Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Outgrowing God

Sometimes you get tired of fighting the good fight every day and just need to read something that bolsters you.

I imagine this is how many religious people feel about reading books by their favorite religious authors. It’s how I used to feel as a practicing Catholic when I read books with titles like Mary in a Martha’s World or those Joshua books that make Jesus seem like a real person.

But now my inspirational reading looks very different. After a long journey out of Catholicism and a meandering detour through New Age spirituality, I came to the logical conclusion that there is no god(s).

I’m not here to argue that point. I’m just telling you about it.

As an atheist, I don’t regret my religious upbringing or experiences. I met Ben in high school youth group, for heaven’s sake. 😉 That youth group gave me a place to be loved and cared for outside of my chaotic home (where I was also loved and cared for, but still…).

When Jacob was little and I was a very young mother in need of lots of support, my parish community was there for me. Our pastor knew me by name. He was kind of a jerk, but he knew me. I was asked to give retreat talks and was given responsibilities that made me feel capable and good about myself. Overall, I had a community and a refuge in my church. I’m grateful for those people and that place.

Mostly, though, I’m grateful that my experiences with religion led me straight to atheism. I couldn’t have ended up at the right conclusion for me without having played hard for the other team so to speak.

When I began to question, and then read about, the ways in which religions are established, I grew to understand that religion is a purely social construct.

Along this path, I have also learned about the religious history of the United States. I have woken up to the constant religious fervor that is the United States.

If you didn’t know, religion is EVERYWHERE here. Ben and I went on a walk around the downtown area last week and passed, like, five churches and a synagogue in five blocks.

I was at the mall with my mom yesterday and a lady talked to me about prayer in the bathroom. We walked past a kiosk and there was a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on display right next to a Jesus Saves t-shirt.

It gets…..tiring…being a nonbeliever in this country.

Especially when there is a mob of very vocal believers trying to make laws about what you can and cannot do based on their beliefs.

It’s all feeling very Handmaid’s Tale out there right now.

All this is to say that I appreciated listening to Richard Dawkins read the audiobook version of his Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide.

Highlights were:

  • Theories about how myths (and therefore religions) get started
  • The incredible coordinated flight of starlings
  • A mocking retelling of the binding of Isaac (you know, the story in the Bible where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his own child as a sign of his obedience. That’s some sadistic stuff right there, man…)

I appreciated some Richard Dawkins in my life this week. I liked the reminder that it’s possible to wonder at the beauty and ferocity of nature without attributing it to a spiritual cause. And the reassurance that, yes, the Christian God portrayed in the Bible (angry, “jealous,” sadistic) is not a God I can get behind at all. Phew.

Dawkins reminded me that there are others out there like me. That despite a country filled with people who post memes about allowing prayer in school (even though it already is) and who fight for the right to dictate who you can and can’t marry, there is hope. There are other people out there who believe in a society that benefits all of us, not just some of us.

Ironically, sometimes an atheist just needs to feel less alone in the world.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

A business-y business man reads Marcus Aurelius and applies it to business and maybe life a little bit?

Hmm. May have just summed up my entire review for you in my title. 😉

My tone probably tells you what I thought of The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday.

Normally, I avoid books like this. I don’t like reading books by business-y business men who want to tell me how it is. In fact, I’m kind of over men telling me how it is in general.

However, I recently developed an interest in stoicism. I’ve hounded r/stoicism on reddit, begun reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and am particularly interested in how the ideas of stoicism can be applied to struggles with addictions.

bust of Marcus Aurelius – that beard tho

If you know me personally, you know I struggle with my own demons and am no stranger to the self-help genre. Always looking for a gem.

I’d come across Holiday’s book in a few places and thought, nah, not for me. It sounded a little like How to Win Friends and Influence People for the social media age.

But then I read Seth Blais’ post on Daily Stoic How Stoicism Saved My Life: My Story of Battling Addiction. It was interesting and I hopped over to his blog where he talks quite a lot about stoicism and addiction. And he recommends The Obstacle is the Way enthusiastically.

So I thought maybe I should give it a chance.

Welp. It read a lot like Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Wash Your Face, which a load of schlock geared toward women and MLM-ers.

The Obstacle contained whole lot of why and “you should” and not a lot of how.

Basically a cheerleader for capitalism, Holiday spends the book trying to relate basic ideas of stoicism to getting ahead in business, which amounted to: do better, work harder, work longer hours, push through, have a better attitude.

He lauds the stick-to-it-iveness of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, which I find basic and tiring. I mean, are you allowed to write a book about business that doesn’t mention those two rags-to-riches stories? Maybe there is a fine for that or something.

Holiday surrounds such examples with directives like, “Focus on the moment, not the monsters that may or may not be up ahead.”

And “Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.”

And “It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. To know you want to quit but to plant your feet and keep inching closer until you take the impenetrable fortress you’ve decided to lay siege to in your own life—that’s persistence.”

What is the right action? What is the right perspective? HOW do you persist?

Well, Holiday remains vague on those points. But whatever it is you think you should do, you should definitely do it. Just do it. DOOO IIIT.

Now, is there merit in changing your attitude around obstacles? Absolutely. Holiday’s overall point, as far as I could tell by reading in between the lines of Tweet-able maxims, is that sometimes we tell ourselves a scary story about the challenges we face in life and that makes them seem insurmountable. We say we can’t when in fact we can.

But that seems to be Holiday’s entire point. Because he doesn’t elaborate. He read Meditations, drew a connection to his own capitalist-centric values (work harder! faster! better! focus!), and wrote a book for other capitalists about how to stay the course. Stoicism is just the intellectual lipstick on the capitalist pig.

Bit on the nose there, sorry. 😉

I also chuckled at his fangirl-ing around Marcus Aurelius.

If you’re willing to stick with me this far, here’s a passage where Holiday introduces the title concept of the book and tells us a little bit about our good friend the Roman conqueror/philosopher.

I don’t know that our man is all that familiar with the history of the Roman Empire.

It’s complicated, but Marcus Aurelius, like Roman emperors before him was a conqueror. He worked to expand his empire, which means, you guessed it, war with people who, from the looks of it, didn’t really care for being conquered.

Did you see the movie Gladiator? That war in the beginning where the Romans are battling the people of Germania? Same guy.

Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000)

To say that a conqueror’s power “never went to his head” is, uh, speculative, reductive, and a little clueless-sounding maybe?

But here we are in the golden age of the internet and the director of marketing at American Apparel can paint his heroes however he wants I guess.

Is there anything I liked about this book? Yes, that central point, which is a point Marcus Aurelius makes in his Meditations. Basically and in my own words: Sometimes we tell ourselves a story about how scary something is to make it seem like we can’t do something. It gives us an out. “Nope, too scary, too anxiety-provoking, can’t do it.”

Better to realize and acknowledge when we are doing that so we can then decide whether to believe that story or to operate outside of it in order to get what we want/need. Whether that’s success at work (Holiday) or world domination (Marcus Aurelius).

But the book didn’t illuminate anything about stoicism for me. Instead, it seemed to promote the wrong and pervasive idea that stoicism is the philosophy of “keeping a stiff upper lip.”

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: June 2020

Welp, I upped my game and managed three-ish reviews this month and none of them were books I actually read in June. A slow start, but here we are.

Happy 4th to the Americans and happy weekend to everyone else! I’m not particularly proud of my country at the moment, but I’m doing my best on my own anti-racist journey and hoping to encourage others to embark on the same.

In that vein, I’m reading My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education by Jennine Capo Crucet. Her first essay is quite moving and I’d recommend it for anyone interested in how a first-generation, minority college student might experience their first semester on a majority-white college campus.


On to the June books!

Past Recaps Here:
January
February
March
April/May

What Shannon read in June:

Shannon’s Notes:

After the Flood: SO good. Will review it shortly.

-Two rereads: It Was Me All Along because I’m a sucker for a weight loss/eating disorder memoir; and Somewhere Towards the End because I never want to stop reading Diana Athill’s thoughts on aging and life in general.

