#kaitreadsforcomps Mini Reviews #4-5: Shifts in Drama and Feelings of Instability: the Beginning of the Cold War Fear

 

#kaitreadsforcomps #4: Shifts in Drama

This reflection will discuss several plays of the 40s-60s:

  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, 1949
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, 1955
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee, 1962
  • Deliverance by James Dickey, 1970

To be honest, I didn’t actually enjoy a single one of these plays. I can see how they were working to change the way that the average theatre patron thought of drama by discussing topics often left out of polite conversation, but at the same time as a resident of the 21st Century, I have a hard time appreciating it. For me, the ideas of families falling apart and the clash between “civilized” and “barbaric” cultures (shown through rape, no less) aren’t really dynamic, new, or interesting. I see enough of this in reality. Outside of their importance in terms of a shift from propriety to a more open discussion (which I admit is very important), I see no reason to ever read or watch these again. That’s all I have to say about that.

 

#kaitreadsforcomps #5: Feelings of Instability

This reflection will discuss four texts:

  • “The Morning of the Day They Did It” by E.B. White (1950)
  • Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron (1951)
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
  • Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill (1956)

Really, this list could be broken down futher into realistic instability (Styron and O’Neill) and early dystopian instability (White and Bradbury), but I’m keeping them together because I think they’re participating in the same conversation.

“The Morning of the Day They Did It” by E.B. White is one of the texts on my list that I had read many times before. I love it. It’s a super short story, so you all should check it out. It was published in The New Yorker in 1950 and is honestly pretty prophetic. White discusses both the dangers of nuclear war and the problems of genetic modification in this short fiction. While I’m sure it’s not the absolute earliest piece of dystopian environmental fiction, it’s certainly up there. This text certainly indicates that there were feelings of instability about the environment and the dangers of war earlier than I had imagined.

Of course, everyone is well aware of the 1953 great, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Again, we find the fear of instability expressed this time concerning the dangers of censorship and illiteracy as well as the loss of knowledge of the humanities. Perhaps all the people in our political administration should consider this as they cut the funding to all humanities grants—or perhaps they already have.

Lie Down in Darkness and Long Days Journey Into Night are like the connection between these dystopian texts and the plays mentioned above. Here we are discussing the taboo, but it is not simply for the sake of discussing it, but out of an acknowledgement of the culture of fear.

I think that all in all, what we see here in both of these sections is the beginning of the Cold War narrative of fear. The downfall of the family, the suspicion of knowledge contrasted with the necessity for it, the general degradation of culture—Cold War culture.

#kaitreadsforcomps Snippet#1: "The Man Who Planted Trees"

So, this text doesn’t really fit in with any of the others, but I LOVE IT. It ended up on my list rather on a whim. This story was recommended in a list by a dear mentor of mine who passed away during the first year of my doctoral program, Dr. Karl Maurer. It fits in with my theme of agrarian texts, so I kept it in the final version even though I was trying to cut down my reading. I’m so glad I did.

The main idea is that the narrator is out on a walk and comes across a man planting trees. This man, who has lost his family and cares more about leaving behind a real legacy than making money, has devoted his life to planting trees and wishes to do so anonymously. The story follows the narrator on his many adventures and through the two world wars. Every once in a while, he comes back to visit the man planting the trees.

This is such an endearing story. You should check it out for sure.

#kaitreadsforcomps #3: Black Literature leading into and during the Civil Rights Movement

In this reflection, I will talk about:

  • A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks (1945)
  • If He Hollers, Let Him Go by Chester Himes (1945)
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
  • Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin (1953)
  • Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes (1955)
  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959)
  • The Dead Lecturer by Amiri Baraka (1964)
  • Dutchman by Amiri Baraka (1964)
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##KaitReadsForComps Mini-Review #1: Dust Bowl Fiction and Drought Narratives

About #KaitReadsForComps: I'm trying to blog about every section on my reading list to help me process through what I've read. I'm going slowly, but running out of time. I hope this is interesting to you! 


Texts included:

Steinbeck, John. To a God Unknown (1933).

Johnson, Josephine. Now in November (1934).

Babb, Sanora. Whose Names are Unknown (pub. 2004, written 1938).

