Monthly Archives: October 2015

Celebrating School Library Month

islmonthlargeIn order to celebrate School Library Month I was asked by MyVoucherCodes to write an opinion piece about e-books and their role in reading.  I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to throw in my two cents about e-readers versus good, old-fashioned, paper books.

I recently posted an article on my Facebook page about the use of e-readers versus paper books and it was one of the most viewed and commented on articles that I have posted.  Readers are very passionate, it seems, about being able to obtain paper versions of their favorite books.  I have to admit that I am definitely a book hoarder and that an entire room in my house is dedicated to my books.  I have had a collection of books going back as far as high school.  When I moved to a new city to attend graduate school in my early twenties, my car was filled with mostly books and very few other essentials.  And when my family and I were house hunting several years back, we opted for the four bedroom so that one room could be devoted to our precious books.

I have amassed quite a collection of paper books of which I am very proud.  Although these books would have little value to anyone else, I love the fact that I have many Latin and Greek books that are out of publication.  I also have the rather worn copies of some of my favorite classics like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre that I first read when I was in high school.  I also love walking by my shelves and perusing the various collections of books I have gathered, such as my ever-expanding New York Review of Books selections, my growing collection of Persephone Books and my new collection of signed Indie author books.

But I also own an e-reader for many reasons, the most important of which is the offering of books in the ever-expanding world of self-publishing.  I currently have over 300 books on my Kindle, many of which are books from self-published authors.  My favorite author actually publishes his books on Amazon first as a Kindle edition only and if I didn’t have an e-reader then I would still be waiting to read his latest book.  This reason alone is worth it to me to own an e-reader.  And as much as I love my room full of books, it does cut down in a small way on the number of paper books in my house.  In addition, many publishers offer galley or early copies of new books to book bloggers as electronic copies only through sites like NetGalley and Edelweiss.  So if one is a blogger and wants to accept galley copies of books then an e-reader, particularly a Kindle, is a necessity.

This year the school at which I teach has given all of the students I-pads.  The I-pads also come with reading apps such as the Kindle app and I definitely see the convenience of such apps in my students’ lives.  In general students can have access at their fingertips to literally hundreds of books that they don’t have to carry around.  In my opinion, getting students to read and even getting them excited about reading is much easier when they have easy access to a variety of choices.  With that said, the most popular place on our campus to study and hang out is still the school library and in all of my classes I still see kids carrying around their favorite old-fashioned paper books.

I would love to hear my readers’ opinions on this topic.  I am sure you all have passionate feelings about the use of books versus e-readers, so leave me your comments below!  And don’t forget to celebrate School Library Month by visiting and supporting your local library.

 

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Review: The Blue Guitar by John Banville

I received an advanced review copy of this title from the publisher through Edelweiss.

My Review:
The Blue GuitarOliver Orme, in the opening part of the novel, is fleeing his home, his career and his life.  He has had an affair with his friend’s wife and the torrid details of the tryst has been uncovered.  Oliver is not sure how his own wife, Gloria, will react and he isn’t even sure how his lover, Polly will react to his sudden departure.  All Oliver knows is that his life is spiraling out of control and his instinct is to flee.

The first part of the book describes Oliver’s relationship with his wife and his meetings with his lover.  Oliver has fled to his boyhood home so there are also many scenes in which Oliver reminisces about his family and his childhood.  He is the youngest boy in a large family and was particularly close to his mother.  When he is a child Oliver picks up a very bad habit of stealing minor things.  He relates in great detail his first theft which was a tube of paint in a local art store.  The rush that Oliver feels when he is engaging in his kleptomania is like a drug that compels him to keep stealing from his friends and family well into middle age.  The latest thing he has stolen is Polly and now that the affair is out in the open he wants nothing more than to flee the entire unpleasant situation.

In the second part of the book Polly shows up at Oliver’s boyhood home with her two-year-old daughter Pip.  Polly has decided to leave her husband and is on her way to her parents’ house and asks Oliver to accompany her.  This episode in the second part of the book is very bizarre as Polly’s eccentric family is described in great detail.  Oliver stays there overnight and manages to escape the house secretly without anyone noticing.  It is really unclear why Polly wanted Oliver to accompany her home in the first place.  It is, however, very evident that this passionate, nine month affair has run its course and Polly and Oliver no longer love each other.  Banville provides us with unique insight into an affair because this is one that never could have lasted.  It leaves the characters wondering whether having a brief relationship was really worth disturbing the lives of so many people.