More Edith Wharton

-Can’t say enough about Nothing Good Can Come from This. Another book that made me feel seen.

The Obstacle is the Way: What a load of schlock.

What Ben read in June:

Ben’s notes:

The Genealogy of Morals: It was good to come back and revisit this. I hadn’t read much Nietzsche since college days.

Legend: Another reread, this is the book that got me started on the delightful fantasy of David Gemmell. Mostly a pretty light action/adventure, it does also dabble in philosophizing about life in the shadow of death.

The Rap Yearbook: This was a fun read, and denser than you might expect from looking at it. The author has a rather frenetic, wisecracking style which complements his enthusiasm for the topic. He chooses the rap song that he deems most important for each year. Not necessarily “best” or “his favorite” but the one that mattered most in the history of the genre, and supports his choice with an essay, supplemented with charts, graphs, and illustrations.He often allows critics a little sidebar to make their case for an alternate pick. It was fun to get an inside perspective on genre trends that I had observed casually without really unpacking and dissecting the way a true aficionado like Serrano would.


Shameless Garden Update

Shannon again:

Here is a shameless garden update because I can’t stop myself. It’s my new obsession.

My lovely mother came over last weekend and helped me dig out the rest of the rockery area. Seriously, she is amazing and I am so grateful. It would’ve taken me three days to do the work we did together in a couple of hours.

The dirt we dug up waiting under a tarp (to prevent washing over the yard in the rain) waiting to be hauled away:

It doesn’t look like much under that tarp, but…it is.

Was, rather. Filthy Hands Property Preservation came over yesterday and hauled it away for us. Took two guys around 45 mins. to shovel it into their truck.

You have to pay to get rid of dirt. Not a thing I anticipated when I started gardening. I do not understand the world sometimes.

Rocks laid out and representative of Neighborhood Squirrel Watch on back porch:

All the rocks and bricks were given to me by neighbors and this week I received enough to finish the job. More shameless updates to come.

In the meantime, here are Steven Q. Squirrel and his lady friend availing themselves of the birdseed I threw in the yard for them. Because of my habit of throwing seed off the porch to them, some of it has landed in the mulch bed and germinated. So we are growing an accidental millet crop.

Quarantine continues to make me real weird. 😉

Happy reading and, if you garden, happy gardening!

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Uncategorized

2020 Classics Challenge: The House of Mirth

I didn’t realize when I read it what an outlier Ethan Frome is compared to the rest of Wharton’s work.

Well, I haven’t read all her work, so maybe that statement is uneducated and overblown, but imagine reading that bleak depiction of a hard-scrabble rural life and then popping over to The House of Mirth, where we follow New York City socialite Lily Bart about the drawing rooms, ballrooms, and restaurants of upper-class New York during the Gilded Age.

It’s a real jump.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis of The House of Mirth, which will give you the gist if you haven’t read it:

First published in 1905, The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities.

Lily Bart, beautiful, witty and sophisticated, is accepted by ‘old money’ and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears thirty, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing, and to maintain her in the luxury she has come to expect. Whilst many have sought her, something – fastidiousness or integrity- prevents her from making a ‘suitable’ match.

I found Lily Bart to be as compelling a character as she is infuriating. Her decisions, based wholly on making herself into the woman her social set expects her to be, are maddening at times.

Her problem is one we can understand from a contemporary perspective. Lily is beautiful but she is getting older. She has refused a number of potential rich husbands having no real desire to be married to them.

As a contemporary woman, I get that. But I also have better choices than Lily had in her time. Even women of poorer classes during that time needed to marry well to cement or improve their social standing–or at least an acceptable standard of living.

But Lily’s story shows us what happens when a woman is raised to believe that her beauty is her chief social currency, and maintaining it her chief purpose, and that no other striving is necessary to land her the life she has been promised. As a woman in the 21st century, I have no problem relating to the themes within this struggle.

Lily doesn’t seem to want to marry any of the men who seek her out. Instead, she relies on an aging aunt to fund her increasingly expensive lifestyle.

