ArtSunday

Book Review: The Burgundy Briefcase by Roberta Burton

Knowledge in our chosen fields of endeavor is important, certainly…knowledge of ourselves is essential…. 

The Burgundy Briefcase by Roberta Burton (image courtesy Goodreads)

Roberta Burton’s The Burgundy Briefcase is a difficult novel to discuss because it doesn’t seem quite sure what sort of novel it wants to be. It’s part star-crossed love story, part therapeutic confessional, part self-examination. Its settings shift from place to place as its main character, a doctoral student named Lee Lindsey, moves around Tallahassee, Florida where she is completing her doctorate in marriage and family counseling at Florida State University. It moves, sometimes rather blithely, through time from present to past and back again. It has a shifting cast of characters who appear, disappear, and reappear in those weird ways that people sometimes do in life.

Perhaps The Burgundy Briefcase is best described as a picaresque novel about education. The work is filled with various types of educations, and Lee Lindsey, willingly and unwillingly, gets educated in all all of these education types. Continue reading

Book-Review

Unsolicited book review: The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

So we’ve got post-Arthurian Britain here, with the Britons and the Saxons occupying the land in an uneasy truce. We’ve got a collective failure of memory across society—no one, literally, can remember much, if anything, about past years, or even months. We’ve got wandering knights on missions. We’ve got an older couple on a search for their son, who left under unclear circumstances—which is not a surprise, since no one can remember anything. We’ve got faeries, ogres and a dragon, monks of uncertain motives, and swordfights. We’ve got really, really big questions. And we’ve also got, sadly, a somewhat tedious and boring novel.

I was, and remain, a huge fan of Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro’s wonderfully understated, and very powerful, novel about a dystopian future where the central characters are bred as organ providers for humans. It was the understatement that made the book so powerful. Ishiguro isn’t much of a stylist, really, and he writes in a very flat prose style, which in NLMG served to reinforce the essential horror of the situation the principal characters found themselves in. But it served another purpose, which was to let Ishiguro spend time developing the characters of the novel at leisure. The strength of the novel came from these genuinely interesting and human characters that weren’t human at all, but rather organic creations—which made the story so heartbreaking. Continue reading

Business

TTP: fast-track disaster ahead

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the opposite of free trade

Like many, I have my share of disappointments with Obama. On balance, he’s infinitely preferable to any of the plausible Republican alternatives—can you imagine what Mitt Romney or John McCain and a Republican Congress would be getting up to these days? Still, there are areas—global warming in particular—where I wish he had been more aggressive. I fully concede the limits of what may have been possible throughout his term, given the implacable opposition he has been facing. But still, it would have been good to see a more deliberate attempt to change the trajectory of things.

The ongoing corporatization of nearly everything would have been another place to start. I suppose the failure to pursue the banks aggressively should have been a tip-off that the Clinton financial people were still running the show. Plus the Obama administration’s unwillingness to try to put Elizabeth Warren as head of her brainchild, the new (and pretty efficient, I gather) Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (although she has had her payback.) When people start telling me that there’s no real difference between the two parties, in the finance area I tend to agree, with some notable exceptions like Warren. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

Thomas Mann’s Joseph the Provider: the truth of the story….

“Any attempt to examine the moral foundations of our exceedingly complicated world requires a certain amount of learning.” – Thomas Mann, Joseph the Provider

Thomas Mann (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Since Alfred Nobel established his prizes at the turn of the 20th century, there have been any number of recipients who have been, shall we say, arguable choices. The two prize areas where perhaps the greatest arguments have occurred have been the prize areas for peace and literature. On at least two occasions I have weighed in myself, once concerning Peter Handke, once concerning why the Nobel committee has refused to award an American writer the literature Nobel since Toni Morrison in 1993.

In making my way through the world literature section of the 2015 reading list, I’ll be looking at several literature Nobel winners including Sigrid Undset, Andre Gide, Herman Hesse, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Yasunari Kawabati. In the case of finalists not selected, such as Yukio Mishima from the reading list and the aforementioned Handke, their non-selection has spurred argument and controversy proving yet again the truth in that old and variously attributed adage, all art is political.

Thomas Mann won the literature Nobel in 1929. If one has read Mann’s work, one knows the Nobel committee got his selection right.

To Joseph the ProviderContinue reading

Separate and not equal

Israel’s emphatic election result embraces the Apartheid state

Separate and not equal

Separate and not equal

Israel’s new Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, now has a mandate from Israelis to implement his policy: no Palestinian state, and preferential rights for Jewish Israelis.

Let’s be quite clear where that takes you: Apartheid South Africa.

75% of Israel’s population is of Jewish descent; a little over 6 million people. But the overall population of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is 14 million.

In a unified state, without any prospect for Palestinian independence, Jewish Israelis are instantly a minority group. Netanyahu has to ensure that Jewish Israelis continue to “rule” and so, just as importantly to his manifesto, is that Jewish Israelis must have more rights to protect them from that majority. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

A year with Sir Terry Pratchett

terry phone books 015

March 16, 2015

It’s been four days. That’s about right. Any sooner would seem creepy, but to wait longer just wouldn’t feel right.