The final part of the book deals with Oliver’s return home and his confrontation with his wife Gloria.  At this point Gloria has some disconcerting news of her own to share in return.  The third part of the book actually has two shocking twists to the tale that I never saw coming.  To be perfectly honest, Oliver was such an unlikeable and almost despicable character in the first part of the book that I almost gave up reading it.  However, I am very glad that I pressed on because the reasons for his emotional instability are revealed further into the book.  Oliver is a well-recognized and talented painter and because of the tragedy he has suffered in his life he has pretty much given up on his career.  Banville demonstrates, through the characters of Oliver and his wife that grief is a tricky emotion that we all deal with very differently.

Finally, I have to mention the beautiful prose and language that Banville uses to relate this story.  The entire book is told in the first person, through the eyes of Oliver himself.  There are a number of interesting rhetorical devices and plays on words and language that Banville uses throughout the writing.  I highly recommend this novel just to experience a taste of Banville’s clever and elegant prose.

About The Author:
J BanvilleBanville was born in Wexford, Ireland. His father worked in a garage and died when Banville was in his early thirties; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children’s novel and a reminiscence of growing up in Wexford.

Educated at a Christian Brothers’ school and at St Peter’s College in Wexford. Despite having intended to be a painter and an architect he did not attend university. Banville has described this as “A great mistake. I should have gone. I regret not taking that four years of getting drunk and falling in love. But I wanted to get away from my family. I wanted to be free.” After school he worked as a clerk at Aer Lingus which allowed him to travel at deeply-discounted rates. He took advantage of this to travel in Greece and Italy. He lived in the United States during 1968 and 1969. On his return to Ireland he became a sub-editor at the Irish Press, rising eventually to the position of chief sub-editor. His first book, Long Lankin, was published in 1970.

After the Irish Press collapsed in 1995, he became a sub-editor at the Irish Times. He was appointed literary editor in 1998. The Irish Times, too, suffered severe financial problems, and Banville was offered the choice of taking a redundancy package or working as a features department sub-editor. He left. Banville has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books since 1990. In 1984, he was elected to Aosdána, but resigned in 2001, so that some other artist might be allowed to receive the cnuas.

Banville also writes under the pen name Benjamin Black. His first novel under this pen name was Christine Falls, which was followed by The Silver Swan in 2007. Banville has two adult sons with his wife, the American textile artist Janet Dunham. They met during his visit to San Francisco in 1968 where she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Dunham described him during the writing process as being like “a murderer who’s just come back from a particularly bloody killing”. Banville has two daughters from his relationship with Patricia Quinn, former head of the Arts Council of Ireland.

Banville has a strong interest in vivisection and animal rights, and is often featured in Irish media speaking out against vivisection in Irish university research.

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Review: Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

My Review:
Aurora LeighAurora Leigh is a beautiful, sublime poem written in blank verse.  The language, however, is not the only strong point of the poem.  The character of Aurora is fierce and compassionate, as she adapts to her new life in Britain despite her stern aunt.  Aurora is born to an English father and an Italian mother and happily spends her childhood among the mountains in Italy.  Aurora’s mother dies when she is only four, but her father continues to raise her in Italy among her mother’s people.  Aurora’s father also tragically dies when she is at the young and pivotal age of thirteen, and Aurora is shipped off to live in England with her father’s sister.  Her aunt is a stern spinster who makes Aurora learn what she believes are appropriate skills for a proper English girl.

But Aurora is resilient and even though her life is more restrained and cumbersome in England, she still finds pleasure in books and poetry.  The beautiful estate on which her aunt lives becomes the inspiration for Aurora to begin writing her own poetry.  She takes quiet walks in the early morning before the rest of the house is awake and develops her skill as a writer.  Furthermore, Aurora doesn’t take what would be the easy way out by marrying her cousin Romney Leigh when he proposes to her.  Marriage and financial security would have been a much easier fate for Aurora; but even when her aunt dies and Aurora is disinherited, she moves to London where she works and supports herself as an author.

Browning weaves the theme of class struggles throughout the poem and she especially highlights this social problem through the character of Romney.  The  poor are depicted as wreteched and even ugly; Romney makes it his life’s work to help out the poor and destitute.  After his marriage proposal is Aurora's Dismissal of Romneyrejected by Aurora, he saves a woman named Marian Erle from her miserable life and proposes to her next.  Marian is the daughter of tramps that roam around the countryside finding any work they can.  Marian’s father is abusive and when her mother tries to sell her off to a local squire,  Marian finally runs away from her parents in horror.  Romney decides that, even though Marian is well-below his social class, she will make a perfect wife to help him in his charitable missions. But we are left wondering if these two are really suited as husband and wife.  Does Marian truly love Romney or does she simply worship him as her savior.  Does Romney really have feelings of love for Marian or is he still in love with his cousin Aurora?

