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text 2018-05-18 18:07
The Country Girls / Edna O'Brien
The Country Girls - Edna O'Brien

Meet Kate and Baba, two young Irish country girls who have spent their childhood together. As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. Kate, dreamy and romantic, yearns for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl. Although they set out to conquer the world together, as their lives take unexpected turns, Kate and Baba must ultimately learn to find their own way.

 

I have absolutely no idea how to rate this book. Can I say that I enjoyed it? Yes and no. Can I say that I appreciated it? Yes indeed.

It was an important book for its time—published in 1960 and showing an Ireland that doesn’t exist anymore. One where the Catholic Church and patriarchy reigned supreme and women had extremely limited choices. You could get married or become a nun. That was pretty much it, at least for the country girls. Women weren’t admitted to be sexual beings and weren’t supposed to criticize how their society worked.

Edna O’Brien writes beautifully about the naiveté of the two rural girls when they come to the big city. Kate is the artistic, romantic, intellectual girl who has idealistic visions of what life should be like. She wants to discuss literature with her dates and they only value her sexuality. She becomes involved with an older married man from her village because he offers a window into the more sophisticated world that Kate longs for. Baba, on the other hand, is far more earthy—she wants to smoke, drink, and enjoy the company of men. The two women couldn’t be more different from one another, but small communities make for strange friendships. With few people of the right age to choose from, you bond with the most compatible person available and these relationships rarely withstand leaving home.

The poverty, the alcohol problems, the repression of women--The Country Girls reveals them all. No wonder this book was denounced and banned. It was hanging out the dirty linen for the world to look at.

Ireland is a country that is definitely on my “to visit” list. I love reading books which are set there and I will definitely read more of O’Brien’s work.

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review 2018-05-14 23:56
Some odd little short stories
Pastoralia - George Saunders

Published in 2000, this book was somehow completely off my radar. The six short stories in this volume all feature people who are generally unhappy. They are unhappy for different reasons, but every one of them is trying their best, and none are wallowing in their unhappiness.

 

Pastoralia, my favorite of the stories, features a man who is working as a caveman in a museum exhibit. Living at the museum full time, he is trying to make enough money for his young son's medical treatment.

 

Another story features a young man working as a stripper of sorts, trying to support his aunt, his two cousins, and each of their young children. With no education and no other options, his aunt makes a plan.

 

The other 4 stories also feature men--boy to middle aged--who are unhappy in their lives. None have given up. In many ways these stories reflect the common theme of unhappy people, but Saunders gives his characters agency that they act on.

 

With under 200 pages, this book is a quick read and highly recommended for fans of short stories and unusual story lines.

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text 2018-05-12 04:56
Reading progress update: I've read 360 out of 608 pages.
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

"Master it," Brother Jack said, "but don't overdo it. Don't let it master you. There is nothing to put the people to sleep like dry ideology. The ideal is to strike a medium between ideology and inspiration. Say what the people want to hear, but say it in such a way that they'll do what we wish."

Now there is a cynic

He laughed. "Remember too, that theory always comes after practice. Act first, theorize later; that's also a formula, a devastatingly effective one!"
            He looked at me as though he did not see me and I could not tell whether he was laughing at me or with me. I was sure only that he was laughing.

 

"You'll do all right. Now listen. You are to continue what you started at the eviction. Keep them stirred up. Get them active. Get as many to join as possible. You'll be given guidance by some of the older members, but for the time being you are to see what you can do. You will have freedom of action -- and you will be under strict discipline to the committee."
            "I see," I said.
            "No, you don't quite see," he said, "but you will. You must not underestimate the discipline, Brother. It makes you answerable to the entire organization for what you do. Don't underestimate the discipline. It is very strict, but within its framework you are to have full freedom to do your work. And your work is very important. Understand?"

 

Oh, man! No, he doesn't understand AT ALL. Neither what "discipline" implies, nor the true impact and consequences of his eloquence (because he does not realize how it'll be used).

 

On all this section, I'm finding it infinitely ironic, yet fitting, the fact that being a figurehead speaker is part of what makes him invisible as a person. There is this bit before

 

"Stephen's problem, like ours, was not actually one of creating the uncreated conscience of his race, but of creating the uncreated features of his face. Our task is that of making ourselves individuals. The conscience of a race is the gift of its individuals who see, evaluate, record . . . We create the race by creating ourselves and then to our great astonishment we will have created something far more important: We will have created a culture. Why waste time creating a conscience for something that doesn't exist? For, you see, blood and skin do not think!"

He really has no definition of personal identity and gets absorbed into being little more than a voice flavoring other people's ideologies.

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text 2018-05-10 09:51
Reading progress update: I've read 240 out of 608 pages.
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

Damn. This guy does not only traipse through interesting times being a naive youth, he's got a cursed luck too... and there come the valves

 

Some pages later:

 

"The machine will produce the results of a prefrontal lobotomy without the negative effects of the knife,"

 

Christ. It's shock therapy.

 

"Why not castration, doctor?"
(...)
"Then why don't you try more current?"
"You suggest it?"
"I do, why not?"
"But isn't there a danger . . . ?" the voice trailed off.
(...)
"Look, he's dancing," someone called.
"No, really?"
An oily face looked in. "They really do have rhythm, don't they? Get hot, boy! Get hot!" it said with a laugh.

 

Hell

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text 2018-05-10 07:19
Reading progress update: I've read 180 out of 608 pages.
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

They were tightly sealed. I had read that letters were sometimes steamed open, but I had no steam. I gave it up, I really didn't need to know their contents and it would not be honorable or safe to tamper with Dr. Bledsoe. I knew already that they concerned me and were addressed to some of the most important men in the whole country. That was enough.

 

*whimpers* Such an oblivious boy

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