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review 2017-10-07 18:29
Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Other Stories, by Herman Melville
Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Other Stories (Penguin Classics Edition) - Peter M. Coviello,Herman Melville

Well that took me long enough! I've been desperate to read some horror, but these Melville stories have been hit and miss, his prose sometimes impenetrable. This is my second encounter with Melville (I read Moby Dick some years ago), and it's been a while. I was prompted to pick up this collection of his shorter works by recent references to both "Bartleby" and Billy Budd.

 

I began with "Bartleby, the Scrivener," which turned out to be my favorite. Melville is an excellent comic writer, and this portrait of a law office made me laugh out loud. Yet it's also incredibly poignant. The narrator is a lawyer who hires Bartleby as a scrivener (a copier); Bartleby joins three other employees, hilariously nicknamed Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut. Bartleby goes about his copying, but when the lawyer asks him to read aloud his copy to proofread, he simply says he "prefers not to." From this point he "prefers" not to do all sorts of things, including leave when his boss attempts to fire him. The lawyer is non-confrontational and fancies himself a good man to the point where he actually changes the location of his office to avoid dealing with Bartleby (who is also found to be living there) further. Yet the problem of Bartleby persists.

 

Why does Bartleby "prefer not" to comply with requests made of him? Melville does not offer a black-and-white answer. The introduction likens Bartleby to a Wall Street occupier, someone who occupies spaces of capitalism without using them for that end, but the quote I found most insightful describes Bartleby as a man of preferences rather than assumptions. How much does our daily behavior and actions depend upon assumptions? As with other Melville works, a queer reading of the text is also possible: the relationship between the lawyer and Bartleby involves exchanges and behavior not dissimilar to those made in romantic partnerships.

 

The stories I liked next best were "The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles" and "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids." The former is a series of sketches by a sailor who has been to the Galapagos Islands; some sketches are more engaging than others. The language in the first few is lovely as Melville describes the hostile, lonely island landscape. The latter is a pair of tales told by the same American narrator, first in London then New England--a lawyer's club and paper mill, respectively. These are apparently based on Melville's own travels. I preferred the second piece, which I read as feminist and potentially Marxist. There's some fantastic prose detailing the paper machine, the women, and their work. 

 

There are five other stories, but the last I'll mention is the novella, Billy Budd, which Melville was working on at the time of his death. It's become key evidence for those who feel Melville may have been bisexual or simply held progressive views on gender and sexuality. Billy Budd is a "Handsome Sailor" who is conscripted to serve on a British naval ship. Everyone likes him, as he's pretty and good-natured. But one (also good looking) sailor envies his beauty and goodness, and it leads to tragedy. The most interesting thing about this tale for me was the fact that this is a story often told about women, to illustrate their vanity, jealousies, and pettiness or cattiness. In this context, in a time after two serious mutinies and during hostilities between Britain and France, such personal jealousy results in catastrophe.

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review 2017-09-22 10:09
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd — A Story about Mothers, Sisters, and Slaves!
The Invention of Wings: A Novel - Sue Monk Kidd

 

 

Fifteen years before Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was wholly influenced by American Slavery As It Is, a pamphlet written by Sarah, Angelina, and Angelina’s husband, Theodore Weld, and published in 1839, the Grimké sisters were out crusading not only for the immediate emancipation of slaves, but for racial equality, an idea that was radical even among abolitionists. 

That is the kind of women this book is based on!

 

The first book that I read by Sue Monk Kidd was The Secret Life of Bees. It didn’t mince words when it came to the cruelties that slavery brought. While I loved the candor, what touched me, even more, is that the author didn’t mention those incidents in a salacious way. She included them in the story as the reality of that time. The focus remained on the characters who evolved as real people do.

 

This book wasn’t different in that regard either! Like always, I will try to review the story with quotes from the book. As I mention each quote, I will include the context it is taken from and what it signified to me.

 

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Another thing that I have always loved about Ms. Kidd’s novels is that she weaves humor into her stories. With the subject being as grim as slavery, it should be difficult to make the reader laugh. The best part is that the humor doesn’t detract or mock the theme of the story. It simply makes it possible to go on reading and with what is happening in it, this is a good thing.

 

The Sisters

 

This particular quote is taken from a scene where one of the Grimké sisters is receiving a suitor in her drawing room. The fear of carnality had been put into her very recently by a man of God in the very words that she mentions here! What’s funny is that it is the fact that the man smells of soap that is making her think carnal thoughts (or at least, what she thinks are carnal thoughts).

 

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This is how we are introduced to one of the main characters from this book, Handful. Born a slave, she was mouthy as heck and tough as nails. I loved right from the start, which was probably what the author intended. It is mentioned in the Author’s Notes (given at the end of the book) that while there is evidence of Handful having existed, she didn’t survive long enough to play an important role in the life of the Grimké sisters. I am glad that the author thought otherwise.

 

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More of Handful’s golden words for you. This is her pretending to be brave while she was about to be punished severely enough that it left her with a maimed foot.

