Category Archives: book


I just finished reading Room. The beginning was a little slow, but by page fifty I could not put it down and finished it before the end of the day. This is when my awesome parenting skills kicked in and I let the kids watch Dinosaur Planet all day so I could finish reading. Ironically the book is about being a good mother. So basically I am neglecting my kids to read about being a good mother. Logic at its best.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, it centers around a mother and her son. She was kidnapped at 19, and locked up in an 11 by 11 room where she would spend the next seven years. During this time period she gave birth to her son (and obviously also the son of her captor). She does an excellent job taking care of him, and upon their release/escape (which is a story onto itself), despite some unavoidable psychological trauma, it becomes apparent that her son turned out very well. I am doing a terrible job conveying the story. It is unbelievably moving (evidenced by the number of times I broke out into tears), but I also think the author was making a few commentaries on society and parenting as a whole. However, she was not being pejorative to any one type of parenting, but rather looking at the pros and cons to different approaches.

During the first half of the book it is clear that Jack, who is only five, is far advanced for his age. Anyone who has children or spends a lot of time around children would note this immediately. Once Jack and his mom are out of their confinement Jack’s cognitive advancement is apparent to everyone, whether you have children or not. Through comparison with children his own age in the story, along with some adults and their perceptions of childhood, Jack stands out. His Ma attributes this to the numerous hours she spent every single day teaching him, and the attention he received (after all, what else would they do all day locked up?) I saw this as a positive depiction (although highly exaggerated) of the benefits of homeschooling. Yet, the author does not condone homeschooling entirely either. As Jack emerges from his cell he is unable to socialize properly, and has great difficulty integrating himself among other people. I personally would chose cognitive skills over social skills. But that probably has more to do with the fact that I have plenty of the former, and not too many of the latter. Other people may disagree with which is more important.

Room also highlighted basic human behaviors. The book is written from Jack’s perspective, and he has spent his life, since birth, locked up. As he emerges into what he calls the Outside, he notices things to which the rest of us are desensitized. One of the most striking remarks, that he makes over and over, is about how we rush through everything. We are always too busy to enjoy anything, and even when we assert we are enjoying ourselves, we are rushing through that. We are too busy doing seemingly unimportant things and ignore those things that have true meaning. And we are always working.

I think that Jack’s perspective gave the book the necessary angle and push of emotion to enlist the type of reaction I (and several million other people) had. Not only was his view fresh due to his young age where thoughts were not mediated through agendas, but also by the fact his youth was coupled with the experience of confinement to the point where he was conscious of his surroundings, and able to articulate his thoughts, but also acting like a newborn, exposed to our world for the first time.

And yet, even someone who is not young, or new, can understand what he means, and realize the truth of his words.

Decadence At Its Finest

The Great Gatsby movie is coming out this weekend. Like many other people, I am very excited, and have been waiting for its release since December when I saw the first previews. However, as opening day draws near, and more are discussing the film in person, online, and through various forms of print, I realize Fitzgerald’s message has somehow been lost. Either that, or few have actually read the book.
One of my friends posted an article today that presented this very problem. I know it is hard to focus away from the lavish soiree scenes and the decadence on display, but the focus is actually in those moments when these things are absent. Despite what many believe, the novel did not condone this behavior, but rather used it to broadcast the decay brought about through unmitigated wealth and status, particularly in the upper class. Further the moments when these trappings are removed, the characters are shown in their most natural demeanors.  The desperation and depression becomes apparent, and the failure despite a fabricated reality is made starkly clear. It is a personal failure that money cannot remedy.
This ideology comes in the most purist form, based on the maxim that money does not buy happiness, taken to the extreme. I have my opinions on the matter, but seeing as how no one has ever handed me immeasurable sums of money, I cannot draw an informed conclusion. While I may not necessarily agree with these points of the novel, I do see the plight of the characters. I understand that some things are more important than monetary wealth.
Gatsby’s money brings around many people, but in the largest crowds he is alone. His guests are not his friends. Before he recreated himself as Gatsby he was not acceptable in the kind of company he keeps, and he has little in common with those surrounding him. One person yesterday incorrectly interpreted the society scenes implying that he catered these events to which he rarely showed up because he was a philanthropist and wanted to see others happy. He was no philanthropist. While I don’t doubt this person read the book, they must have missed the part where he explicitly states he threw parties night after night hoping Daisy would come. That is all. No philanthropy involved. I think the most telling scene which epitomizes his solitude along with Fitzgerald’s social commentary comes towards the end. I will not mention it in the hopes that enough people will be curious enough to read the book, and for those who simply want to watch the film.
Honestly I am curious to see how the film touches on these issues, and how the main points come across. From the previews I have no doubt that the visuals will be quite spectacular. I am just very much hoping the entire film isn’t just an exhibit of sartorial elegance, glamorizing the very points Fitzgerald attempted to critique.