The upper class don’t fair any better in Browning’s verse.  They are depicted as vain, judgmental, and petty.  The character of Lady Valdemar is the epitome of a greedy upper class English woman who will do everything in her power to fulfill her selfish desires.  Lady Valdemar is in love with Romney and once she finds out that he is going to marry a lower class woman like Marian, she sets in motion a series of events that have devastating consequences for all involved in this love triangle.  Lady Valdemar’s singular focus of getting Romney to the altar makes her a despicable and opportunistic character.

At the end of the poem Browning brings the characters back to the place where everything was simpler and happier: Aurora’s native land of Italy.  There Aurora finds peace once again as she is finally away from the petty gossip and prying eyes of the upper classes in England.  Aurora does, however, admit that despite her new surroundings,  there is still something missing in her life.  She is a successful author who has become famous for her poems and novels about love.  But will she ever experience this elusive feeling for herself?  You will have to read Browning’s beautiful poem to find out.

About The Author:
Elizabeth Barrett BrowningElizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most respected poets of the Victorian era.
Born in County Durham, the eldest of 12 children, Browning was educated at home. She wrote poetry from around the age of six and this was compiled by her mother, comprising what is now one of the largest collections extant of juvenilia by any English writer. At 15 Browning became ill, suffering from intense head and spinal pain for the rest of her life, rendering her frail. She took laudanum for the pain, which may have led to a lifelong addiction and contributed to her weak health.

In the 1830s Barrett’s cousin John Kenyon introduced her to prominent literary figures of the day such as William Wordsworth, Mary Russell Mitford, Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Thomas Carlyle. Browning’s first adult collection The Seraphim and Other Poems was published in 1838. During this time she contracted a disease, possibly tuberculosis, which weakened her further. Living at Wimpole Street, in London, Browning wrote prolifically between 1841 and 1844, producing poetry, translation and prose. She campaigned for the abolition of slavery and her work helped influence reform in child labour legislation. Her prolific output made her a rival to Tennyson as a candidate for poet laureate on the death of Wordsworth.

Browning’s volume Poems (1844) brought her great success. During this time she met and corresponded with the writer Robert Browning, who admired her work. The courtship and marriage between the two were carried out in secret, for fear of her father’s disapproval. Following the wedding she was disinherited by her father and rejected by her brothers. The couple moved to Italy in 1846, where she would live for the rest of her life. They had one son, Robert Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. Towards the end of her life, her lung function worsened, and she died in Florence in 1861. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband shortly after her death.

 

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Review: The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter

I received an advanced review copy of this title from New Vessel Press through Edelweiss.  This book was originally written and published in German and this English translation has been done by Steph Morris.

My Review:
The Last WeynfeldtNew Vessel Press will publish the English translation of this book in February of 2016, but the book was so good that I couldn’t wait that long to review it.  The central figure of the book, Adrian Weynfeldt, is just what the title suggests: he is the last of his family and he is not married and has no children.  Adrian’s parents had him later in life and when they died they left Adrian an extensive inheritance which includes two buildings that are prime real estate in Zurich.

Fifty-year-old Adrian lives alone on the top floor of one of his opulent buildings.  His massive apartment is filled with costly art work and antique furniture.  Because of his family’s wealth Adrian doesn’t have to work, but he does because he loves his occupation as an expert art historian for an auction house in Zurich.  The descriptions of various artwork and the process of art auctions is a fascinating aspect of the book that captivated my attention.

Adrian is mannered to a fault.  He doesn’t ask questions when he should and he is always paying for his friends’ lavish dinners and funding their attempts at careers.  Every Thursday is lunch with his younger friends and Adrian always excuses himself towards the end of the meal and quietly pays the very expensive bill.  Adrian is kind, polite and unassuming and it as very sad to see his so-called friends take advantage of his good nature.

This book is one of those page turners that grabs you right from the first scene.  Adrian is sitting at one of his favorite bars in Zurich when in walks an interesting woman, in her mid-thirties who basically invites herself up to Adrian’s apartment.  He realizes that she is rather intoxicated, so in true Adrian fashion, he feels it would be wrong to sleep with her.  In the middle of the night, Adrian wakes up to find this woman, whose name he figures out is Lorena, standing on his balustrade and ready to jump to her death.  After he talks her off the ledge, Adrian finds that he can’t stop thinking about Lorena even though he doesn’t know very much about her.

It turns out that Lorena has tried to barely squeak out a living by modeling for small companies and catalogues.  She has had a tough life and her latest relationship ended disastrously when she found out her boyfriend had a wife and three children.  Lorena teams up with a small-time con artist named Pedroni and together they decide to try and swindle Adrian out of some of his money.  But Lorena seems to have fallen for Adrian, more so than she is willing to admit to herself, and we are left wondering if she can really cheat him after all.

