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review 2014-08-06 14:23
Book 69/100: The Girl Who Was On Fire - Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy
The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy - Carrie Ryan,Blythe Woolston,Bree Despain,Lili Wilkinson,Terri Clark,Sarah Rees Brennan,Adrienne Kress,Mary Borsellino,Jennifer Lynn Barnes,Elizabeth M. Rees,Sarah Darer Littman,Cara Lockwood,Leah Wilson,Ned Vizzini

Reading this book was like reading a collection of essays by an incredibly articulate college class.

It's been a long time since I've read "critical reviews" like this, and it seems perhaps I've lost the taste for it. I guess I just expected something different than for a bunch of YA authors to write their Hunger Games Theses, complete with quotes and citations throughout. What did I want? Maybe something edgier, more personal, more impactful. As it was, the essays were interesting -- I especially liked those that examined the human brain and PTSD in its relationship to the Hunger Games -- and I think they gave me a deeper appreciation for the trilogy. But perhaps I would have gotten more out of them if it hadn't been a few years since I'd read the original books -- I seem to remember them well, but these essays called out specific details that I did not remember.

I think I have greater respect for the choices Suzanne Collins made, especially in Mockingjay, but the book didn't make me want to revisit the original. Although I recognized a handful of the authors included, none of them make my "faves" list, and in some ways this book feels like a way for lesser known authors to get some free press by riding on the coat-tails of a more popular series. Now that I officially feel like a bad person, I think I'd better wrap up this review.

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text 2013-11-23 04:46
Camusian Essays
Lyrical and Critical Essays - Albert Camus

This book is a book of books and bits and pieces, so impossible really to review closely in one hit. So, I plan to review each independent part separately as I finish them and adjust the star counter as necessary.

The first Lyrical Essay ‘The Wrong Side and the Right Side’ (L’Envers et L’Endroit). FIVE STARS

If, in spite of so many efforts to create a language and bring myths to life, I never manage to rewrite The Wrong Side and the Right Side, I shall have achieved nothing.

Preface, 1958

First published in 1937 in a very limited print run, Camus’ first work is a Lyrical Essay in parts. The 1958 preface to its republication in his Nobel year is full of recognisable quotes, particularly on the art and craft of writing; a topic he takes up with some gusto, since he had been refusing to have this book republished due to his artistic ‘vanity’. Words he uses to describe his own writing include ‘awkward’, ‘pompous’ and ‘clumsy’. But, he also writes:

...there is more love in these awkward pages than all those that have followed.

The Essay is in five parts: Irony, Between Yes and No, Death in the Soul, Love of Life, and The Wrong Side and the Right Side. In a broad, Camusian thematic sense, looking back from the privileged knowledge of where his thought will go, we move from how meaning shifts; what life is considering this instability; Despair; Love; and, finally, what this means for being human in the sense of moral engagement. I am going to mostly focus on the development of Camus' ideas, but take the 'Lyrical' part of the idea of the 'Essay' for granted as absolutely and fundamentally successful, even in translation, obviously; such a powerful mode of writing for Camus, so energetic and languid at the same time in its astonishing beauty and knife-keen ability to cut open moments, places, people and ideas all at once.

‘Irony’ brings together three character studies, and none of them fit together.

A woman you leave behind to go to the movies, an old man to whom you stop listening, a death that redeems nothing, and then, on the other hand, the whole radiance of the world. Here are three destines, different and yet alike. Death for us all, but his own death to each.

And herein lies the irony that Camus explores through his lyrical mode—and the sentences, even when thick with despair, have the kind of drenching light-and-dark beauty of a Caravaggio squeezed into ink. It’s the additional meaning to all meaning, that there is both meaning in meaninglessness, and in reverse. This is the basis of existential estrangement. It is the birthplace of that thing he will one day call the Absurd.

The final of the three character sketches—the death that redeems nothing—is also heavily autobiographical in nature, based on his overbearing grandmother in Algiers, and how she ruled.