Steinbeck, John. Grapes of Wrath (1939).

Before reading: I’ve always been interested in the Dust Bowl and my interests were renewed when researching for a paper on the movie Interstellar. I’m fascinated by the intersection between science fiction and food sourcing and the movie felt particularly meaningful in light of the current monoculture epidemic in the U.S.

Warning: spoilers ahead. If you want to read these texts on your own, don’t keep reading. Honestly, though, these are things you can just read my summaries of and not ever waste time reading!

 

To a God Unknown

My Summary: Six years before he wrote Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck wrote this narrative about the Wayne family who leave their homes in the east to go to California and establish a homestead. Like most of the literature of this era, the main character, Joseph, and his brothers, Thomas, Benjy, and Burton experience calamity after calamity. Their farm is successful at first, but as the rains stop and the soil dries up, they are incapable of making a living. Beset by disease, addiction, poverty, and hunger, slowly every family member leaves until Joseph is alone.

My thoughts: The title comes from the story’s one truly unique quality: whereas most of the novels, stories, and legends coming out of the Dust Bowl era are definitively Christian, this narrative allows for native deities (unspecified beyond there being a “spirit” or something that the more devout brother curses) to play a role in the life on the farm. Believing the spirit of the ancient tree on the property to be his father, Joseph becomes enamored with the tree, making offerings to it and spending time speaking with it. When Burton realizes exactly what is happening, he eventually cuts the tree at the roots, effectively killing the tree and causing the drought. The drought is only ended when Joseph offers himself to the rock in the middle of the grove, which his wife had fell to her death on years before. A weird novel, I can’t imagine doing much with it in terms of research or teaching, but it’s definitely an alternate drought narrative.

 

Now In November

My Summary: Yet another truly depressing Dust Bowl narrative, Now in November is uniquely told entirely from a woman’s perspective (at least, for novels actually published at the time). This is a story of a family that moves to the Midwest to live on land after they have problems “in town” (unspecified). While he tells his wife that they own the land outright, it is actually mortgaged land, meaning that they are chained by debt and will have to make a real profit (unlikely) to get free.

The parents and the oldest child, Kerrin, feel no attachment to the land, but the narrator, Margaret, and the youngest, Merle, love it. They start out with a hired hand, but when he moves to town, Father hires Grant. Margaret quickly falls in love with him, but he falls first for the eldest and then for the youngest. This group of five makes up the main cast of characters for this short and depressing story.

Kerrin is a deeply melancholic character and suffers from an “illness” which can only be depression. She works at first as a teacher, but is fired when her illness becomes more unmanageable.

With the drought, it becomes hard to pay rent and neighbor after neighbor lose their farms. The family hangs on, although it becomes much harder after the loss of Kerrin’s pay from teaching, but one day there is a fire and Mother gets burned. Kerrin commits suicide with Grant’s knife, mother dies the next day, and Grant leaves the farm. Margaret is convinced that she and Merle will somehow continue on and keep the farm.

My Thoughts: As you can see, this is a fine, uplifting text (not really) with a complex plot (nope) and is likely to be very helpful for my research (probably not). But I’m glad I read it. It just frustrates me that the only one of these narratives published at the time by a woman is basically plot-less and involves zero character development on the part of the characters. Father stays angry, Mother kind, Grant generous, Kerrin selfish and increasingly depressed, Margaret quiet and unwilling to stand up for herself, and Merle the baby. There’s a lot left to be desired.

 

Whose Names Are Unknown

About this Book: So, you know how I kept talking about Now in November as being the only narrative by a woman published at the time? Yeah, that’s because Sanora Babb wrote this novel and was all set to have it published when Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was released (seriously, like days before her book was to be printed). The publisher pulled the book because they thought another book about so similar a story wouldn’t sell. Unfortunately, it probably should have been the other way around. Babb lived as a farmer in the Dust Bowl and combined her own experiences with research. In fact, this novel is a story meant to be a narrative companion to Arthur Rothstein's photo, "Fleeing a Dust Storm." Babb combines her correspondence, memories, and historical documents found during her research to tell a story about the Dunne family, living in a one-room hovel when the rains failed to come. With a plot very similar to Grapes of Wrath, Babb tells the stories of families fleeing Oklahoma for the California working camps. Of course, it’s a Dust Bowl narrative, so nothing can go right (because at the time, nothing did).

