“Progress” Report

I finished my eighth “Civil War Book” of the year yesterday morning. I’ll post more about it later, but Killer Angels by Michael Shaara was quite good – blend of fiction and facts that tells the tale of the Battle of Gettysburg. My only concern is that, further down the road, I may have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction when remembering things about this battle (i.e. “did Lee really say that, or was that just a line from Killer Angels?, etc.).

I almost feel like I’ve spent the past few days in southeastern Pennsylvania, though, and some things from this book even invaded my dreams. I can’t say that I’m surprised it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

What’s up next? Well, I’ve already read my book club’s August book (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) earlier this year and, though I’ll review it before my meeting, I won’t need to spend too much time on it. I’m on schedule for my P:CW reading, so I pretty much have the rest of August to “read whatever I want.” I may re-read Shakespeare’s The Tempest and participate in Allie’s read-along, as I think I have a few things I’d like to write about that play and my history with it. And, I feel like I may go on a kick of reading Kurt Vonnegut. I mentioned Slapstick in an earlier post, but I also bought Sirens of Titan yesterday, which I’ve always wanted to read, and I downloaded Breakfast of Champions to my nook last week. One good thing about Vonnegut’s books is that they’re generally shorter than most that I read, so why not knock out two or three of them by the end of the month?

What about you? Have you read any Vonnegut? Do you have any recommendations?

Well, sadly, my morning at the coffee shop is ending and I guess I’d better report to work on time. (damn rat race…) >

A Tale of Two Libraries

How is it possible, one might ask, that a citizen of a city, having lived in that particular city almost his entire life, and being an avid reader almost that long, could have been completely unaware of two libraries in that city?

Well, the answer for one of the libraries, at least, is easy. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is brand new, not set to open until November. It definitely sounds like something I want to be a part of, however. They have a book club meeting later this month (at 11:30 a.m. on a WEEKDAY(!)) to discuss the Vonnegut book, Slapstick. I purchased it yesterday at “Full-Price Books” er, I mean “Borders,” and plan to read and participate. I’m about 90 pages in already and enjoying it. I’ll report back after the meeting (8/26).

Below: The Emelie building – home of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

The answer for why I was unaware of the second library is, well, unknown. It’s the Indiana State Library (as opposed to the Marion County Public Library, which is the one that, along with its branches, I grew up with). It’s located in downtown Indianapolis, just across the street from the State Capitol building. I became aware of it while having breakfast Saturday morning with one of the fellow members of my book club, and she mentioned that she had visited there for a work-related excursion and was just as surprised as I was about its existence. After our breakfast, I visited the State Library – and walked by the site of the new Kurt Vonnegut library which, amazingly, is only two blocks away, to check it out.

The Indiana State Library:

It’s a very nice building, in grand style. While not having huge piles of books to loan out as the MCPL does, it does allow members to acquire a library card and check out materials. It is seemingly a major resource for genealogical research too. It also has desks and reading areas which I can envision myself making use of in the future. (I occasionally will spend a Saturday morning at the central branch of the MCPL reading and/or working on my laptop; now I have another option when I want to get out of the house and away from the tv and other distractions.

-Jay
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More news on the Book retailer/e-reader front

Just thought I’d share a new article I read today on Bloomberg, in case anyone is interested.  Seems Barnes & Noble may be up for sale…

The article’s mostly about “financial stuff” but it does also speak a little about the nook and the e-reader competition out there…

-Jay

Just Started: Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

I’ve decided on book 8 of my Project: Civil War reading.  It’s Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which has been mentioned and recommended to me by many.  It also feels like a good fit since *spoiler alert!* 🙂 Stonewall Jackson (the subject of the last book I read) doesn’t survive through the entire war and dies before the Battle of Gettysburg, which is the focus of this book.  It’s also mercifully short (295 pages on my e-reader) so I should be able to get a little bit ahead again on my 12 Civil War books in 12 Months concept.

