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End of Summer Reading Review:

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The end of the summer is here and I thought it would be nice to list everything that I’ve managed to read over the summer.

This has been one of the slowest reading summers in quite some while. I usually manage to read a bit more than this but being at work so much of the summer I sometimes struggle to read. Also, for most of July I was unable to read anything. I just found myself unmotivated and uninterested in everything I picked up. A reading summer-slump.

I have so many “half-started” books as I like to term them, chapters two and three being popular points of abandonment. Woolf, Lancaster, & Whitehead were some of the best works that I read this past summer and I recommend them to everyone. I’ve linked to the various postings and individual reviews.

Still, despite the fact that I fell into a bit of a summer-slump, I enjoyed this summer’s reading variety. Cheers.

Written by thebeliever07

August 11, 2009 at 8:54 am

For Worse

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Ok, here goes. I have a long history with this comic strip. For those unaware For Better of For Worse is a long running family comic by Lynne Johnston. The comic ran for 28 years and one of its signature elements is that it aged the characters in “real” time. So as time progressed in our world, so too did it in the characters, a young couple whose family grows and passes through various generations. Her comic is noted for tackling tough issues: marriage, parenthood, homosexuality, death, birth, etc. [ How well it tackles these issues is another matter all together. ]

The comic runs very much like a family sitcom. I think I noticed this comic in my newspaper back when I was a young adult and I would glance at the panels and usually would move on. It never struck me as anything significant, as a child I preferred Peanuts & Marmaduke. About 5 or 6 years ago I was sitting at Chapters during one of my breaks and I picked up a massive anthology of her work, a compendium of 20 years of strips and it somehow infected me. I found myself pouring through the various collections she had released throughout the history of the strip. I found myself looking forward to the events of the family. “Farley is getting old, what’s up with that?” … “Wow, he just came out to his friend, interesting.” … “She’s working with Native Americans up north, didn’t realize they had it so poor.” While the strip is not always politically correct, I mean lets face it, who among us is without a single prejudice or bias; still Lynn Johnston tackled some fairly heavy subjects and it is nice to see a Canadian work of art so popular throughout the world examining the minutia of small town family life.

Recently though, the strip has changed and is not as “progressive” as it once claimed to be.

The comic began in September 1979, and ended the main story on August 30, 2008, with a postscript epilogue the following day. The various family members, all grown up and with children of their own was given some closure. Then, beginning on September 3, 2007,[3] For Better or For Worse changed to a format featuring a mixture of new, old and retouched work, which allowed Johnston to “keep alive her partly autobiographical comic while not having to devote as much time to it.”[1] On September 1, 2008, Johnston began what she calls “new-runs”, restarting her storyline with new art and jokes. The time frame appears to be 26 years before the present day.

Stephen Pastis comic artist and writer of one of the best strips ever made: Pearls Before Swine [ Which I urge you to seek out and enjoy. comics.com & gocomics.com ] made this joke about the new format: In the strip, Pig referred to For Better or For Worse as “that great strip that was gonna retire, but then didn’t, then started running repeats, then didn’t, then ran new ones, but then fixed up the old ones, and now is gonna run new old un-new new ones”.

Ok, so why this blog post on FBoFW you ask? With the new format I and I am sure a few others thought, this will be nice. Her character who started off as a young 20 something wife/mother ended up as a retired book seller, so this “reboot” of her strip into the “classic” era would put Elly back in a more youthful place, providing some more commentary on young women who juggle family and work.

This is not what has happened. One thing that I have noticed throughout this strip is the firm adherence to the “nuclear family” model. Yes, yes, fans will cite the those historic panels and moments where she did tackle issues: homosexuality with Lawrence a friend of Elly’s eldest child Michael who came out to his mother:

week1

I’ll let you reflect on the way that Mrs. Johnston tackles this issue yet still conforms to basic stereotypes of how heterosexuals view homosexuality. Look at the last strip, oh you’re so witty Michael 😦 Ugh!

Anyways, you can see from this series of panels that she does indeed bring up subjects that people encounter every day and for the most part it is done well. I’m not saying it’s perfect but there you go.