But, Lily’s obsession with keeping up appearances and her set’s penchant for gambling lead her into some “dirty” business with Gus Trenor, husband of her friend Judy.

Gus, a known flirt/philanderer, wants too much in return for the favor he does for Lily and, in an unfortunate turns of events, the deal between them is revealed and Lily is cast out from her former friends’ circle.

From the outside, we see her lose more and more dignity as she seeks to preserve her social standing armed with only her beauty and wit.

And then we see the choices she is left with when they fail her.

She does have one true friend in Lawrence Seldon, who tends to see her for who she really is outside of her social machinations. Their interactions allow for points of hope throughout the novel in a sort of will-they-won’t-they dance that carries through to the end.

I won’t give away the ending. It is apt and terribly sad.

I also have failed to capture all the wonderful themes in this novel. It is a beast in that regard, so many threads to pull out and examine. I have no doubt I’ll reread it before long.

Do read it if you have any inclination.


This is my selection for category 3. Classic by a Woman Author for the 2020 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate.

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2020 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

2020 Classics Challenge: The Spring and Summer of Edith Wharton

What happens when a girl is raised to be nothing more in life than ornamental? When the outer and inner life of a woman must center on a man? When the substance of a human being is trained toward one goal and one goal only: to marry well and serve her husband and children until death?

These, to me, seem the essential questions asked by Edith Wharton throughout her entire extensive body of work.

And you can bet they are answered in the most disatrous of ways.

This spring and summer I have so far read:

Ethan Frome (read in January, actually)

The House of Mirth

The Age of Innocence

The Custom of the Country

The Buccaneers

The Reef

…and there’s nary a happy ending among them.

Because what happens when a woman is raised to believe her existence is purely ornamental–that is, the point of her being alive is to appear prettily on the arm of a man–is that she becomes a wholly social creature, existing only for others with a vacuousness of heart and mind in place of an actual personality, her needs and desires replaced (or suppressed) by her own constant social striving.

And that’s when she survives at all.

As you may know, Wharton famously writes of New York City socialites during the Gilded Age. She and her family were players in this scene and she writes from an insider perspective, even including characters which may remind you of real life socialites you’ve heard of: Nan St. George, protagonist in The Buccaneers, was modeled on Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the British Duke of Marlborough, representing a trend–rich American marries cash-poor English gentry–made familiar to contemporary audiences by by Downton Abbey.  

To me, Wharton’s genius is demonstrated in her depiction of social climbers.

In each of her major novels the world of upper-class New York is laid bare, its players representing each “type” in that world. For example, the Custom of the Country features the Spraggs, midwesterners who made it big in their hometown but struggle in New York–they represent the “new money” crowd.

I won’t go into detail on each book here because I’m separating them out so that Karen of Books and Chocolate, host of the classics challenge, has an easier time tallying my books.

But I wanted to write an overall sort of intro. first.

Spending so much time in Wharton’s New York (and Western Europe) has been so pleasurable and interesting. I see myself rereading these novels for the rest of my life, partly because the characters and writing are so engaging and partly because, well, I just love to see what rich people get up to.

p.s. Do you know of a good Edith Wharton biography? I hear the Hermione Lee bio is the place to start, but I’m open to suggestions.

p.p.s. Has anyone figured out how to insert special characters into their text? I’d really like to find the em dashes in this block editor! Clue me in if you know. 🙂

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

The Hearth and Eagle

I discovered Anya Seton last year via her novel The Winthrop Woman, which was displayed in the shop at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, and I am so glad I did.

Her historical novels were impeccably researched and she is an ace storyteller with a knack for writing female protagonists in historic settings.

Plus, Mariner Books has released them in recent years with these incredibly lovely patterned covers and I’m hoping to collect them all.

I chose The Hearth and Eagle as my next Seton novel because it centers on the very same colonial American town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, in which The Winthrop Woman is set.

Seton discovered the town when researching her own family history. Apparently she found an ancestor that had lived there and became captivated by the “sea-girdled town of rocks and winding lanes and clustered old houses.”

