Saturday, March 31, 2007

Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

First of all, let me offer a disclaimer. I love Margaret Atwood. I adore her prose, her stories, her imagery, her turns of phrase. I like her poetry a whole lot. I have read nearly all her books. (I have some only in first editions, which are long out of print. When I find reading copies, I'll knock these off too!). The Odyssey is also my all-time favorite novel, and, IMHO, one of the most important books ever written.
So, I picked up Penelopiad with high hopes, but I was sadly disappointed. Yes, it is clever, and yes I know teenagers are difficult -- I got that from Socrates. There are some cute modern phrases every parent has said to every teen, but the cuteness wore off quickly. I don't want cute from Atwood, I want truth, and solid emotions, and insights into characters. The ending was particularly annoying. Three stars.
--Chiron, 3/31/07

The Aunt's Story by Patrick White

I discovered Patrick White in an article in The Times Literary Supplement of London. I had never heard of him, but the article made him sound interesting. After a bit of research, I learned he won the Nobel prize in 1973. The TLS article listed him as one of several forgotten, great writers. It was a little hard to get a copy of the book -- eventually a used book dealer in England shipped a copy for $1.99 plus $3.95 shipping. This slight amount of trouble was well worth it.
The novel is terrific! Aunt's Story is a novel in three parts. The first and third are from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator, and the second is through the eyes of the title Aunt, Theodora Goodman.
At first the ubiquitous mentions of mirrors, struck me. As an amateur "student" of Jacques Lacan, the French Freud, I am always on the lookout for literary characters who use mirrors. According to Lacan, the mirror stage of development occurs when a child first sees itself in a mirror as a whole being. That is, the child discovers that the feet and hands it has been putting in its mouth are actually part of its body. Sometimes, later in life, an adult will look into a mirror and really see him or herself for who they are. The next time you are before a mirror -- not to comb your hair, or shave, or put on makeup -- stare at your face. Look at the lines, the hair, the freckles, the blemishes, the nose, every detail. Creepy! There were, by my rough calculation, one mirror or reflection reference every five pages. Obviously, Theodora was looking for something.
Then I began to notice other patterns: yellow, pale, thin, flat, bone, and plain. Something was going on, but it wasn't until part three that I began to realize all these things were related. I then understood how complicated this novel really was.
The middle section was told through the eyes of Theodora Goodman. I don't want to give too much more away, because this novel is more than worth the effort to find and read. Our book club discussed this last week, and seven people came up with seven different views -- all plausible! That makes The Aunt's Story a reader-response critic's dream!
One more thing, about halfway through, I realized that there were many, many parallels to Homer's The Odyssey. Theodora is on a heroic journey. Why? To what end? Sorry, I have already said too much.
Five stars, as I go off to Amazon to find his other 9 books.
--Chiron, 3/31/07

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

If you are reading this post, you probably love to read, and I bet you secretly think you can write a book, or at least a short story.
If you are this person, I urge you to go out, no rush out and get this book. Every chapter is packed with examples and explications of the qualities of good fiction. I have added about ten books to my wish list on -- solely on the basis of her recommendations. She mentions many, many books I have already read. Unfortunately, it makes me want to go back and read all of them again! Too many books, too little time!
An appendix lists well over 100 hundred titles, which she calls, "Books to Read Immediately." Why are you still reading? Go on! Go buy this book and start reading!
--Chiron, 3/16/07

Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity by Elaine Pagels and Karen L. King

Lately, a lot of non-fiction, especially about atheism, rationalism, and alterntative views of Christianity have found their way onto my shelves. One of my favorite subjects is gnosticism, and a frequent contributor to the critical literature is Elaine Pagels. She writes in a clear, jargon-free style that I particularly like. Her assertions are well-documented by other experts in the field.
Several review journals have written about the Gospel of Judas, and I was hoping she would write an explication soon. I was not disappointed.
I learned quite a bit about the formation of the early Church, and the existence of conflicts, similar to that splitting Islam (Shia vs Sunni), are revealed in more detail. Of course, Holy Blood, Holy Grail posited that there was more to the Judas story than is told in the four canonical gospels
If you have an open mind, if you can stand criticism of Chrsitianity, if you are a rational thinker, this book belongs on your book shelf. Five stars.
--Chiron, 3/16/07