie is a recovering painkiller addict. For nine months, two weeks, and six days, she has been clean. But that’s not what everyone thinks. Four months ago, her best friend Mina was killed in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone awry. She’s been forced into rehab for an addiction she has already kicked. And she believes that Mina’s death was no accident. So it is up to her to piece together her broken life in her small town and discover the truth. At the same time, questions about her past mingle with her investigation, forcing her to confront the truth about herself.

This was an engaging mystery, and it was also an interesting exploration of sexuality and friendship in young adult literature. I’m accused of having gritty taste in young adult literature, and I’m definitely guilty of that. But this book balances the gritty with emotionally resonant relationships and backstory, which make it unique. I do think that it explores the complexities of bi-sexuality well by exploring the implications of being attracted to a person, regardless of gender, without being too prescriptive about it. Here’s hoping more books like this one will be published for teens of all sexualities and experiences.

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#CBR7 Review #217: Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

In my quest to continue the Book Club Streak, I decided to read January’s book early. I have so many other books to read, and I hate being last-minute about selections. Plus, I was also rather nervous about this book. C, our organizer, had decided on a book that she wanted us all to read, and then she wants to connect it to a Rob Bell sermon/talk on the universe. I’m not sure how much I have to contribute to the discussion, as far as math is concerned. But I’m rather intrigued by its depiction of society.

Flatland is an allegory/satire/parable about math and society. I think. It chronicles the life and society of A. Square, who resides in the two-dimensional flatland. He documents the life of being two-dimensional, except for the women—who are merely lines and have to shout out their appearance, because their needle-like bodies have pierced men before (I’m not even making this stuff up). Then, one day, a sphere interrupts the seemingly peaceful, if boring and limited existence. Once Square leaves Flatland, he can’t really go back. But how to make others believe in a three-dimensional existence?

The math parts of this book glazed me over quite a bit. I’m not sure how the universe/science parts of our book club discussion will go. But, when reading the introduction, I understood that there was a commentary on society that we are supposed to glean from it. And if you have read Gulliver’s Travels or The Blazing World of Margaret Cavendish, it makes sense. While this was not an enjoyable or pleasurable read, the bizarre gender/marriage dynamic kept me engaged—I really do hope this is satire, because if not, YIKES.

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#CBR7 Review #216: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

After my encounter with Eleanor and Park, I wasn’t sure that Rainbow Rowell was for me. Several Cannonballers recommended that I try Attachments, a more adult novel instead. I was glad to give it a go. And while I still believe that Rowell and I are not of the same tribe, I understand why she has such a huge following.

Attachments consists of a fairly simple concept with two major storylines. In 1999, Y2K is approaching and there are technological concerns about the rise of the internet. Therefore, a Lincoln, Nebraska newspaper has hired an internet security officer to monitor its employee internet usage, particularly the work emails. That’s where Lincoln, our hero comes in. As he works, he finds the email exchanges between work best friends Beth and Jennifer to be the most interesting and evocative. That’s where the second plotline comes in. Beth and Jennifer write personal messages that unfold their personal lives, addressing each other with affection and frankness. Lincoln is drawn into their lives, but realizes that he might be falling for Beth. And that’s where the conflict comes in.

If this book had consisted solely of Beth and Jennifer, I would have loved it. Rowell captures adult female friendships so well, and she draws Beth and Jennifer with fine detail. I enjoyed them individually very much. However, this book had WAY TOO MUCH LINCOLN for my taste. I don’t like passive beta-males, and I’ve been pursued by about ten Lincolns. I do not find it romantic. Also, I do not understand how a man can be hung up on his high school girlfriend for NINE YEARS.

Also also, I do not understand why Rowell keeps insisting that nerdy though Lincoln may be, it’s actually secretly okay, because HE IS LIKE, TOTALLY HOT. But for reals, there is nothing sexy about a drifting, aimless manchild who lives with his mother, coasts through life, and agonizes over a woman he has never met and doesn’t actually know.

In short: Beth and Jennifer get 5 stars, Lincoln gets 1 star, and that is an average of 3 stars. Sorry, friends. Rainbow Rowell is not for me, but I get why she’s loved.

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