I’m also open to suggestions for book 9 of Project: Civil War.  I’d prefer non-fiction, but any ideas are appreciated.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Ever since I read Love in the Time of Cholera, which my book club tackled in April of 2007, I’ve wanted to read this famous book.  It was not quite what I expected, however.  Unlike Love in the Time of Cholera, which has a comparatively straightforward story line – the unrequited love of Florentino for Fermina, One Hundred Years of Solitude doesn’t really have a story line in the traditional sense.

There is no main character, in fact many of the characters (of different generations of the Buendia family) have the same or very similar names(!)  This makes for difficult reading for the non-focused reader (or even the focused reader!). Perhaps the best way to describe the book would be to say that the town of Macondo, and the Buendia family are the main “characters.”

I liked the book anyway, in spite of this “confusion.”  Marquez’s writing style is so beautiful and unique, he could probably have written about anything and I would’ve enjoyed it.  This particular book is known as an example of “Magical Realism.”  Now, I was unfamiliar with this term before encountering this book, but wikipedia calls it “a style of writing in which the supernatural is presented as mundane, and the mundane as supernatural or extraordinary. The term was coined by German art critic Franz Roh in 1925”

The magical, or supernatural, intertwines nearly seamlessly with the ‘normal’ in this book.  One of my favorite characters was the gypsy, Melquiades, who has an association with the Buendia family across many of its generations.  He was also responsible for bringing many magical and technological wonders to the town of Macondo, including fully functioning “Flying Carpets,” to cite one example. He is described in the opening pages of the book as having “an Asiatic look that seemed to know what there was on the other side of things.” At the end of the book, we learn that he had already written the history of the family (in Sanskrit!) before it has taken place, though many of the family’s members have spent years trying to decipher his writings and things he left behind.

There was a lot of symbolism in the book, much of which I didn’t “get” until I read a little more about the novel, but one of the more transparent (even to me, I mean) images to me was that of the town of Macondo as an “Eden” from which humans were eventually expelled, as the town continually devolved and was corrupted by the ‘outside world.’

There is also a lot of sex and passion in the book. In this respect it does not differ from Love in the Time of Cholera.  In One Hundred Years of Solitude, however, many of the relationships are borderline, sometimes blatantly, incestuous.  The characters don’t let that stop them, however.  The only one who seems to give this a lot of thought was the matriarch, Ursula, who has a constant fear that at some point a child will be born with a pig’s tail due to the intermarriage within the family.

One favorite passage of mine in this regard was when Aureliano Jose had fallen in love with his aunt, Amaranta, wanting to marry her and all that that implies.  She tells him, “ ‘You can’t do that to a poor aunt unless you have a special dispensation from the Pope.’ Aureliano Jose promised to go to Rome, he promised to go across Europe on his knees to kiss the sandals of the Pontiff just so that she would lower her drawbridge.”

Overall, the book was a bit too mystical (or maybe I should say mystifying) for me to get really gung ho about recommending.  Marquez has been quoted as saying that he himself did not completely understand the book’s success:

“Most critics don’t realize that a novel like One Hundred Years of Solitude is a bit of a joke, full of signals to close friends; and so, with some pre-ordained right to pontificate they take on the responsibility of decoding the book and risk making terrible fools of themselves.”

Thanks to Allie, over at A Literary Odyssey for making me finally read this book as a result of her hosting a read-along.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Book Blogger Hop: July 30 – Aug 2

I discovered this gathering place for book bloggers today over at Crazy for Books

Here is the link to sign up for this event

Apparently, it’s a weekly deal, and all particpants are supposed to answer a common question each week, this week’s being: Who is your favorite new-to-you author so far this year?

That’s a tough one.  Let’s see.  Okay, I guess I’ll go with Margaret Mitchell since I finally read Gone With the Wind this year, making this famous author “New to Me”…  The author whose books I’ve enjoyed the most has been Stieg Larsson, but as a writer “he’s no Margaret Mitchell”…

If you’re visiting my blog as a result of the link at the Book Blogger Hop, Welcome!  I hope to discover many new and exciting blogs via this event.