Four days ago, I joined the rest of the world and said goodbye to Sir Terry Pratchett. I never met Sir Terry, although one of my students did at an Atlanta book signing 20 years ago. She had him sign a book to me, and it’s one of my most cherished possessions.

This isn’t my homage to the man. I never knew the man, (I did like his hat) only his work, and specifically his Discworld novels. I bought The Colour of Magic in 1987, read it in one sitting, and was hooked. I purchased almost all of them, and when we moved to Connecticut ten years ago, I left most of my books in storage, but I brought my Discworld collection, and I’ve added to it. As an educator, I gave Sir Terry Pratchett the greatest honor I could: I never tried to teach one of his works. They weren’t made to be taught. Lord of the Flies is made to be taught. Poor Piggy. The Discworld novels served a higher, more personal purpose, to illuminate our world with high humor, and when you least expected it, rake with some unexpected wisdom or altogether unlooked for insight. Granny Weatherwax slashed across my soul like lightning. These books left marks, like scars from some painful but humorous tale involving pirates and 5-year-olds.

So today, I begin my Year with Sir Terry. I was going to start a website, but I couldn’t afford it. Does anybody blog anymore? Writing a blog is starting to sound like learning how to shoe horses. None of that. I’m starting over, reading his works again in more or less the same order that I went through them the first time. A year with Sir Terry. That’s a year well spent, and at the end, his last work will be waiting for me: The Shepherd’s Crown, final setting for Ms. Tiffany Aching. I’ll miss her.

I miss him already.

For Women’s History Month – books by American women that changed the world

The Yellow Wallpaper is especially important to me because I struggled greatly with depression and mental illness during four years of physical confinement within a very patriarchal marriage. Read it in full here. Also, Jane Addams is especially a hero of mine. She had so many pots boiling at once – I don’t know how she did it. I hope you will follow the link below and read more about her. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Balzac’s Pere Goriot: a cautionary tale for helicopter parents…

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…parent dotes on children who are ingrates and…yeah, well…

Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac (image courtesy Goodreads)

It is easy to make arguments against Père Goriot. It’s a rather sloppy book because the author, Honoré de Balzac, wrote quickly and rarely labored over his words. It’s a frustrating book because Balzac veers back and forth between Romanticism and Realism, sometimes on the same page. Two characters who would seem to be major figures disappear from the novel without adequate explanation. The ending is both overly long and abrupt, quite an accomplishment in itself, but not the preferred effect one would expect a great author to achieve.

In spite of all these flaws, it’s a magnificent book and one that will haunt anyone who has been a parent or had a parent who, for all the best intentions in the world, can’t seem to get that most fundamental life relationship right.

A couple of rambling asides before I get to Goriot. This is another of those books that I read a very long time ago (I believe Nixon was POTUS) and decided to re-read for this year’s world lit themed portion of the 2015 reading list. Continue reading

Predator: One orchid’s descent into hell

Every picture tells two or three stories. At least.

If you aren’t a photographer, you may not think about processing. But I have learned, over the past two and a half years, just how important those decisions can be. Everything from the basic choice of how to crop all the way to what kinds of heinous digital fuckery to employ – trust me when I say that it isn’t the picture that tells the story, it’s the decisions that get made once the picture has been taken.

Let me illustrate. I took a pleasant little shot of an orchid not long ago. Here’s the raw photo, edited a tad for balance. It’s underexposed because that’s what I needed in the raw for what I had in mind.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

For Women’s History Month – women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, part 2

Interesting. Tools used by the women’s peace movement to end civil war in Liberia included a sex strike and also a threat to strip naked in front of the male peace conference delegates, since apparently seeing an older or married woman deliberately expose herself is considered a curse in Liberia. Go sisters – use what you got!

Today is also the death date and feast day of Saint Matilda of Saxony, who is my 39th great-grandmother and an ancestor of the Capetian dynasty in France. She was queen then empress of Germany, mother of Holy Roman Emperor Otto I as well as Hedwig (mother of Hugh Capet, first of the Capetian dynasty in France), founder of many monasteries and churches, and known for her charity work.

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Woman-Power

For Women’s History Month – women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, part one

Women working for peace are always especially near and dear to my heart! Here are some winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Since there are seventeen of them, I will present about half today and half tomorrow.

Oh, before I get to that though, I have to mention that Cindy Sheehan really is my peace activist hero. I was at Camp Casey with her where we camped out under the hot Texas sun just outside of George Bush’s ranch. Just as Camp Casey was winding down because Bush was leaving Texas and returning to D.C., Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on my beloved home city. Cindy and I did a press conference together in which I questioned whether the slow response to the disaster had anything to do with the fact that much of the Louisiana National Guard and much of its equipment were off fighting in a nation that had never attacked the United States. Continue reading