 

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This is her description of the legalese that she had to muddle her way through before she could find out if she was being sold after her master’s death or retained for her services!

 

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A few pages later, we are introduced to the other main character, Sarah Grimké.While Handful mouthed off to people, Sarah had trouble getting out a whole sentence without stuttering. She had the same iron backbone though that Handful did, which soon became evident when she tried to emancipate Handful at the age of 11!

 

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This is how Sarah was indoctrinated to what was really happening around her. She was just a little girl then but the incident remained with her all her life. It was a defining moment in the life of her character. Consider the following quote to see how she arrived at the root of the problem of slavery. This is an excerpt from one of her letters to Nina, her sister and another important character in the book. She raised Nina like a mother on revolutionary ideas like equality and it paid off. Nina gave her strength and achieved things that even Sarah thought meant going too far.

 

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She changed her faith and left the safety of her house later in life, so she could be the kickass feminist that we know her to be. This is one of my favorite moments from the book. While it might come across as caustically feminazi, it wasn’t so in the book. That being said, I could see the point the men were trying to make. By taking up both the causes of slavery and feminism, the Grimké sisters caused their followers to split into two groups. However, the point lies in the fact that they even had to raise their voices for either cause.

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The Mothers

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Sarah’s mother is one of the important characters in the book. She terrorized her slaves and refused to relent even when she was close to death. I think this quote defines both hers and her husband’s characters perfectly.

 

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This is how we meet Handful’s mother, Charlotte. She shaped Sarah’s and Handful’s lives by being who she was. Even though she couldn’t do anything openly, she figured small ways to show her rebellion. She continued to do so, knowing the punishment would be too severe and there’d be hell to pay if she got caught! I think this quote would fit almost anyone who is living under an oppressive regime. Don’t you?

 

The Slaves

 

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Handful is much smarter than people gave her credit for. Sarah, whom she said these words to, used to think that being a woman was keeping her from making a difference. Handful knew otherwise. When the story begins, we think that Sarah would be the one protecting Handful but this quote and the next one shows us how the roles are reversed.

 

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I can’t wait to try out another Sue Monk Kidd book after having read and loved this one. Have you read it? How did you like it?

 

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Originally published at midureads.wordpress.com< on September 22, 2017.

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review 2017-09-18 12:45
Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen
Lightning Men: A Novel - Thomas Mullen

 

Atlanta in 1950 was a crowded place. The war was over and housing was scarce. Racial tensions were brewing, neighborhood lines were being redrawn,  and not everyone was happy about that. Even the fact that black policemen now served in the Negro areas of Atlanta didn't mean these officers had the respect of white officers nor that of the residents. When a white man gets beaten down by the Klan and then a Negro beaten down a few days later, tensions threaten to erupt. What happens next? You'll have to read Lightning Men to find out!

 

I was excited when I discovered there was a sequel to last year's Darktown. I was surprised at what I learned from that novel and I learned a lot from this one as well. For instance, I'd never heard of the Columbians before. Apparently, this group of neo-Nazis formed, (and so soon after the war in what must have felt like a direct insult to the soldiers and survivors now living in Atlanta), to unite their hatred of both Jews and Negroes. They even dressed similarly to the SS officers in Germany, hence their nickname: lightning men. 

 

I also learned a lot about how the neighborhoods changed during that less than peaceful time in American history. It's often painful to read about, but it's interesting to see events from several different points of view. Rake, Boggs, Smith and MacInnis are well rounded characters and even now, after a second novel, I think they all still have some secrets in reserve. None of them are perfect and they are all struggling to find their place in this new world, their new police station, (even if it is in the basement of the YMCA), and in their new neighborhoods. Social change doesn't come easy and I think all of these characters recognize and respect that in their behavior, which made them believable to me and maybe a little lovable too.

 

Lightning Men is scary in a way, because it's easy to recognize some of the behaviors from this story on the nightly news today. It's also sad that so much good can begin to be undone by just a few hateful people in high places. Not only is this story a good one, but it reminded me that America always has to remain vigilant,  so that everything we have worked so hard for as a people, is not undone by only a powerful few. 

 

Highly recommended! You can get your copy here: Lightning Men

 

*Thank you to NetGalley & Atria for the e-ARC in exchange for my honest review. This is it.*

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review 2017-09-16 00:07
Self-deprecation at its best
One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays - Scaachi Koul

I first heard about Scaachi Koul's One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter several months ago on BookTube (I will continue to sing its praises) and added it to my TRL as I felt the need to read more Canadian authors. This book is a collection of essays about Scaachi's life growing up as a child of Indian immigrants in Canada. There's a focus on body positivity, feminism, and the endemic racism she and other people of color face in that country. She discusses her family and how she is the direct product of two disparate parenting philosophies. (Each chapter begins with an email conversation between herself and her father. He's quite possibly the funniest man on planet earth.) She's deeply afraid of going outside of her comfort zone and yet she's in a relationship with a man who seems to do nothing but push her to do just that. (I thought I had travel anxiety until I read about her experiences flying.) It's a look into a family as different and yet somehow the same as mine or yours. There's always going to be some neuroses in any family. It's about self-discovery, self-love, and ultimately self-acceptance. It was a lot of fun but judging from the fact that I had to refresh my memory by looking up the blurb it isn't the most memorable book I've had the pleasure of reading this year. So I'm gonna give it a 6/10. 