Adrian and Lorena also become involved in an attempted art forgery and a great part of the suspense of the book lies in wondering whether or not Adrian’s keen eye for art will be able to detect the forgery and stop the sale of this piece before it ruins his career.  But Lorena’s influence has most definitely thrown some chaos into his otherwise ordered and neat life.  The circumstances surrounding the forged art, the sexual tension between Adrian and Lorena and the fascinating character of Adrian himself kept me wondering what was going to happen and wanting more.

I highly recommend that everyone put this on their “to read” pile for 2016.  There are just so many interesting aspects to this story-from the strong characters to the intricate descriptions of art to a mystery of an art fraud.  New Vessel Press has quickly become one of my favorite independent presses and with THE LAST WEYNFELDT they have chosen another fantastic book to bring us in translation.

About The Author:
M SuterMartin Suter (b. February 29, 1948, Zürich) is a Swiss author. He became known for his weekly column Business Class in the Weltwoche newspaper (1992–2004), now appearing in the Tages-Anzeiger, and another column appearing in “NZZ Folio”. Suter has published seven novels, for which he received various awards. He is married and lives in Spain and Guatemala.

 

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Filed under German Literature, Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation

Review: Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson

My Review:
Green MansionsLast week I was in one of those moods where I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to read.  I tried a couple of books that just weren’t working for me and then I finally settled onto this oftentimes neglected classic by William Henry Hudson.

Hudson was not only an author, but he was also a naturalist and wrote extensively about the flora and fauna of his homeland in Argentina.  So it is no wonder that the most striking aspects of this novel are the descriptions of the lush landscapes in which the main characters live.

The contrast between the “savages” and civilized man is an interesting topic that Hudson explores.   Abel is escaping from his civilized country in which his government is constantly being threatened by coups and rebels.  He takes refuge in the lush, tropical forests of south-western Venezuela which are inhabited by unorganized tribes of Indians.  Abel finds that life among the Indians is much simpler than life in the city; the focus of these people is gathering food, building shelters and protecting themselves from their enemies.  Abel describes the lavish rainforests in which he lives among these people as his “green mansions.”

Abel learns that even among these tribes superstitions, prejudices and hatred exist.  The Indians with which he settles put him through a series of tests to see if Abel can be trusted and accepted into their community.  Abel is eventually given his own hammock on which to sleep in one of their huts and he is invited to take his share from the communal eating pot.  But Abel is restless sitting in his hammock all day, so he explores in a local wooded area where he meets a mysterious woman named Rima.

When he first explores this forest, Abel hears what he thinks are warbling bird sounds.  The sounds seem to follow him no matter where he goes in the woods.  Eventually he stumbles across a woman who looks and acts like no other native he has encountered.  She is at peace with nature and lives among the animals in harmony; the animals and insects seem to obey and respect her and even a poisonous snake which bites Abel wraps itself around Rima as her protector.  Abel gradually falls in love with Rima and wants nothing more than to act like lovers do with embraces and kisses and sharing and conversation.  But Rima is elusive and even though she is around Abel she doesn’t let him see her or touch her very often.  It appears that she is also in love with Abel, but she doesn’t understand the concept of love and so she is afraid of her feelings and shrinks from Abel’s advances.

In the end Abel must find a way to teach Rima what love is and show her how to express it.  Abel must also protect Rima from the other natives of the forest who view Rima, because of her difference in appearance, as a threat to them.  And although the book ends on a tragic note, the descriptive passages of the fertile rainforest, the ideas about love and Abel’s enduring will to live all make this a great classic.

About The Author:
WH HudsonWilliam Henry Hudson was an author, naturalist and ornithologist. He was born in the Quilmes Partido in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, where he is considered to belong to the national literature as Guillermo Enrique Hudson, the Spanish version of his name. He spent his youth studying the local flora and fauna and observing both natural and human dramas on what was then a lawless frontier, publishing his ornithological work in Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society, initially in an English mingled with Spanish idioms. He settled in England during 1869. He produced a series of ornithological studies, including Argentine Ornithology (1888-1899) and British Birds (1895), and later achieved fame with his books on the English countryside, including Hampshire Days (1903), Afoot in England (1909) and A Shepherd’s Life (1910). His best known novel is Green Mansions (1904), and his best known non-fiction is Far Away and Long Ago (1918). His other works include: The Purple Land (That England Lost) (1885), A Crystal Age (1887), The Naturalist in La Plata (1892), A Little Boy Lost (1905), Birds in Town and Village (1919), Dead Man’s Plack and an Old Thorn (1920), and A Traveller in Little Things (1921).

 

 

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