Stonewall Jackson: Portrait of a Soldier

This book was written by John Bowers

I picked this book up a couple months ago at Jerry Musich’s Rare & Collectible Books” at 86th & Ditch on the north side of Indianapolis.  This was the seventh U.S. Civil War-related book that I have completed this year  (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Storm Over the Land, Gone With the Wind, The Red Badge of Courage, Company Aytch, and The House Divides are the others).

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a biography, and I’d forgotten how enjoyable a good one can be.  I learned a lot more about the legendary Civil War general (whose mother is coincidentally buried in the town that my own mom was born in – Ansted, West Virginia).  I admit also, that I didn’t know too much in detail about Stonewall (Thomas J.) Jackson aside from the popular legends.  (Below: a picture of Stone Mountain, GA, where the likeness of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson are carved)

He was a ‘simple man’ who saw things simply in black & white – or right or wrong.  Also very religious, he hated fighting on the Sabbath and would often take time out to pray as part of his preparations for battle.  As Bowers put it, “Jackson loved the regulated life, loved to know what to expect and to do his duty to the almighty.”

There was also much in this book that reminded me of two of my other Civil War books – The Red Badge of Courage, and Company Aytch.  Both spoke to the chaos of the battlefield could leave one with the impression that “no one really knew what was going on.”  Bowers cites The Duke of Wellington’s thoughts on this: “…battles, if not history itself, could never be recalled with total accuracy.  He compared the past to a grand ball, where everyone in attendance sees but little moments, and all have different reactions and never the definitive picture.” This seems a very apt analogy to me.  Bowers puts it into his own words as well:  “Battlefields are not sports arenas – a designed region, there for the purpose of a refereed engagement.  A battlefield is not neatly set up with markers saying what is in and out of bounds.  Battlefields come into being when a general decides “Here I’ll stand”; when armies stumble over one another; when a marauder seeks out his prey and pounces; by wild chance or divine providence, depending upon viewpoint.” In short, once again I was reminded that “War is hell.”

There is a ‘glorious’ side to war too, of course. Why else would – across countless generations of history – there be a seemingly limitless supply of volunteers?  As Robert E. Lee said (quoted in this book, though I was already familiar with the phrase): “It is well that war is so terrible.  We should grow too fond of it!”

In another section – chronicling what became known as the Seven Days’ battle – I was reminded of a phrase you hear often these days (though most often related to sports) which is “No excuses, no explanations.”  Jackson and Lee meet, after Lee had failed to appear at the proper place and time earlier in the conflict.   The meeting was summed up thus: “Well, forget the delay, and what had taken place; never apologize, never explain.”  In other words, there was work to be done in the here and now, we can worry about the past later.  A sound policy, widely applicable, not just in war.

“We will give them the bayonet.”

I think the reason Jackson was so successful (he was studied by future generals, including Patton & Rommel, and his tactics were supposedly the basis for Germany’s concept of “Blitzkrieg” warfare) was that he ‘understood’ war.  Where others would maybe cling to ‘peacetime values’ and let them temper decisions and actions, Jackson realized those must be suspended in the face of battle.  He was ruthless with deserters (they were shot) and did not tolerate those who would not follow orders.  A good summary of Jackson’s strategies, related by John Imboden who served closely with him:

“he often said there were two things never to be lost sight of by a military commander: ‘Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can then be destroyed  by half their number. The other rule is, never fight against heavy odds, f by any possible maneuvering you can hurl your own force on only a part – and that the weakest part – of you enemy and crush it.  Such tactics will win every time, and a small army may thus destroy a large one in detail; and repeated victory will make it invincible.”

All in all, a very interesting book.  It’s made me want to read about many of the other historical figures I encountered within…

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