My thoughts: I enjoyed this book and the narrative style. I’m not sure I would say the actual writing is better than Steinbeck, but I think the story and the craft of the writer in basing her text in real-life experience deserves an equal space in our canon with Steinbeck’s absurdly long tome.

 

Grapes of Wrath

Overall Assessment: What Whose Names Are Unknown lacks in written elegance, Steinbeck’s great novel possesses in droves. However, unlike Babb, Steinbeck is giving into the popularized narrative of the Dust Bowl, ignoring several facts and scientific research as he tells about the Joads and their problems. The oversymbolism isn’t really my style.  

 

Dust Bowl Narratives, Conclusion: I really enjoyed the first of the Steinbeck novels and Babbs, but could have done without the others. 

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Seven months ago now, my friend Christina and I started a book club. The point of that book club was to read what I was needing to read for school, but that failed pretty quickly (my friends are supportive, but most aren’t that supportive). Since then, it has changed and morphed into a science fiction book club, which is more or less just an excuse for us to read fun books and hang out with some of our closest friends.

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2015 Reading Challenge

So, for the last three years now I have been embarking on an intentional reading challenge. In 2012, I made it a goal to read either 100 books or 80 books plus The Silmarillion (I ended up doing the latter). In 2013, I read only a handful of books because of finishing my MA exams. Then, for 2014, I made the goal of reading 75 books but only ended up reading 57.

This year, my goal is to read 50 books while keeping up with my PhD work. Part of this is because I know it is important for my mental health that I continue to do fun reading. Part of it, however, is practical: I have piles and piles of books that I want to read, but not necessarily keep. If I can get them read, I’ll be able to make more space. And besides, as a Literature fellow, I really do need to be reading some of the more modern fiction books as well as the classics so I can participate more in conversations within the department (I’m a great books girl in a non-great books world).

As a reader of the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, I am also looking at the MMD reading challenge. This challenge involves reading a book in each of the following categories:

·      A book you’ve been meaning to read
·      A book published this year
·      A book in a genre you don’t typically read
·      A book from your childhood
·      A book your mom loves
·      A book that was originally written in a different language
·      A book “everyone” has read but you
·      A book you chose because of the cover
·      A book by a favorite author
·      A book recommended to you by someone with great taste
·      A book you should have read in high school The Giver by Lois Lowry
·      A book that’s currently on the bestseller list

As you can see, I’ve already finished a book from one of the categories. Today I read The Giver, which I’ve been meaning to read since before high school. It was a good read and I’m glad I can now say I’ve read it. A lot of people have been talking about it lately because of the movie and I’m glad I finally caved into the pressure.


Now, on to the next book! I’m not sure yet what it will be, but I’m trying to enjoy this last little bit of time before classes begin by reading as much as I can.

A Breathe of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont

A Breathe of Eyre

by Eve Marie Mont

(Cover from Goodreads)

I’m not really sure why I bought this book. It was a Kindle Deal of the Day, but I bought it before I ever read Jane Eyre. I waited until I read the classic before diving into this one. That said, I read it in one sitting (and stayed up until 5am doing so!).

This book has both good and bad points.

At first, I loved the character. A typical outsider, Emma loves to read, has few friends, and is socially awkward. A true loner with really no friends, I was interested to see how the novel would play out. However, within the first few pages, she suddenly has a love interest and two new best friends who stick with her through thick and thin. Great for the character, but not very realistic. She is today’s heroine, the girl every little girl wants to be, who magically finds best friends and acceptance with little effort.

In fact, there is a great deal of suspension of disbelief in this novel. A lot of it is highly unlikely (how many high schoolers do you know who almost drown, get struck by lightning, get knocked unconscious in a burning stable while trying to save horses, and then almost die saving a friend from an attempted suicide, all in one year’s time? Yes, all of this does happen in this novel.) Plus, this is yet another tale written about a girl in boarding school where the boarding school sounds a little unreal.

Yet, if you can get past all of that, it’s actually a pretty good book. In spite of how unrealistic Emma is, she is pretty lovable. She has great internal conversations and she grows as a character, finding courage both through her friend Michelle and her adventures being transported into her new favorite book,

Jane Eyre.

