A boy raised in the Calormen desert south of Narnia meets a talking horse and flees a life of slavery on a journey north. Lewis’s Christian symbolism grows even more painfully obvious here, espousing an outdated fable of a heathen from the backward Pagan lands (Calormen) embracing Jesus (Aslan) as he works to get to heaven (Narnia). This feels more egregious when you consider Lewis’s treatment of Calormen with a Middle Eastern theme, though his protagonist’s skin is “fair and white” like the “beautiful barbarians of the north.” Combine this with an unimaginative plot and the result is….not worthwhile.
In a vastly overpopulated future, London’s Ministry of Infertility coerces the populace to either stop having children or take up with your own sex. Though the concept has tremendous potential, Burgess seems more interested in his theories of overpopulation and cycles of government than in the plot, which merely serves as a vehicle for his ideas—as thought-provoking as they are, the book itself is a bit of a slog. Its 1960s treatment of homosexuality is also downright insulting today, combined with a few cringeworthy thoughts on race. Better to read A Clockwork Orange and leave this one buried.
Four lonely people in a Southern town search for meaning outside of life’s banalities, brought together by a deaf-mute who’s mourning the loss of his closest friend. Parts of this book resonated with me strongly as the characters express their inability to fit into the world around them, especially Mick’s analogy of the outside room where she performs for society versus the inside room where she enjoys her secret love of music. The rest of it, however, moves painfully slowly, with long chapters and dialogue that hasn’t aged well, leaving its raw power to be deciphered rather than enjoyed.
Prior to this I’d only read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, and while these four plays are less significant, they built off of the other Ibsen I’d read while covering more thematic ground. Ibsen was a progressive decades ahead of his time, and today these plays seem more relevant than ever, covering environmental protection, the place of women in society, the dangers of populism, parents wielding control over children, and choosing money over love. I enjoyed the denser John Gabriel Borkman much less due to its heavy exposition, but maybe also because I haven’t gotten old yet.
An Enemy of the People
The Lady From the Sea
John Gabriel Borkman
Sixteen-year-old sharpshooter Margo Crane leaves home after a family dispute and follows the river, initially seeking male companions of varying quality before deciding to live by her wits. Though the story starts out with a literal bang, the rest feels disconnected as Margo undergoes a series of strung-together tribulations. We see her growing up, but the change feels less satisfying since a lot of it was there all along. The scenes vary in their effectiveness, with some feeling clunky as they follow that literary fiction voice often copied by graduate writing workshops. In short: nothing too new here.
Where I Got It:
Bought online in August 2013 for a graduate writing workshop (the last of several books I bought for that workshop but didn’t actually read until later).
Craig Brandon exposes some of higher ed’s most pressing problems: rising tuition, overconstruction, bloated administrator salaries, and too many administrative positions, which lead to decreased education standards, unsafe party school atmospheres, worthless degrees, and lots of debt. Unfortunately, though, Brandon writes like a sarcastic and angry old millennial-basher who overgeneralizes, repeats a lot of his points, and writes to an audience of worried parents rather than exploring the issues facing college students’ independence from their level. This makes for eye-rolling chapters that leave the reader feeling angry, even though dumbed-down college-student experiences ultimately affect everyone.
Where I Got It
Bought online in Summer 2015, years after originally seeing it reviewed in a list of new author releases.
The Five-Year Party on Amazon
Wall Street Journal review (summarizes Brandon’s points more succinctly than the actual book)
Higher Ed review (expands on the party school phenomenon with some solid insights)
An indie novel about twentysomething punk squatters in New York City in the ‘90s—where do I sign? I was really excited to read this book but was disappointed by the plot (which does a fair amount of wandering), the characters (which, apart from the coolheaded but hasn’t-found-her-place-yet narrator, never quite stand out), and some lackluster scenes. What Wakefield does really well instead, though, is show the hazards of Brooklyn squatting life (which is a lot more organized than I’d imagined) by capturing the mechanics of garbage disposal and squatters’ rights in ways that feel intricate and real.
Where I Got It
Bought new at Quimby’s bookstore in Chicago while on a trip, Summer 2015.
The Sunshine Crust Baking factory at Akashic Books
Interview with Former-NYC squatter Stacy Wakefield