Sounds idyllic, no?

The protagonist of this story is Hesper Honeywell. She is the descendant of Phebe Honeywell who came over from England in 1630. After introducing a very young Hesper, the story flashes back to Phebe’s time, describing her arrival in the colonies and her early life there.

From the first, I found Phebe’s story much more interesting than Hesper’s. There was adventure from the beginning as Phebe struggles through a long ocean journey and then nearly starves to death in the New World. But, alas, we stayed just long enough with her to give a sense of place to Hesper, who lives in Civil War era Marblehead.

Not to worry. Hesper’s family life is rather interesting as Hesper lives with her mother, a tired and resentful woman who has spent her life running the inn, The Hearth and Eagle, with little help from Hesper’s father, an absent-minded professor type obsessed with researching his family’s history.

Hesper helps her mother run the inn but, of course, longs for something more. Love, fulfillment, adventure, something beyond Marblehead. And into her longings wanders artist and avowed Bohemian Evan Redlake.

Thus begins an arduous saga of love and loss and Hesper’s search for meaning in a society that gives women few choices in deciding their own fates.

I’ll leave you with that grand statement. I ended up loving the novel, as I’d hoped I would. And, if you enjoy well-written historical fiction, you will too.

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: April/May 2020

Well, hi!

We’re still over here reading. It’s just been a helluva spring, as I know it has for everyone…everyone on the planet, really.

My work picks up the pace in the spring and this year our efforts were especially dependent on those assigned to digital projects. Who knew a writer could be so gainfully employed? 😉

So I had my hands and brain full. Too full for blogging.

I found relief in the yard, planning my garden, starting a gardening log…

…and sourcing plants and rocks for a rockery, which I’m determined to have, but to create at no cost.

Rockery area “before”:

And during:

It took around 2 hours to get this far, hacking away at the tree roots and fighting the 90-degree heat before it claimed me.

Much progress was made in other areas.

Bed on south side of house “before,” clogged with myrtle (bah!), hostas past their prime, and baby maple trees (no bueno):

The same areas after…

Hydrangeas and baby pink muhly grass presided over by Ernesto the Gnome:

I feel like that side of the house can breathe again.

In my other life as a collagist, I am once again part of #the100dayproject, completing collages and sharing them on Instagram.

These creative endeavors have contributed much sanity as the world has erupted around us with disease (bad) and protests (much needed). We have been quarantined and working from home like the rest of the world. And, like others who understand the evils of the legacy of slavery, we have gone out to support the Black Lives Matter movement in our community.

A protest and march that met up at our courthouse:

In the meantime, and this is what you came for, Ben and I are reading.

On to the books!

Past Recaps Here:
January
February
March

What Shannon read in April/May:

Shannon’s Notes:

I haven’t reviewed a single one of these, but I intend to review some in individual posts.

Notably:

  • It was the spring of Edith Wharton and looks like it will be the summer of Edith Wharton as well.
  • I re-read The Secret Garden as I am wont to do in spring.
  • I continue listening to audiobook thrillers as a means of escape…blessed escape…

What Ben read in April/May:

Ben’s Notes:

Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan

After the first book (Sins of Empire) I was interested in the series but not 100% sure if I was going to commit to it. But Wrath of Empire won me over, leaving all the preliminaries behind and cranking up the pace of action and intrigue from “brisk” to “rocket.” Six hundred and thirty nine pages with hardly a dull moment. I’m excited for book three.

The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick

Slow at first compared to the show, but picked up a bit as it went along. Ending is a bit enigmatic, calling the nature of reality into question. There are many references to the I Ching, and if I were more familiar with it I bet there would be some additional insights to be gleaned.

Side Glances Volume 1 by Peter Egan

Nostalgic look back at one of the great automotive monthly columns. Starts before I started reading it, and runs up a few years past when I first began.

