Archive for June, 2006

return of the revenge of the son of finishing what I started, part 3

Friday, June 30th, 2006

Just when you thought it was safe to check my blog. Here are a few more books I’ve finished this year, this time 100% tangent-free! It’s possible spoilers are involved, I’m not really sure.
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden: I have certainly never been a geisha but I have been female for quite some time now, and from this perspective this book written by an American male seems to be amazingly authentic as far as how a female, and possibly a geisha, might feel and act under the circumstances described. It is also quite interesting from a historical point of view. I understand there is some debate over how authentic it is: I read that a geisha upon whose life this book is partially based was quite offended by the suggestion that a highly-refined type of prostitution played any part in the geisha’s life. According to her, a geisha was an artist, carrying on ancient art forms, and nothing more. On the other hand, a geisha from a different type of town, a sort of resort place, argued that she was pretty much a prostitute, and it was quite a miserable life.
Either way, as the main character’s mentor, a highly successful and wealthy geisha says, “We are not geisha because we want to be. We are geisha because we have no choice.” This was the key point that seemed to bother a lot of reviewers of the movie (which I also recently watched), although oddly not of the book. Ebert argues that the geisha’s life is essentially one of sexual slavery, even if it’s more elegant than what we usually think of as a prostitute’s life.
This is true; but in this time and place few people had any choice in the course their lives will take. Placed in this circumstance, Sayuri (the main character) has three choices: collaborate with her circumstances and submit to being miserable; somehow freeing herself from the life into which she’s thrown (a historically implausible occurrence, even if it’s the one we as Americans want to root for); or somehow find a happy life within the circumstances she can’t escape. She goes for the third, and while feminists (including myself) might quibble with the way in which she finds happiness, her taking control of her life in the only way she can is impressive and makes for a compelling story.
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov: Reading Lolita in Tehran inspired me to read a few more books/authors cited by it. I had no desire to read Lolita, so I asked Andy for another Nabokov recommendation and he suggested Pale Fire. I was rather hesitant about reading this book, worried that I would find it either horrifyingly upsetting or completely incomprehensible. Happily, neither of those eventualities materialized. I enjoyed it very much.
What seems to be Nabokov’s trademark of the unreliable narrator was interesting–the whole story was the narrator’s unreliability rather than any of the actual events which occur in the book, which was quite fascinating.
A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich: Yes, really! I’ll go ahead and spoil the ending of this one for you: Byzantium falls and some schmo named Charlemagne takes over, naming his upstart little polity “The Holy Roman Empire” in a monumental display of hubris. But, in A Short History, it’s getting there that’s all the fun.

finishing what I started, part 2

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi: Andy’s mom recommended this and Andy got it for me, so I figured those were two good reasons to read it.
It was quite an amazing book. The author returned to Iran after graduate school in the U.S., just before the revolution which put the Ayatollah and religious law in power. Life under this regime seems at worst terrifying: as under all totalitarian regimes, no one’s life or property is assured, either can be taken under any or no pretext. At best, things are so surreal as to be almost comical: one could either laugh or cry, and it’s not just because I’m American and western that things seem this way to me. Nafisi, the “girls” in her literature class who provide the frame for Nafisi’s memoir, and many other people feel the same way. As Nafisi puts it, the generation prior to the Ayatollah’s power experienced the most progressive policies in the world regarding women, now suddenly women are forced into veils, robes, and the limited roles deemed acceptable for them by the reigning power.
The book is structured first through the framework of a class Nafisi started after having left her University post, and the lives of the women who participated in the class. Within this, the book is divided into four chapters, each based on the works of different authors: Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James, and Austen.


finishing what I started

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

I’m good at beginnings, not so good at middles and ends. I’m very enthusiastic about starting things, but not as much about the follow-through. The three projects which I’ve kept at longest in my life are, in order from greatest to least longevity, 1. graduate school, 2. this blog, 3. my marriage. Most everything else has been abandoned before being properly begun.
As in life, so in reading: as I’ve noted before, I’m better at starting than at finishing books. As one of my Old Year’s resolutions this year, however, I decided to start finishing at least some of the books I begin. In keeping with the Old Year’s ethos, finishing books was not some sort of requirement I set up for myself; rather I simply thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to find out what happens at the ends of books, sometimes?” and then I did. Sometimes.
Here are some of the books I’ve finished so far this year: