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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash~★★★★

Author: Ron Rash,
Title: Nothing Gold Can Stay: Stories
Release Date: February 19, 2013
Publisher: Ecco
Genre:  Fiction

Book Jacket: "Pen/Faulkner Award Finalist and New York Times bestselling author Ron Rash turns again to Appalachia to capture lives haunted by violence and tenderness, hope and fear, in unforgettable stories that span from the Civil War to the present day.
In the title story, two drug-addicted friends return to the farm where they worked as boys to steal their former boss's gruesomely unusual war trophies. In "The Trusty," which first appeared in The New Yorker, a prisoner sent to fetch water for his chain gang tries to sweet-talk a farmer's young wife into helping him escape, only to find that she is as trapped as he is. In "Something Rich and Strange," a diver is called upon to pull a drowned girl's body free from under a falls, but he finds her eerily at peace below the surface. The violence of Rash's characters and their raw settings are matched only by their resonance and stark beauty, a masterful combination that has earned Rash an avalanche of praise." 

Taryn's Review: I feel like I am the worst short story reader. I don't always "get" them. I would have loved to major in Literature in college, but as my classmates discussed the overarching themes and foreshadowing in Literature class, I felt so left out. I don't read stories that way. It's not necessarily wrong not to, but I often wish I was able to. I mean, if you completely overlook phallic images in a story while everyone else immediately recognized them, you aren't meant to be an Literature major, ha!

This is one of those books where I probably overlooked some themes. I really enjoyed Rash's writing style and although half the time I didn't know what I was suppose to take away from the story, I still liked them! Rash wrote the stories in a very point-blank fashion, which I tend to favor. A couple of the stories were a little darker than what I encounter in my normal readings, but none were dark enough to cause me to stop reading. The stories listed in the book jacket were some of my favorites in the book, along with "The Magic Bus."

Short stories are great when you're busy and don't have time to get wrapped up in a single story. I can't speak for everyone, but it's great for me to know the ending to short stories quickly because otherwise I know I'd want to stay up late to continue reading a novel, which I don't have time to do! I wouldn't have any issue selecting another Ron Rash book to read.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Awakening by Kate Chopin~★★★★

Author: Kate Chopin
Title: The Awakening
Release Date: First released in 1899; this edition released in 1999
Publisher: First published by H. Stone & Co.; this edition published by Recorded Books, LLC, Unabridged edition; read by Alexandra O'Karma
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Born in 1851, Katherine O'Flaherty Chopin led an unconventional life. A great beauty, she married a French plantation owner in Louisiana and bore six children. After she was widowed at 32, Chopin managed the plantation, continued to raise her children, and started to write short stories.
The Awakening, published in 1899, was immediately banned from public libraries for being indecent. The story of a young wife and mother, it shocked readers by portraying a growing awareness of passion and desire---and the woman's decision to act on those emotions. 
Narrator Alexandra O'Karma's performance conveys the young woman's new-found spontaneity and her growing frustration with the constraints of society. Now hailed as a classic of American literature, The Awakening is an exceptional work by an intelligent and sensitive writer." 

Taryn's Review: This is one of those books that is best read and appreciated if you understand the time period in which it was written and in the context of what life was like for women. The book was published in 1899; women didn't have the right to vote, women were not considered to be able to make rational decisions because of their "passions," and many women found themselves resolved to a life of being a housewife and mother, even if that is not what they wanted. Today women in the U.S. are very lucky to have rights, rights that were withheld from women of the past. I read this book as a teen and it completely went over my head. It's one of those books that expects you to have a bit of life experience under your belt before reading it.

In the book, Edna Pontellier was the wife of Mr. Pontellier, mother of two boys, Raul and Etienne. As time passed, she realized that the life she was living was not the life she wanted. However, her options were quite limited as to what she could do to change that. The book spoke of how much Mr. Pontellier loved Edna, but she was also crucial to his facade in both his public and private life. He expected Edna to want to do her "wifely duties" of calling on other women and making rounds to keep up good appearances within the social group. He alone selected what type of house the family would live in, how it would be decorated, and where his family would live, vacation, and act daily. I don't think Mr. Pontellier necessarily mistreated his wife; he lived his life according the social norms of the time. But when Edna did speak out and tried to make changes according to her wants, he quickly made the decision to mask Edna's willfulness with lies to the neighborhood via the newspaper (this seems so strange today!). Edna did not have a say in the matter. There was a point in the book where Edna wished to divorce her husband; her confidant said he had head of some men who allowed their wives to be "released" from the martial contract in divorce, but it was rare. As a divorced woman, I cannot image being trapped in a marriage I did not want anymore without the option of leaving it, nor can I image not being able to make choices regarding my education, my career, my home, and, well, my life. 

There were some great quotes in this book. One that struck me was, "I would give up the unessential; I would give up money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give up myself. I can't make it more clear; it's only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me." I find this quote to be really telling not just in the context of the book, but even today for women. How many women have I heard say they have no time for themselves; they lose themselves to work, husbands, children, school, etc. I would say I was guilty of having done so in the past. We often willingly give up ourselves thinking that it is useful to do so, or even a loving gesture to do so, but perhaps we err in that thought. Just something to think about; feel free to disagree.

The book was quite scandalous when it was published in 1899 and went onto many banned-book lists.  Chopin was an elegant writer and I loved her word choices. There were parts of the book that were vague and I wasn't sure what Chopin had hinted at, but overall her writing ability was grand and enviable. I wasn't thrilled with Edna's moral choices at points in the book, but I also cannot imagine the burden of not having control over your own life. It doesn't excuse her choices, but it does lend some perspective as to why she made them. O'Karma (what an awesome last name) did a beautiful job reading the book. The story was set in Louisiana and O'Karma sounded divine when she spoke the little French in the book or accentuated the French accent. I don't think this book is one that can be universally enjoyed by all, but it is a story of self-discovery during a time in which self-discovery was prohibited for women and the book showed the crushing effects such restriction can have on a person.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward~★★★★1/2

Author: C. Vann Woodward
Title: The Strange Career of Jim Crow
Release Date: Originally released in 1955; this edition released in 2001
Publisher: Oxford University Press (2001 edition)
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket:  "C. Vann Woodward, who died in 1999 at the age of 91, was America's most eminent Southern historian, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Mary Chesnut's Civil War and a Bancroft Prize for The Origins of the New South. Now, to honor his long and truly distinguished career, Oxford is pleased to publish this special commemorative edition of Woodward's most influential work.
The Strange Career of Jim Crow is one of the great works of Southern history. Indeed, the book actually helped shape that history. Published in 1955, a year after the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education ordered schools desegregated, Strange Career was cited so often to counter arguments for segregation that Martin Luther King, Jr., called it 'the historical Bible of the civil rights movement.' The book offers a clear and illuminating analysis of the history of Jim Crow laws, presenting evidence that segregation in the South dated only to the 1890s. Woodward convincingly shows that, even under slavery, the two races had not been divided as they were under Jim Crow laws of the 1890s. In fact, during Reconstruction, there was considerable economic and political mixing of the races. The segregating of the races was a relative newcomer to the region. 
Hailed as one of the top 100 nonfiction works of the twentieth century, The Strange Career of Jim Crow has sold almost a million copies and remains, in the words of David Herbert Donald, 'a landmark in the history of American race relations."

Taryn's Review: I'll keep this short and sweet since I'm furiously reading for my upcoming exams (eek!). C. Vann Woodward's argument  in this book is that Jim Crow laws were not enacted during Reconstruction in the post-Civil War South, but after Reconstruction ended, about 1877. He argued that fear, jealously, proscription, hatred, and fanaticism had always been there, but the forces or authorities that kept those feelings "in-check," so to speak, were weakened after new authorities moved into power after 1877 (chapter 3). Woodward pointed out that blacks voted in large numbers up until 1900, when threats against blacks from whites made it dangerous for blacks to cast their votes.

Another aspect that Woodward talked about WWII's influence on the eventual breakdown of Jim Crow laws and rising of the Civil Rights movement. How could America in good faith liberate a group of people who were horrifically mistreated, abused, and slaughtered in Europe only to ignore the atrocities that were also being acted out against a segment of American society? Amazingly, the book was written in 1955 with such great clarity it doesn't feel like the book was written during a time when Jim Crow laws were enforced in many areas of the South. And to boot, C. Vann Woodward was a Southerner himself. This book revolutionized how historians viewed Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws and to this day is still relevant and required reading for many students of history.

If you are really interested in the post-Civil War South and race relations, give this book a try. The book is not the easiest to read, but if you take your time while reading to understand what Woodward's overall messages are, you'll be happy you did.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940 by David E. Kyvig~★★★★★

Author: David E. Kyvig
Title: Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the "Roaring Twenties" and the Great Depression
Release Date: September 30, 2004
Publisher: Ivan R. Dee
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "The 1920s and 1930s witnessed dramatic changes in American life: growing urbanization, technological innovation, cultural upheaval, and economic disaster. In this fascinating book, prize-winning historian David E. Kyvig describes everyday life in these decades, when automobiles and home electricity became common place, when radio and the movies became broadly popular. Major national developments from the adoption of woman suffrage and the coming of national prohibition, to the economic collapse of the early 1930s and the subsequent rise of the New Deal are considered in terms of their effects on the daily lives of Americans. The book concludes by examining daily life in six American cities, large and small, in Indiana, New Mexico, Iowa, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. The details of work life, domestic life, and leisure activities make engrossing reading and bring the era clearly into focus, on a level we can call understand. With 53 black-and-white photographs."

Taryn's Review: Grad school is kicking my butt. I have lots of reviews in draft mode, but haven't had time to complete them. After April things should slow down, thankfully!

This book was one I read for my exams and I loved this book. I devoured this book. It answered so many questions I've thought to myself about the transition to a world with electric lights and horseless cars. Kyvig is a great writer and you definitely do not need a history background to enjoy this book.

Kyvig focused on automobiles, electricity, radios, movies, culture, religion, politics, and labor (off the top of my head). I learned so many fun, random facts from this book. For example, library circulations grew exponentially after people were able to light their homes from electricity; it was much easier to read near a light bulb than an open fire or dim lanterns; that's also about the time the symbol of the light bulb over one's head emerged and was equated with knowledge or new ideas. The term horsepower was derived to explain the amount of power that was exerted and equaled as compared to a draft horse. Soap operas derived their name because the shows were acted out on the radio and were sponsored by soap companies, thus soap operas, and the name carried over to televisions. These types of facts delight me!

The book was so interesting and so readable. It explained the direct relation as to how and why our present lives are they way they are. The book can be a bit statistic heavy in parts, but math-oriented people should enjoy that inclusion. The pictures were really fascinating and a great addition to the book. A great exercise for the reader is to imagine those in your family line who experienced life as during this period. My great-grandmother was born in 1914 and she grew into adulthood during 1920s and 1930s; how wonderful it is that this book gave me an overview about some of the bigger themes and issues present during her lifetime.

If you like U.S. history, read this book. Whether your interest lie in early or modern American history, the book is an essential read. Kyvig picked a lively topic to discuss and the book reflected as such. Give it a try!