Yes, this lucky little girl does indeed get transported inside her favorite book, but what happens there is a great (perhaps not so) new take on a beloved classic.

Which leads me to the only point about this book that actually ticks me off: if Charlotte Bronte were alive, I’m pretty sure she would sue for copyright infringement. While Mont has re-written the story from Emma’s perspective of being trapped inside her novel, once Emma starts to lose track of herself and truly become Jane, Mont is basically just retelling entire chunks of

Jane Eyre.

I, having read through that story once (in the much better written original version), decided I didn’t really want to read those sections again, so I skimmed. Perhaps the retelling is necessary for readers who haven’t read

Jane Eyre

, but really, who would read a novel entitled

A Breathe of Eyre

if they haven’t read

Jane Eyre

? It seems sort of like cheating to me and looks sort of like plagiarism. I mean, if this was written for a creative writing course I was teaching, I would probably fail her for using so much straight from the original. Not okay.

But, if you skip those parts and accept the suspension of disbelief, it’s actually a great young adult novel. A great protagonist, a rocky romance, and family secrets—it includes all the makings of a great weekend read for when you need to relax. This is my version of a guilty pleasure kind of book and, in spite of the aforementioned weaknesses, I’ll probably read it again.

And, if you’re a fan of

Jane Eyre

, so should you.

I give it 4/5 stars.

Note:

A Breathe of Eyre

is apparently one of a series. I haven’t read the others, but it seems that in the second novel, she finds herself in

The Scarlet Letter

and in the third novel, in

Phantom of the Opera

. I’m sort of tied between wanting to

be

this character falling into her favorite books all the time and being glad that I don’t have to deal with the drama of being stuck in these particular books!

The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird

A while back, I read the book

The Lion in the Lei Shop

by Kaye Starbird. It was recommended by Modern Mrs. Darcy. It happened to be one of the Kindle deals of the day, so I read it on my kindle. 

I think this was a hard book for me to read because, in many ways, it hit strangely close to home. It was a novel that was written from two perspectives, telling the story twice. The two characters are mother and daughter and the story explores the question of perspective and how the perspectives of adults and children differ.

Marty is five years old when her home in Hawaii is thrown into chaos by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her mother, April, who is pregnant at the time, reacts with the dutiful obedience of an army wife and helps organize the women, including her sister, Liz, who is also pregnant and farther along than April. Yet, in the midst of the chaos around them, neither woman seems to communicate with or even pay attention to their children. And that, friends, is the theme of the story.

Starbird tells of how Marty and April travel to Boston to live with April’s parents before ending up buying a small house out in the country. Throughout the story, Marty is expected to take more and more responsibility, all the while April apparently ignores her daughter in her distress. The different perspectives are interesting because you hear Marty’s honest, childlike version of what happened, and then you hear her mother’s version, which rarely matches up with what Marty thought happened.

The story is really good, but the storytelling becomes really infuriating. The characters waver between enchanting and annoying as Marty becomes obsessed with a lion in her nightmare and April spends a good portion of the novel ignoring her daughter (and after the second baby is born, daughters) and the obvious problems she is having adjusting to life after the bombing. Typical of family life in this era, there is no communication between the mother and her daughters, leaving the little ones confused and angry.

This is a hard book to rate because the story and writing are so good, but the characters so infuriating at times. I don’t think I would reread this one, but I will give it

3.5/5 stars. I think it would be a good book for a book group or discussion.

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel

I was recently in Barnes and Noble. When I was browsing the bargain section, I found this lovely little novel,

The Recipe Club

by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel.

At first, I was primarily drawn to the beautiful cover. The best of 1970’s hues in kitchenware, the book simply looked beautiful. Then, picking it up and reading the back cover, I read this: “Loyalty, loss, and the ties that bind: These are the ingredients of

The Recipe Club

, a ‘novel cookbook’ that combines an authentic story of friendship with more than eighty delicious recipes.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know me, you might not be aware that I’m completely addicted to cookbooks and food-related stories. So, obviously, I had to pick up a copy.