To Fully Enjoy A Book

I recently read Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris for class. It quickly became one of my new favorite books, and I revisited it last night for my class presentation. Aside from the fact that she outlines a relationship to books much like mine has been, and hopefully will be, she has a chapter dedicated to the treatment of books that I found most fascinating. As a true bibliophile, as she discussed what it means to love a book, I was left panting at the end.
In “Never Do That To A Book” she recalls the time her family took a trip. Her brother was reading a book which he left open on the nightstand one morning. Upon returning to their room the book had been closed with a note from the chambermaid stating “Sir, you must never do that to a book,” implying that leaving a book open with its spine contorted was bad for the binding and damaging to the book itself.
Fadiman uses this to delineate the dichotomy of readers between what she refers to as the carnal and courtly lovers of books. The former have regard for the literary contents with an air of disregard for the physical book, while the latter treat the book as the conduit of the insides, regarding the physical objects as things to be revered and handled with care.
I, much like Fadiman, am a carnal lover of books (with the exception of rare books, which are an entirely different matter altogether). Mine are sprawled upon the dining room table in all manners of disarray. Pages are bent, contorted in all fashions, with an orgy of highlighter, pen and pencil marking the various passages.
At a quick glance it seems as though I am color coding various phrases, but really I am using whichever highlighter is handy, with lines alternating between hues of pinks, blues, greens and yellows. I underline in pen, and am very fond of annotated marginalia.
My comments are haphazardly splayed across the page like Courbet’s Demoiselles au Bord de la Seine, beginning strong, fading towards the end, and unless I have reason to believe anyone else will see them, almost always ending in climactic ellipses, with occasional exclamation marks for good measure, reserved for those times I feel very strongly, but not enough to expunge the ellipses in their nonchalance.
My books are well used. The covers can be deceptive, almost always neat. Paperbacks have a few bends, sometimes awkwardly remaining open, but generally clean, almost serenely untouched. It is not until the books themselves are opened that they display the almost visceral conditions under which they were enjoyed.
I have more books than I can count stained with coffee. I have also found that there is a direct correlation between how terrible a book is and its length. One book in particular was so horrid I absolutely refused to read it before having some wine. As you can imagine, it was also a very long book. Having been forced to read it over a period of several months, its pages have been baptized in wine. I am sure you are wondering why I didn’t just get drunk one night and read the whole thing. You know, get it over with. But I don’t drink to get drunk. And even under the influence of alcohol I could not bring myself to read more than one chapter at a time. It was a very slow and painful process, and the book bears the burden of the sadomasochism it inadvertently inflicted. Sadism on the part of the person who made me read it, and masochism on my part for having acquiesced. As if I had a choice. Another book has a rather fancy splattering of blood across its middle pages. It was one of those old books with the thick and serrated pages. As I was turning one of them I got a paper cut. It was the kind that you don’t realize how deep it is until you are spewing blood from your hand as if you have just slashed your arteries. You know, the kind where you stare dumbly at it, not fully comprehending or moving, and then your book is covered in blood. I really can’t envisage it getting more carnal than that.
So no, I don’t wear gloves when handling my books. I have no qualms about exposing them to direct sunlight. A nice number of them have had various fluids spilled on their pages. Various inks have mingled within their confines. If there is such a division between courtly and carnal lovers of books, then mine have been carnally mauled from day one. And should I ever stay at the same hotel as the Fadimans, the chambermaid would be mortified.