Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ravelstein - Saul Bellow

I picked this book up in the used bookstore because I recognized the author and couldn't remember having read any of his books in the past.  It's a rambling story of a professor who has become very rich because of a book he published and his dealing a life-ending illness.  He obtains a commitment from his friend who is a writer to write a memoir of his life after he dies.  His friend becomes ill after the professor dies and finally in recovery writes this memoir.

After reading it and not "getting it" I looked up reviews and found that it was considered a masterpiece that told the thinly veiled story of Bellow and his mentor, Alan Bloom, a philosopher from the University of Chicago.  It was the last book Bellow wrote; he was 85 at the time.

I suppose I should re-read the book now that I have its background but I didn't find it that compelling.  It was supposed to be a discussion between friends on life and impending death but I didn't take that from it.  It could be that it required a slower, more careful read than I gave it.    I did like this exchange:

"If you dislike existence then death is your release. You can call it nihilism, if you like."
"Yes, American-style--without the abyss," said Ravelstein.  "But the Jews feel that the world was created for each and every one of us, and when you destroy a human life you destroy an entire world - the world as it existed for that person."

I may go on and explore the philosophy of Alan Bloom.

Published: 2000   Read: February 2015   Genre: Fiction

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumaker

I picked this up while at the library to get something I'd put on hold.  It's an amusing little gem if you've ever dealt with bureaucracy in your job.  The main character is a college English professor who is asked to write recommendation letters for students and colleagues. At the same time, his department is being underfunded and ignored in favor of technology and engineering disciplines.  He parries with the head of the college, admission personnel, and fellow professors to get a promising student a grant to finish writing a book with sharp wit and elegant writing.  It's a story with a message cleverly packaged in letters.

I sometimes participate in Wondrous Words Wednesday over atBermuda Onion, where we blog about new words in our reading.  A couple of ones I'd noted in this book are:

ouroboros - an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. I think the author misused the word by repeating its meaning.

"The pace he ran on was astounding, an ouroboros devouring its own tail."

portmanteau  - a large trunk or suitcase, typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts.

"The battered portmanteau in what he liked to keep his writing....:

Published:  2014  Read: February 2014  Genre: Fiction

The Birth of the Pill - Jonathan Eig

Sub-title: How four crusaders reinvented sex and launched a revolution

I heard about this book in a NYT book review and got it from the library.  It's a fascinating history of the development of "the Pill" the oral contraceptive pill for women.  It's eye opening to realize how little control women had over their own bodies.  Abortion was a frequent option. Women would be pregnant most of their adult life having an average of over 4 children and often 8 to 12.

The book focuses on four principal characters who were instrumental in the development and availability of the pill; Margaret Sanger, founder, among other accomplishments of Planned Parenthood; Gregory Goodwin Pincus, the scientist who figured out the formula; John Rock, the catholic physician who oversaw trials in Puerto Rico and pleaded the case with the church and Katherine McCormick, the heiress who bankrolled it.

I think the book is important reading for today's generation to appreciate the impact it has had on women.  The anecdotes from women desperate to not have more children, the attitudes of husbands at the time, the corners that were cut to bring the product to market are perspectives little thought of today.  A great history lesson.

Published: 2014  Read: February 2015  Genre: History