Monday, December 31, 2007

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington 1919

This story is illustrative of the demise of the Victorian era from economic and social standpoints. Although the reader feels some wistfulness and nostalgia for times of elegance and propriety, the Ambersons, who symbolize these things, are hardly sympathetic characters and their blind devotion to this way of life makes them seem almost silly. The novel does have a compelling plot and redemption at the conclusion. Yes, it's written in flowery style, perhaps indicative of the time, but it is includes effective imagery and humor. It's a well-rounded piece of literature and worth reading.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Hours - 3M's Review

I originally did a "twin" review of this on my blog. I had seen both of these movies before I read the books, and I recently re-watched The Hours because it was available for online viewing through Netflix. I'd like to watch Mrs. Dalloway again as well. The movie of the The Hours follows the book very closely-there are a few minor changes. Nicole Kidman does an outstanding job in this film. I was most interested in the Virginia Woolf storyline, so I was happy she was so well portrayed. It's funny that Meryl Streep ended up playing Clarissa when she (Meryl Streep) is actually talked about in The Hours (the book). I don't remember the movie Mrs. Dalloway much at all, hence the reason I wish to re-view it.

Well, on to the books. The Hours won the Pulitzer in 1999. It's a cleverly told story that intersects the 3 women's lives very well. However, it does change the story of Mrs. Dalloway into homos*xual relationships. It was interesting to see the twist in the storyline, particularly if you know the real one, but I couldn't help thinking, "Doesn't Clarissa (in The Hours) know that her life is too coincidental with the characters' names from Mrs. Dalloway?" To me, it would have been a better story if Cunningham had left out all the references to the actual book itself. The reader knows that's what it's about, so why keep referring to it? It makes The Hours too unbelievable. It's an interesting book, and I'm glad I read it, but I can't help having mixed feelings about it.

Mrs. Dalloway. I must be too dense in the literary sense, because I just don't get this book at all. I had to stop reading it every half hour because it was just too much otherwise. I felt a similar way this year when I read Inheritance of Loss. I just don't enjoy a book when I have to read it that way. I don't get into planning parties or the minute details of such. In fact, I avoid that like the plague. I'm not into social scenes, either. In this book, everyone loves Clarissa, but isn't she the most shallow character in it? I don't get it. I would like to re-read it again in a few years to see if I feel any differently. At least I feel more enlightened that I have finally read Woolf. I'd actually like to read more about her than by her.

For The Hours:
1998, 226 pp.
Rating: 3.5
Pulitzer, 1999

For Mrs. Dalloway:
1925, 194 pp.
Rating: 3

J.C. Montgomery: Progress and 2008 Goals

I know I got a jump on my 2008 list, but I just couldn't help myself. Actually, its all my son's fault. He found out how much I wanted to read To Kill A Mockingbird, so he dug through his bookcase and gave me his so I could start right away. He was very proud of himself for remembering he had it, and insisted I keep it. I just couldn't let him down.

Progress to date:
1961 - To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2008 Reading List:
1939 - The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings
1940 - The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
1966 - Collected Stories by Katherine Anne Porter
1983 - The Color Purple by Alice Walker
1988 - Beloved by Toni Morrison
1995 - The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
1998 - American Pastoral by Philip Roth
2004 - The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Amanda's 2008 Goals

I am new to The Pulitzer Project and will begin in 2008. I read a few of these books in high school or college English classes, but I want to read them again so I am starting with a clean slate. My goal is to read at least 8 Pulitzer Prize winning novels in 2008.

Here's my list:
2007 - The Road (McCarthy)
2006 - March (Brooks)
2003 - Middlesex (Eugenides)
2002 - Empire Falls (Russo)
2001 - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Chabon)
2000 - Interpreter of Maladies (Lahiri)
1999 - The Hours (Cunningham)
1961 - To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee)

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee 1961

Winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, Fiction, 336 pages

Initially, I was introduced to Harper Lee’s novel through the 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck. However, I had never read the book. As I wanted this reading to be as fresh as possible, I made it a point not to read anything about the book: reviews, criticisms – nothing. I wanted any impressions made, to be my own.

For me, the reason this book is deserving of the honor of a Pulitzer Prize, is the fact that Miss Lee has created a story which not only projects a strong theme of ethics and morals, but also contains subtle undercurrents of courage, loss of innocence, and prejudice (of class as well as race), which she has woven brilliantly throughout the narrative.

To Kill A Mockingbird is separated into two parts, yet they work together to illustrate the consequences of ignorance and prejudice, as well as the power of dignity and courage.

Sometimes the right choice is the hardest, and does not always lead to victory. Courage is being able to face the inevitable, even if you know from the beginning, it is a losing one. Here is where Miss Lee’s brilliance shines. It is not enough to have a parent as a role model; she has each child learn this harsh truth through personal experiences. In one of the more poignant passages in the book, Atticus explains to Jem what real courage is, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” (121)

One thing that surprised me the most about this book was the amount of controversy surrounding it, even to this day. But the reader must remember that within the setting and tone of the novel, it is appropriate – and I would say absolutely necessary. How can one truly understand 1935 Alabama unless one gets into the mindset of its people and the harshness of its environment?

It was not a politically correct period in American History; therefore politically correct sensibilities must be set aside when reading this book. In this novel, as in life, the goodness of men is always tempered with its opposite. The simple fact is that human nature is made up of the capacity to be ultimately kind or horrifyingly evil. But when the evil in us is faced with dignity, grace, and courage, it can be overcome.

I give this book 5 stars with the simple advisement that one take into consideration the language and subject matter and rise above it, for its message is much more important than the words used to convey it.