I have to admit that, at first, I was a little disappointed in this novel. The first few pages were not particularly alluring or well written. But, as I persevered, I got hooked on the story of these two very different little girls who were best friends and rivals all at once, whose relationship revolved around food, and who were the only members of the Recipe Club and therefore, each letter that the girls wrote the other included a recipe (all of which sound delicious, by the way).

The basic plot is that Lilly and Val have been lifelong friends. The novel begins with an adult Val writing an email to adult Lilly to tell her that her mother, who loved Lilly as well as her own daughter, has died. The reader quickly learns that these two women, who the back cover asserts as lifelong friends, haven’t spoken in years. The  story continues a bit, then stops after another fight. Then, the  book takes us back to the 60’s when, as children, their relationship grew mostly through writing letters after Val’s family moved to another part of New York City, away from Lilly and her own family.

The writing is not masterful, but the story is good and the characters intriguing. I have to admit that before I even got five pages into the older letters, I turned the pages to the back section that took up the modern day again to find out if my hunch about a major plot twist was right. It was. So, I’m guessing most readers anticipate the same plot twist I did. It was, however, a good one.

One thing that makes this book stand out against other similar fiction made of letters is that there are two authors, and therefore the letters have a distinct feel to them that makes the character more real.

So, while the writing style is less than stellar (acceptable, given that both authors are cookbook writers who have never done fiction before), I love the characters. I love the story, too, and the aforementioned plot twist is one that explores much about childhood, friendship, and the role that secrets can often play in families. Mental illness, teenage rebellion, and loyalty are other themes that are explored.

While I don’t think this book could be seen as life changing, I do think it is a decent book and a good read. I give it three stars. If you like food literature or books about long enduring friendship, check this out (and if you’re near a Barnes and Noble, you might be able to pick up a copy for $5!).

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown

The following is an excerpt from a review I have published in Spiritual Uprising Magazine

Almost two years ago, my friend Lorna told me that I just had to read this book called Sensible Shoes. I added it to my list of books to read, but I never got around to it. So, I was pleasantly surprised when, as a part of a wonderful “PhD Survival Kit,” she gave me a copy. When I was packing to go on my retreat, I slipped the book into my bag without really thinking about it. I figured, why not? It might be a good read.

It was so good that I couldn’t set it down.

...

To read the rest of this review, download the June issue of Spiritual Uprising Magazine. The e-magazine is available for free! You can find it at http://www.up-ministries.org/current-issue.html

Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin

Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin

This review was originally published in Spiritual Uprising Magazine's May 2014 issue and is reprinted with permission. I encourage you to check out Spiritual Uprising at www.up-ministries.org/spiritual-uprising-magazine.html

I started reading Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin as part of my Providence Circle. The goal was that we would read the book chapter by chapter and then get together to discuss. While we haven’t been able to meet as often as we would like, I have read the book on my own.

I think that this book has great insight. For those Christians who are bothered by the seemingly male-dominated quality of Christian history, reading a book about twelve women in the New Testament and learning about their role in the Apostolic era is eye-opening.

Turpin’s writing is good. You can tell in reading her work how much she has studied the Apostolic era—the research she has done into ancient Christian tradition (most of which have been forgotten by all but the academics in the Church) is phenomenal. Most Christians know little about Salome, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, or Tabitha. Most of us have never even heard of Prisca or Lydia. Turpin tells the stories of these women with devotion and full belief.

My primary critique of this book comes from her lack of citations. She will say something and cite it in tradition, but usually never mentions which text to find the story in. She puts complete faith in obscure texts that the Church has never claimed to be true or infallible. Like many Catholics, she tries to get rid of the discomfort of mystery by giving credence to unsubstantiated traditions. Yet, her work allows the reader to connect with scripture in a whole new way. In addition, while some of the traditions she cites might be suspect or have been completely cast off by most Christians (the stories of Mary’s childhood, for example), she also uses finds from modern archaeology to help her tell the story—and that works beautifully.

Turpin’s book is not only educational, but spiritual. She includes great discussion questions that are useful both for a group reading and a personal reading. Each chapter ends with a prayer, making it a great choice for spiritual reading.

In the end, while I would caution readers new to the study of Biblical History to not take everything Turpin says as fact, I would definitely recommend this book as a great read for a group or personal spiritual reading.