Now with this reboot, she was afforded the opportunity to go back and let a whole new generation see how Elly transformed herself from a young house wife whose sole occupation was the household, to a woman who balanced a hectic lifestyle of work (at a bookstore, and subsequently bookstore owner), along with her husband, and children, and grand-children. It was a nice thing to watch her character grow and as much as the Nuclear Model was still emphasized, it did show a woman in the work force and not simply in a domestic capacity.

This “reboot” is what pisses me off. I think Mrs. Johnston has gone senile in her old age and has reverted back to a 1950’s Ward & June Cleaver idealization of the home. Her current strips reflect the standard: HUSBAND WORKS, WOMAN CLEANS AND COOKS model. Let me post a few strips from the past few months and you reflect on what kind of a message she sends to readers and young adults everywhere. Please, post some commentary and lets get some discussion going, it pisses me off so much. Cheers.

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Why work when you can clean and cook, forget your dreams...right?

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You can't be married and feel beautiful about yourself.

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I just sign shit, I cannot think or read or pay bills, I'm only a housewife."

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You know it's your fault for not keeping yourself pretty for me.

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Housewives are desperate and lonely.

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Translation: You're good enough to be a hooker tonight.

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Having a good education and career are nothing unless you're a MRS.

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I think your friends are hot and I've missed the point of this conversation. I'm an idiot husband/man.

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I'm the provider, just ask for your allowance and I'll consider it, now back into the cage with you.

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Cook, Clean, Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

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I think your son might be gay. He's crying a lot, so not manish, he's what 7 or 8 now, shouldn't he be out working and womanizing by now.

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(Loss for words and caption for this one.)

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This one is interesting. In the original series, Michael meets a girl in university who he falls in love with, they end up married and having kids. Lynn has seen fit to go back and rewrite Michael's childhood so that they once encountered each other and "liked" each other, completing that fantasy of the childhood sweetheart, it's nice when things fit into neat little boxes and packages, life is just this simple and uncomplicated isn't it.

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Don't ask me, I'm just a man and can't possibly understand "womanish" feelings and junk.

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You're doing that "thinking" business again, what have I told you about that.

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Your mom was ugly, and not tv ugly, but ugly ugly.

Written by thebeliever07

July 10, 2009 at 9:14 am

“Imagined Reading”

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I’ve mentioned on this blog at various times how I frequently wander over to the Washington Post Book Section and how I am a member of Michael Dirda’s “Reading Room”, a forum for all things literary. Each week Michael poses one or two threads about various aspects of reading:

  • What books get you through tough times?
  • What works shaped you as a reader?
  • Snacking while enjoying a good book.
  • Do movie ruin a good book?

And etc. For those as passionate about reading and literature as I am, it is a great resource for those: What would you put on your top 5 or 10 lists.

Recently Michael Dirda posted a thread asking “What are your ‘Get Well’ Books?” The following is from his post and I felt it was worth blogging and asking with my fellow readers: download

Hi, Reading Roomers. (Every time I write “Reading Roomers” I imagine semiologists trying to decipher the subtext of the latest gossip.)  I’m still in Ohio with my Mom and— in the way of these things—have just learned that my middle son has broken his leg playing basketball. It’s not the worst break in the world, but it’s changed the complexion of Mike’s summer. Right now he’s been reading through The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes instead of getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail. When you are sick or your life strands you in a place where you can’t really do much, what books do you imagine reading? Under what conditions would you like to recover as you read them?

So, let me piggy back off of his discussion, what are your ‘imaginary reads’?

I think that if I knew I was going to have a fairly long recovery time in a bed or a hospital (*knocks on wood&), that I would attempt some of the larger literary giants that have up until this point scared me off, largely due to their length: The Brothers Karmazov by Dostoevesky, Les Miserable by Hugo, Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon, The Regulations by Gaddis. These are all 500-700+ reads and while I’ve read books of that length before, these authors tend to be fairly well known for being dense. How about you Erin, in what imaginary future do you foresee yourself starting and finishing Oblomov or The Kindly Ones? Some day eh….someday 😉

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

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I just finished Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor and it is a phenomenal read. My only criticism is that the book is a tad too long.

The story centers around a young boy Benji who shares his childhood and adolescent experiences of living in Sag Harbor an all black community in the Hamptons.

