Sometimes books don’t seem to elicit much discussion from me, and these are some of those titles. They’re not bad books – they just don’t seem to trigger many thoughts from me for some reason.
The Magnificent Ambersons – Booth Tarkington (1918) .
This novel won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize for novels (and a successful film adaptation by Orson Welles in 1942). It’s a generational saga novel revolving around George Amberson Minafer, a spoiled boy who is raised in a rich family whose riches are declining as society evolves from people “being things” to a society of people “doing things” (i.e. Industrial revolution type of thing). The “Magnificent Ambersons” are the family in question, and as times goes from the end of the Civil War (when the family was very wealthy), it reflects the growth of US industry changing from individual businessmen (mostly) to innovative factory owners. The narrative arc reflects the push-and-pull of this industrial change and how some of the grand old family are willing to change and adapt and how some aren’t. It’s also a story of relationships and how these need adaptation as well – you change and evolve or life moves on without you. Pretty good read – nothing too deep, but enjoyable. (Tarkington also wrote numerous other novels — Seventeen review here — and won a second Pulitzer Prize for another novel Alice Adams in 1921.) He’s a satisfying writer to read, I’ll give him that.
Zahra’s Paradise – Amir and Khilal (2011).
A graphic novel published by two anonymous writers/artists bringing attention to the 2009 Iranian elections that were fraught with difficulties and where the brother of an unnamed narrator went missing. Elections are usually huge events in almost any country, but especially where the people of a country are agitating for change from an unsatisfactory administration. (See: Arab Spring.) Such elections are fraught with corruption and it’s not uncommon for people with anti-government views to “disappear”. This is what happens to the brother and there is very little paper trail for the family to follow. Officials don’t want to help for the most part, and so his mother and brother have to struggle through administrative roadblocks and secret information trying to find out if this brother is even still alive. It’s a horror story for the family, but happens more often than a lot of people realize. Told as a graphic novel (or sequential art), it’s a sobering look at countries who are fighting to maintain their old power structure in the face of progress.
Sidenote: We recently state elections right now in Texas, and it was sickening to hear how few people actually bother to vote. (Only 15% of eligible participants had voted in the early elections last week.) It’s especially sickening when you read how hard it is for ordinary people to vote in other countries and yet who do so despite the risk to themselves and their families. I changed my citizenship to US for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons was so I could vote. People have died so we can have a democratic voting procedure, but it only works if people participate. Go and vote, peeps!
A Sleeping Life – Ruth Rendell (1981).
A good narrative arc featuring good old Inspector Wexford, but marred by very dated references to racial and gender descriptions of various characters. It was published in 1981, when I was about 17 but I don’t remember people describing other people using these terms: “Jewess” and worse? Perhaps the book had been written earlier in the 1970’s but only got published in the early 80’s? As I mentioned, good mystery story but I was jarred out of it by these references.
Writers in Residence (U.S. writers) – Glynne Robinson Betts (1981).
Another dated book, but at least it wasn’t offensive, this is a collection of photos and some descriptions of how a selection of writers (U.S. ones) do (or did) their writing and where. Pretty ok overall. The author had not received permission to visit some of these writers’ houses and so only had sort of Instagram pics from the street view which took the book down a notch for me. (If you’re going to do something, then do it professionally, I think.) Plus the author didn’t have a great deal of extra details so it seemed a bit padded to me. (However, it’s an older book and perhaps I have been spoiled by the instantaneous never-ending info that is out there on the web.) It was semi-interesting to look through, though, and goodness gracious me – what clutterbugs some of these writers were…