‘Between Yes and No’ could be read as a prequel to L’Etranger (The Stranger/The Outsider). Here is Meursault while his mother was alive, and his approach to life still being formulated in his mind.

...I recall not a moment of past happiness but a feeling of strangeness.

In the face of estrangement, pre-Meursault grapples with the idea of affirming the act of living or negating it. Negation is more attractive...

There is a dangerous virtue in the word simplicity. And tonight I can understand a man wanting to die because nothing matters anymore when one sees through life completely.

But affirmation becomes almost a demand of him through experience...

Since this hour is like a pause between yes and no, I leave hope or disgust with life for another time. Yes, only to capture the transparency and simplicity of paradises lost—in an image. ...the feeling that the whole absurd simplicity of the world has sought refuge here.

...and finishes with a position that appears to dovetail nicely with the Meursault as we know him from L’Etranger:

...what wells up in me is not the hope of better days but a serene and primitive indifference to everything and to myself.

‘Death in the Soul’ was based on Camus’ own trip to Prague, and is a precursor to ‘A Happy Death’—which in turn was a precursor to ‘L’Etranger’, so once again, there are shades of Meursault, though this unnamed protagonist is far more involved and introspective, and reminded me of Dostoevsky’s protagonist from ‘Notes from Underground’. Travel narrative is now used as a motif to investigate estrangement; our protagonist is struck by his inability to exist in Prague, where even the elements conspire against him.

I visited churches, palaces and museums, tried to soften my distress in every work of art. A classic dodge: I wanted my rebellion to melt into melancholy. But in vain. As soon as I came out, I was a stranger again.

So religion, politics and art only obfuscate and distract him momentarily. He can be reading the instructions on the shaving cream he has already been using for a month while someone is dead next door. But then a move from Prague to Vicenza in Italy seems to make all the difference. He is happy, but he cannot shake the sense of longing and loss: ‘...a mystery hangs in the sky from which beauty and indifference descend.’

It was and yet was not the anguish I had felt in Prague.

He recognises that nothing has essentially changed, just as with the churches, palaces and museums; here is another firmament: nature itself, he is still Undergound.

...the confrontation between my deep despair and the secret indifference of one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

Camus has written ‘Love of Life’ before ‘The Death of the Soul’, but chose to place it after in the publication, maybe because it begins in a more sublime mode, albeit more in the milieu of humanity than nature. Now we’re in Palma, Spain; another travel narrative, the overt stranger in a strange land, but now a reveler, albeit a thoughtful one, of course... The protagonist moves from humanity out into nature, and there is further dramatization of the central project: ratifying an absurd brokenness between what is apparent and what simply is.

If the languages of these countries harmonized with what echoed deeply within me, it was not because it answered my questions but because it made them superfluous. ...this Nada whose birth is possible only at the sight of landscapes crushed by the sun. There is no love of life without despair of life.

We embrace loving as mode for living, something that is so abstract and ridiculously human, but then, we always end up thirsty, despite it. We are still bound by concrete.

Finally, a conclusive chapter of the same title as the book itself, and the shortest at only four pages long.

...why wonder if something is dying or if men suffer, since everything is written on this window where the sun sheds its plenty as a greeting to my pity?

We fall down into truth, and awareness; to live between sides, to gaze just as squarely at the light as at its opposition, whether that is the dark or death. The tension exists, so, in the parlance of our times, Camus says: deal with it. You are wrong, and you are right.

One man contemplates and another digs his grave: how can we separate them? Men and their absurdity? But here is the smile of the heavens. The light swells and soon it will be summer. But here are the eyes and the voices of those I must love. I hold onto the world with every gesture, to men with all my gratitude and pity. I do not want to choose between the right and the wrong sides of the world, and I do not like a choice to be made.

After all, I am not sure that I am right.

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review 2012-10-20 00:00
Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists - Robert Hughes Described to me as the one book to read on art if you only read one book on art.
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review 2010-06-03 00:00
Art and Culture: Critical Essays - Clement Greenberg,Janice Horne I only read his paper on Kitsch -- and found it very interesting -- and my rating is based only on that.