This is definitely a summer read and as the summer unfolds for Benji and his friends, a pastiche of the mid 80s is revealed to the reader, roller-rinks, bbq’s, boardwalks, minimum wage jobs. Benji and his friends try to define themselves against the previous generations of their black community and yet the realization hits home that they are no different than their parents, their love affairs, their adventures, their encounters with racism, abuse, violence, boredom, and more.

Colson Whitehead writes not so much about people but place, as I recently tweeted to Mr. Whitehead on twitter, his books are enjoyable, at least to me, not because of the WHO, but because of the WHERE. It is how the summer and this particular location in the Hamptons, an all black community that guides the story. The plot is fairly loose in this novel and meanders along much in the same way that Benji and his friends explore the summer. It presents the readers with a series of reflections on adolescence: the awkwardness of the first kiss, competition amongst friends to define themselves and create an identity during the teen years.

sag-harbor-0309-lg-70936749If you’re looking for a light summer read, this is definitely the book for you. If you’re headed anywhere warm such as a beach or lake front, pick this up, you will not be disappointed.

One of the strengths and one of my favorite themes of the book centers around how different the cottage, lake-house, the place that we occupy during the summer months is  as opposed to the rest of the year. There is a separate life that exists in the summer, our friends and family behave and act differently during the summer compared with the winter, a second alternative self is reborn each summer. Benji and Mr. Colson Whitehead explore this second self and what it means when that last summer weekend encroaches. A question that Benji often asks and fears is how he will change as he returns to the city and the fast paced life of school and work in the fall.

Written by thebeliever07

June 12, 2009 at 7:42 pm

A Half-Finished Marilynne Robinson is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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A few years ago I took a Valuing Modern Fiction course. Now while the course work and lectures were of a quality and standard that I did not appreciate, the one thing the course did provide me with was an exposure to some wonderful contemporary authors. The selection of the books reflected the various awards that had been given out that year in the industry: [ Pullitzer, Man Booker Prize for Fiction, Giller, CBC Canada Reads, Hugo Award, National Book Award, etc ]. The following books were selected:

  • A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toewes
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy
  • Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones
  • Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

A nice selection of books, some I enjoyed more than others,  but the reason I am writing this post is that I’m now kicking myself in the ass for not having read one book in particular. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. She has made quite a name for herself, notably with her most recent publication: Home. Home is a sequel to Gilead which was just awarded the Orange Prize for fiction. It has also been featured as a book that President Obama recently read which has drawn some attention to the work as well.

Gileas is a story about a small, dusty prairie town in 1956, written in the form of a letter from a 75-year-old preacher to his six-year-old son.

I remember enjoying the writing and the premise but I did not finish the book in the time that we were given, what with other English course loads, and life distractions. The sequel Home takes place concurrently in the same locale, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames’s closest friend. Apparently the books are independent and can be read as stand-alones on their own, but I hate knowing that there is another book that preceded this one as I feel I would be missing out on certain insights and conclusions drawn from the prior book by jumping into this one. Do I go back and re-read half of a book that was enjoyable so that I can read this book which is drawing so much buzz?

Lesson of the Day: Finish your assigned readings, so you don’t get annoyed the way I am with this issue.

Written by thebeliever07

June 8, 2009 at 8:45 am

Spider

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Erin and I had breakfast this morning and we were randomly channel surfing when we stumbled upon a film that I’ve wanted to see for a long time, David Cronenburg’s Spider. The premise is as follows: Dennis Clegg is in his thirties and lives in a halfway house for the mentally ill in London. I would provide a bit more but it would spoil the film. Cronenburg has obviously been reading some Beckett as the film relies heavily on many of the nuances and charms that Beckett-like dramatic pieces contain [minimalism, silence, suffering, tragedy, solitude]. Spider_15

The film follows Ralph Fiennes, Spider, as he works through memories of his childhood life, particularly his relationship with his mother. An oedipal-psychoanalytic analysis begs to be made in this film. The movie is a bit slow, but methodical in the way it builds up to the final thirty minutes of the film. There are only a handful of actors and for the most part it is a quiet film that gives Ralph much room to silently explore the depths of this sad and lonely pathetic character. The reason for his isolation, misery, and mental illness is finally revealed in the end. It’s a fairly dark film, so be prepared for some sadness. Well worth your time though, enjoy.

Written by thebeliever07

May 24, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Paul Auster: Book Preview/Interview

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Written by thebeliever07

May 19, 2009 at 7:54 am