 

A/N: I really need to start making detailed notes about the books I've read immediately after reading them because my backlog of book reviews is getting more and more lengthy. Stay tuned for a special post on Tuesday by the way. ;-)

 

Source: Amazon

 

What's Up Next: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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text 2017-09-07 16:50
5 Best Study Questions on To Kill a Mockingbird

to kill a mockingbird

 

‘To Kill a Mockingbird,' written by Harper Lee, is a seminal work which is considered to be one of the most popular and influential books to tackle issues such as racism and the justice system in America. It was published in 1960 at a time when America was still reeling from the effects of racial segregation, and issues of racial profiling and discrimination against people of color are still rampant.

 

It was met with critical acclaim and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. However, it got mixed reactions from the public on its early release, but eventually got a better reception and became an American class worldwide.  It has been the only published book of Harper Lee for decades since its release, until the other book, ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was released, but it happened in more than 50 years later in 2015.

 

Most of the story revolves around the Finch’s family and the people of the Maycomb town, with the main characters Atticus Finch, and his children Scout and Jem, their friend Dill, and the mysterious neighbor Boo Radley.

 

No matter, whether you’re only reading it for the first time or are already revisiting it for a school assignment, there are a lot of insights that can be gained from reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. Below we list down some study ideas that would help you in creating a discussion or in writing a paper for this classic work of literature.

 

Suggested Study Questions for Reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:

 

  1. 1. What is the significance of the children’s encounters with Boo Radley in the story?

 

The character of Boo Radley served mainly as both an anchor and a pivot for the children regarding their character development throughout the book. At first, Boo was seen as some sort of an outsider, but eventually, children created a special friendship with him. How did their friendship with Boo plant the seeds for a value of compassion awakening in the children, regardless of what society thinks about them?

 

  1. 2. How children’s innocence is affected by the harsh realities of a racist society, particularly the one illustrated during the trial of Tom Robinson?

 

The scene of Tom Robinson’s trial is an important point that makes the book so memorable, and this is what makes this book hold its place as one of the most famous works of literature. There is a need to highlight the disparity between the presented evidence, which clearly proves Tom’s innocence, and how bias and prejudice affect the ruling of the jury.

 

  1. 3. What drives Atticus to fight for Tom Robinson and how does this affect the family’s relationship with the people of Maycomb?

 

It is said that Atticus’ character has become a model for lawyers who want to serve with integrity. In a society where it is easier to conform, what could drive characters like Atticus Finch to represent a person who is vilified by almost everyone in their town? Point out how did his choice to represent Tom has turned the Finch family to the outcasts of their city, and how were they able to find a community within the black people who treated them as of their own.

 

  1. 4. Most of the story is presented in Scout’s perspective, why you think Harper Lee did choose to write it from a viewpoint of a child?

 

The children are great vessels to tell the story since their innocence still leads them to be more impressionable and observant when it comes to the things that are happening around them. Since they are young, their prejudices against other people are not as ingrained as compared to the adults in Maycomb, and they are still willing to see the best in people, regardless of their skin color or place they take in society.

 

  1. 5. Atticus Finch describes a Mockingbird as an innocent creature, that does not cause any harm to people. The quotation “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” is one of the most definitive passages in the book. Discuss the reason behind calling it a sin to kill a mockingbird.

 

One of the greatest and perhaps the most climactic turning points for the characters in the book is the verdict and subsequent death of Tom Robinson in the hands of the supposed justice system. It brings out a great moral question, which is the heart of this novel. Compare this with the death of child’s innocence, when they have to witness such great injustice in a seemingly small and quiet town.

 

Regarding its importance, To Kill a Mockingbird has never wavered in its position as one of the most highly-regarded books of the last century.  Even until now, the relevance of this novel still rings true in a society where problems and issues concerning racism still exist. Recent events have shown us that racism is still alive in America, which is why a close reading of this work is relevant for students. It shows how these issues have a long history dating back from the time of social policies that were oppressive to people of color.

 

Literature has long been a tool of social awakening, and whether this was Harper’s Lee original intention or not, as in old interviews, she said that the story was loosely-based on her childhood experiences growing up in the South. Perhaps that fact has caused the appeal of this work in the voice of children; it still manages to instill humor and compassion on serious issues like rape, oppression and social injustice without failing to drive the main point through. Students at elementary and high school benefit from reading books on social problems in a voice that they can recognize, as it resonates with them deeply, and hopefully, instill the values that the book hopes to impart when they grow up.

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