Side Glances Volume 3 by Peter Egan

What happened to Volume 2? I’ll have to ask Chase (who lent them) next time I talk to him. This volume picks up toward the end of my tenure as a Road and Track subscriber, though I continued reading his column (courtesy of free Tire Rack promotional copies of R&T) until he stopped writing it in 2013. Egan remains an occasional contributor as an “editor at large” and is generally considered to be one of America’s all-time great automotive journalists.

Magic Kingdom for Sale by Terry Brooks

A throwback reread of a fun, fairly light fantasy novel from one of the big names in the genre. I was amused to note that I happened to pick it back up at the same age as the protagonist, 39. It was fun to revisit, I may re-read the rest of the series if the spirit moves me.

Trouble is What I Do by Walter Mosely

This one was a little short but packed a punch. Mosley seldom disappoints. And in the middle of a fairly self-contained story he dropped a major twist into the life of Leonid McGill, the main character in his 21st century noir series.


If you’ve read this far, thank you! And thanks for stopping by. I aim to be a more regular blogger (famous last words) and if we’ve connected in the past, please comment or like and let me know you’re here–I’d love to reconnect. If you’re new to this blog, welcome!

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: March 2020

This month has pretty much been about escape for me. Anyone else?

I am in high anxiety mode about COVID and my job, which means I need lots of breaks from both.

That’s where thrillers come in. I find that I crave them lately. Escape escape escape.

Also time outside and good sleep.

Ben and I went for a hike over the weekend and came across this stream. The sound was so soothing with the gentle rain that I stopped to record it.

 

Anyway, on to our March reads!

Past recaps if you’re interested: 

January
February

What Shannon read in March:

Shannon’s notes:

Even split between audiobooks and hard copy this month.

Really enjoyed Mama’s Last Hug and An Unconventional Family, so those reviews are coming soon.

What Ben read in March:

Burn the Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End by Kevin Alexander

Despite some complaints about the style and organization, it was a fun read. Tied together some of my other reading about American culinary trends and the recent cocktail renaissance. And it showcased both the brutal grind of the restaurant industry and how rewarding it can be.

Guitar Zero: The Science of Becoming Musical at Any Age by Gary F. Marcus

Since guitar practice was soaking up some of my potential reading time, I figured I should look for possible synergy and read some guitar books. This one was very relevant, based on the author’s experience as a non-musical person (by his report even worse than me) trying to become a competent guitarist in his late 30s. As an educational psychologist by trade, he took a particular interest in questions of how people learn music and what factors are important in this pursuit.

A few of the notable takeaways:

Music is not inherent or hard-wired, but some elements of musicality are instinctive.

The popular “10,000 hours to mastery” trope is misleading. Quality of practice is just as important as quantity, and natural talent is not to be discounted. Jimi Hendrix was a better guitarist after 2,000 hours of practice than you will be after 20,000 hours.

But there is hope for everyone. With practice, even a person with zero natural talent can become a competent musician.

The Unholy Consult: The Aspect-Emperor: Book Four by R. Scott Bakker

This one was daunting to pick up, but I’ve come a long way with this saga and was determined to see the end. Unfortunately, it’s not really the end. It looks like we’re going to see yet another series before the story of the Second Apocalypse is complete.

I have a 75% love 25% hate relationship with this series. It’s original, imaginative, majestic, intense, exciting, unpredictable, philosophical, and truly an impressive feat of world-building. On the other hand it often puts stylistic pretensions ahead of clearly conveyed descriptions, it’s ponderous, abhorrently disgusting in parts, and populated with a cast of generally unsympathetic characters.

But the good outweighs the bad. I will read every single book that he writes until the Second Apocalypse reaches whatever resolution is in store. And when Bakker is on top of his game he comes up with some really epic quotes.

“Fool! You appeal to reason where there is none! You would put my hatred upon balance with my desire–show me the mad wages of my design! But my hatred is my desire. My ribs are teeth, my heart a gut without bottom. I am fury incarnate, outrage become stalking sinew and flesh! My shadow cracks the earth, falls upon hell itself!”