Avant-Garde and Kitsch: http://www.sharecom.ca/greenberg/kitsch.html

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review 2009-04-13 00:00
Lyrical and Critical Essays - Albert Camus
It is time for new readers to come to this book. I would
still like to be one of them, just as I would like to go back
to that evening when, after opening this little volume in
the street, I closed it again as soon as I had read the first
lines, hugged it tight against me, and ran up to my room to
devour it without witnesses. (Camus, On Jean Greniers Les Iles)

How Camus felt about Les Iles, I had felt about his Resistance, Rebellion and Death. And now, this book. Rarely, have I enjoyed just savoring a book. This is not a book I eagerly flipped pages to indulge in. It struck me best in odd moments of my day a few pages at a time. Everyone has their favorite writer that everyone wants others to appreciate and read. Camus has been mine since I was 18 and, at this point, I'm not interested in trying to win converts.

Coincidentally, I read this book as I was reading the works of the Greek Tragic Trio (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides). It's easy now to see the influence of these writers on Camus and several of his essays make reference to the tragedies they wrote. At one point, Camus discusses the virtues of the Mediterranean Culture versus the principles of Latin Culture based on Rome. "We claim Aeschylus and not Euripedes..." (The New Mediterranean Culture). Given the fondness Socrates had for Euripides, and some of the similar strains of thought I believe connect Socrates and Camus, I was somewhat confused at Camus' disdain for Euripides. However, this was clarified later on.

The essay entitled On the Future of Tragedy further separates Euripides from the others. Camus highlights Sophocles as preserving the true nature of tragedy by keeping the two vital elements balanced: "both a revolt and an order are necessary..." I recall both Meursault and Clamence mimicking this balance (though it has been a few years). For Camus, tragedy is defined by "[t:]he hero [who:] denies the order that strikes him down, and the divine order strikes because it is denied. Both thus assert their existence at the very moment when this existence is called into question." Euripides is thought to be the corrupter of true tragedy for the sake of individual drama. Focusing more on the psychology of the people rather than tragic duality.


The rest of this is for me. Mostly because I'm too lazy to grab a pen to scribble this into a journal like a good tortured soul.

If you choose to read on, please don't disparage this work by dissecting it for a handy quote-of-the-day.

Hypocritical, I know.

"Brice Parain often maintains that this little book contains my best work. He is wrong. I do not say this , knowing how honest he is, because of the impatience every artist feels when people are impertinent enough to prefer what he has been to what he is.... He means, and he is right, that there is more love in these awkward pages than all those that have followed." (Preface: The Wrong Side and the Right Side)

"Everything I am offered seeks to deliver man from the weight of his own life." (Nuptials: The Wind at Djemila)

"It asks that we make an act of lucidity as one makes an act of faith." (Nuptials: Summer in Algiers)

"But even today I cannot see what my revolt loses by being pointless, and I am well aware of what it gains." (Nuptials: The Desert)

"Strength and violence are lonely gods." (Summer: The Minotaur, or Stopping in Oran)

"No man can say what he is. But sometimes he can say what he is not. Everyone wants the man who is still searching to have already reached his conclusions." (Summer: The Enigma)

"Yet people insist I identify my term or terms, once and for all. Then I object; when things have a label aren't they lost already? (Summer: The Enigma)

"A man's work often retrace the story of his nostalgias or his temptations, practically never his own history especially when they claim to be autobiographical. No man has ever dared describe himself as he is." (Summer: The Enigma)

"Gide also suffers from that other prejudice of our day, which insists that we parade our despair to be counted as intelligent." (Encounters with Andre Gide)

"Char will always protest against those who sharpen guillotines. He will have no truck with prison bread, and bread will always taste better to him in a hobo's mouth than in the prosecuting attorney's" (Rene Char)

"One sentence stands out from the open book, one word still vibrates in the room, and suddenly, around the right word, the exact note, contradictions resolve themselves and disorder ceases. (On Jean Grenier's Les Iles)

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