My full review can be found here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ex Libris: New to Project - Progress and 2008 List

Reading the Pulitzer winners is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. I've read several of these authors but not their Pulitzer Prize winning books! This project is a great idea and a non-threatening way of reading through this list. Thanks, 3M!

My progress to date:

2006 - March by Geraldine Brooks
1961 - To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1937 - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
1919 - The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

2008 Reading List:

2000 - Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
1995 - The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
1988 - Beloved by Toni Morrison
1972 - Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
1938 - The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand
1928 - The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder


Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau 1965

This is simply a great story and a great read about a wealthy, historic family in the segregated south. The Howlands have money but they don't show it. The tension becomes significant when the widower, William, "finds" Margaret, a poor black girl, and brings her home where she eventually bears his children. William also has a daughter and granddaughter from his first marriage (white), and the interaction between the family members weaves an interesting contrast in the times leading up to the civil rights movement. The Keepers of the House has a great climax and satisfying ending. I highly recommend it.

Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener 1948

I haven't seen the musical like most people, so I had no expectations about the story. It is a collection of loosely connected stories where some characters reappear, and you're never quite sure who the narrator is other than an eyewitness if not active participant to the events. You do come away with a good sense of the people, culture and geography of the South Pacific layered with the story of American boys at war. I think the story would have been more absorbing as a single tale.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Wendy's Review

Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God. - From The Bridge of San Luis Rey, page 9 -

Thornton Wilder earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1928 for The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which has been called his masterpiece. The novella (only 107 pages) begins in the summer of 1714 when a bridge of great construction fails and plunges five people to their deaths in the gorge below. A witness to the tragedy, Brother Juniper, embarks on a quest to prove divine intervention by exploring (in great depth) the lives of the people killed.

The book is essentially a lesson in philosophy - exploring the meaning of love, the twists and turns of one's life amid the greater scheme of things, and whether death is fate or God's plan. There are not any real answers to any of the questions - just the questions.

Wilder writes in old fashioned language and the novella is set in a foreign country with all the subtle references to politics and religion of the time. I admit to getting dragged down in it all and struggled to slog through and finish the book.

Wilder's character development is one of the strengths of the book; and Wilder does this within a very few pages which speaks to his gift as a writer. My favorite characters were the twins Esteban and Manual and I think Wilder does an apt job of presenting their relationship to each other and the devastation of loss that occurs between them. Wilder connects all the central characters to each other...something that took me by surprise...sort of like the six degrees of separation theory. Because of this I expected a resolution to the ultimate question: Could it have been fate that plunged these people to their deaths? Or something larger? But, Wilder apparently never intended to provide an answer. In the afterword of the book I read, the publisher shares a letter from Wilder to one of his readers:

'The book is not supposed to solve. A vague comfort is supposed to hover above the unanswered questions, but it is not a theorem with its Q.E.D. The book is supposed to be as puzzling and distressing as the news that five of your friends died in an automobile accident.'

Perhaps had this been a non fiction philosophy text, I could accept Wilder's cop out on this issue. But, this is a work of fiction and I wanted the character of Brother Juniper to at least come to his own conclusion. Instead, the reader is left with an odd feeling of detachment.

Because this has been touted as a great work of literature, I wanted not only to like it, but to "get it." I'm sorry to say, neither of those things happened.

Not recommended; rated a generous 3/5.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Shipping News - 3M's Review

shippingnews.JPGI started out not liking the writing style of this book at all. This is the first Proulx book I've read, but if her other books are written in the same style, she is the queen of both the sentence fragment and the comma splice. I get that some of the sentences were supposed to be news headlines, and I found that to be clever. However, not all of them were and it truly was like fingers on a chalkboard to me. After a few chapters, though, I found the storyline very compelling. The characters were well drawn, and I was sympathetic to their life situations. I discovered that I wanted to keep reading so I could learn what happened to them.

Quoyle and his family go from the States back to Newfoundland, which is where his father was originally from. Everyone there knows about the Quoyles and it isn't all good. Quoyle is a kind man, but a bit of a bumbler, or so he thinks. He has a job at the local newspaper writing about car wrecks and the shipping news. (I could have done without the detailed newspaper reports of the s*x abu se cases.) He takes care of his little girls, Bunny and Sunshine, as well as his aunt. Or is his aunt taking care of him? (I was fascinated by her character, especially the certain incident with the outhouse!) All in all, it's an engaging domestic drama taking place in a freezing, unforgiving climate.

In the end, I still didn't like the writing style, but I did enjoy reading about this family and Newfoundland. I'm now looking forward to viewing the movie adaptation.

1993, 337 pp.
Rating: 3.5

Winner, Pulitzer Prize
Winner, National Book Award

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Jill's Progress and 2008 Goals

Thanks to 3M for hosting this challenge - here's my progress so far!

Pulitzers Completed For This Challenge
1. 2005 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2. 2003 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
3. 2002 Empire Falls by Richard Russo
4. 1999 The Hours by Michael Cunningham
5. 1953 The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
6. 1939 The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings

For 2008, I am challenging myself to read 10 more Pulitzer Prize winners:

1. 2007 TBD
2. 2006 March by Geraldine Brooks
3. 2004 The Known World by Edward P. Jones
4. 2001 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
5. 2000 Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
6. 1994 The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
7. 1986 Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
8. 1981 The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
9. 1973 The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
10.1947 All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

Monday, December 3, 2007

One of Ours by Willa Cather 1923

This is beautifully written and possesses a dream-like quality, but it read like two unconnected stories. I felt it was rather obvious Cather had no first-hand experience with the war and romanticized it unrealistically. Even the influenza breakout on the voyage to France is foot-noted as pre-dating the actual event. The purpose of the "war" is to give purpose to a Nebraska farm-boy's life which it does with predictable tragedy.