And damn if that ain’t the truth sometimes… 😉

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

The book that inspired Blade Runner. It was interesting to compare the two. The movie kept a lot of the same elements, but there are definitely some major differences. The book kind of builds up some sympathy for the androids, and then reveals them to be cold and lacking in empathy. The movie kinda goes the other way and gives the replicants (as they’re called in the movie) more empathetic treatment at the end.

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

A portrait of sports fanaticism, coming of age story, and self-deprecatingly humorous memoir, it was a fun read. While the review blurb on the back called it “tears running down your face funny, read bits out loud to complete strangers funny” I found it more, “snort quietly to yourself funny, read bits out loud to your wife funny.” But yeah, certainly funny. Read more like a bunch of sequential anecdotes than a continuous narrative, though there certainly was continuity of themes and characters.


Have you read any of these? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

The Bookshop

319388I saw the movie adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop before I read the book.

I found them to be equally lovely, but one, to me, was more depressing than the other.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

“In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop – the only bookshop – in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town’s less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors’ lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Florence’s warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one.”

The post-war English seaside is the setting for this short, tightly-focused novel. Even though it’s 1959, references to WWII are made throughout and you get the sense that Hardborough hasn’t really recovered from the war.

The book has many of the quirks often found in stories set in insular British communities—like children (scouts of some sort) turning up to do Florence’s handyman work; a domineering and well-connected older lady menacing the townspeople in order to assert her importance; old, damp buildings prized for their history but lacking in function; a wealthy recluse who abhors village politics; and a shop assistant, Christine, who is12 years old and, quite acerbic and, of course, wise for her years.

the-bookshop-hero

Florence, played by Emily Mortimer, reading at the seaside in The Bookshop (2017)

Sadly, Florence’s dream of running a bookshop is supported only by a few and the end of the story has her beset by financial troubles thanks to the subterfuge of Mrs. Gamart.

It is a very depressing ending. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that at least in that there is a small, dramatic triumph at the end. But that must’ve been the screenwriter’s urge to leave the audience with some hope. I’m afraid the book leaves you without it.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over

37774050Really mixed reviews on Goodreads for Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Irvin Painter

But I quite enjoyed it.

This is Painter’s memoir of going to art school to get a BA and then a BFA after a long and successful career as a historian and academic. Seriously, she has honorary doctorates from Yale and company.

I can’t imagine how humbling it must’ve been to start over at the bachelor level.

And her age—she’s in her 60s—is a main theme in the book, as you might expect.

Things I loved:

  • Her quirky style. She refers to professors as Teacher, like, “Teacher Irma told me…” I found it weird at first, but honestly, it’s handy.
  • Her explorations of what, exactly, is considered art. And the economic machinations that determine which artists get shown in galleries and, therefore, museums. Fascinating insight into a world I know nothing about.
  • Her explorations of race in the art world. These are plentiful. Highly recommend you read this if that topic interests you.
  • Painter is also a seasoned writer and it shows. Her knack for setting a scene is delightful throughout. Newark, where Painter is from, plays a big role and she really gives you a sense of what the city is like.

I was going to do a Things I Didn’t Love section, but really, there aren’t any. So, I leave you with an example of my last point from the book:

“Sitting in front of me on Newark light rail one afternoon were a couple of kids—early twenties or so—listening to music, bumping around in their seats, and talking loud, just exuberant. She was beautiful and spirited, he kind of ordinary to look at. He had the music, but he shared an earbud with her, two heads on one iPod. As she danced in her seat, he did something amazing. He played the subway car partition like a conga drum:

DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap Deep DEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop
DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop
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DeepDEEP slap stop

He pulsated a salsa rhythm on a vertical plastic divider. Totally awesome! I was ready for all of us passengers to jump up and boogie down the aisle. I wouldn’t have led off dancing, but I definitely would have joined in. What joy in our white and black metal tube of light rail beside Branch Brook Park, a carnival parade on a workday, an outbreak of brotherly love to a salsa beat. Strangers waving their arms and shaking their booties to the music, grinning and singing and looking straight in the eyes of their comrades in commute. But when the pretty girl started clapping her hands to the music, he of the beat shushed her. No dancing in the Newark light rail that afternoon.”

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