Monday, May 26, 2014

Goodbye Blogging

I believe it's time for this blog to come to a close. I've gradually receded from the bookish part of the Internet since I started university two years ago, and I can already tell that blogging would be more of a chore than a delight this summer. I can't even remember the last time I read through my Bloglovin' feed, much less the last time I enjoyed keeping up with what everyone else was posting. Hopefully I'll still keep up with my favorite blogs as well as occasionally post reviews on GoodReads and LibraryThing, but as for blogging itself, I'm done.

A few final notes:
*I still have a large backlog of books to review from the past six months or so. Most of these are for specific websites, like LibraryThing, so I'll continue posting there to a limited extent.
*I will continue to maintain the "Local Interest Historical Fiction" page for North Carolina, as I've found it's a useful resource both for myself and for others interested in the region.

I'm looking forward to getting back to reading purely for the sake of enjoyment (and studying...can't avoid that very well), without having to think about writing a review afterwards or keeping up with a stack of publisher-provided ARCs. Blogging was great for the past few years, but I need to focus on other things now and cannot give this little blog enough attention.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Comparison Review: Love Times Three and Becoming Sister Wives

Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage by  Joe, Alina, Vicki, and Valerie Darger
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date: September 2011
Source: purchased used

Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage by Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn Brown
Publisher: Gallery Books
Date: May 2012
Source: purchased used

Background: I read both of these for a research paper on alternative marriage practices in Christian New Religious Movements. Both the Browns and the Dargers are fundamentalist Mormons. They are NOT part of the FLDS; indeed, both families were prompted to open up about their lifestyle following the 2008 raid on the FLDS compound to show how the FLDS does not stand for all modern polygamous Mormons. The Dargers are Independent, while the Browns appear to belong to some unspecified fundamentalist church. The Dargers have done various television appearances in the past, while the Browns are well-known for their TV show Sister Wives (of which I watched the first season or two last year).

Both family memoirs were interesting. They give brief backgrounds for each spouse, then describe everyone's courtships, marriages, parenting, current home life, and reasons for/effects of publicly coming out as polygamous. The Dargers also include some narratives from their oldest children. The point of these books is mostly to discuss the authors' relationship and family values, as well as to establish the families as otherwise normal, despite their unusual marriage system. There's not much on the religious principles underlying polygamy (though there is much mention of how strong, spiritually and otherwise, a community theirs is). Also, to anyone expecting salacious details, discussion of sex lives is never, ever going to crop up.

The dynamics of the family are so different between the Dargers and the Browns. The Dargers appear to have the perfect relationship - not much jealousy and drama. Their courtships were significantly different from those of the Browns, though, as Alina and Vicki courted and married Joe at the same time, and Vicki's twin sister Valerie later joined the family after divorcing her first husband. Either the Browns are more honest, or their marriage has just had a lot more issues, especially with the sister wives getting along. Still, both families' emphases on building lasting relationships with spouses and establishing strong family bonds are to be commended and can provide models for non-polygamous, non-Mormon individuals and families as well.

The Dargers' book stayed interesting to me the whole time. The Browns', not so much. Once I got to the last third or so of the book, mostly about how they run their household and stuff, it got more boring. How the spouses decided to practice plural marriage and went about courting was far more fascinating. Also, with the Browns I was already more familiar with some of the details about their family now from watching the TV show. Anyway, both of these books were enjoyable and informative reads overall, and I think it will be interesting to see how these families grow and how public views on polygamy change in upcoming years.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Course Readings

All read for various reasons in connection with Story, Performance, Event this past semester.

Orality & Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word by Walter J. Ong (1982)
The first few chapters of this were absolutely fascinating, with the added plus of being written in an easily-understandable style. Ong makes some interesting arguments about how writing/literacy "restructures consciousness" and is cognitively different from orality. The last chapters, though, didn't do much for me.

Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache by Keith H. Basso (1996)
Another fascinating read from this course! If I ever do fieldwork, I want to be like Basso. Great research done with the Apache community. The title and subject matter (place names) sounded boring to me at first, but Basso shows how the topic is far more complex in terms of cultural heritage and communication than one would expect.

Jack in Two Worlds: Contemporary North American Tales and Their Tellers ed. by William Bernard McCarthy (1994)
Probably one of my favorite reads this year. Each storyteller has their own section with an intro (written by another author) on his or her background and then a selected, transcribed story. Both backgrounds and stories are fascinating and delve into the history of the Jack Tales as well as aspects of modern storytelling. Several of the stories in particular are also just fantastic.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Memoir: Exodus by Deborah Feldman

Publisher: Blue Rider
Date: March 25, 2014
Format: hardback
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 280
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: Deborah Feldman, author of the explosive New York Times– bestselling memoir Unorthodox, returns with an extraordinary follow-up that traces her new life as an independent young woman and single mother, and her search for an authentic and personal Jewish identity.

My review: I didn't find Exodus quite as interesting as I remember Feldman's first memoir, Unorthodox. But then, I read Feldman's first book mostly to learn more about the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and with this book she's mostly exploring her personal journey after leaving the Satmar sect. Still, it's beautifully written and an engrossing read. There's Feldman's introspection, of course, as she negotiates her identity and lifestyle after leaving the insular community in which she grew up, but we also learn a lot more about her family's background during the Holocaust as well as gain troubling glimpses of how Jewish community, identity, and memory remain (or don't) in contemporary Europe.

Pretty much my only real issue with the book was its lack of organization. The content seems to be a mishmash of Feldman's experiences, mostly after she left the community but some connected back to her childhood as well. Her narrative moves non-linearly, and it just wasn't very clear where exactly she was going with this book. However, as with her first memoir, I admire her openness with personal details and willingness to share her life.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Recent Acquisitions XIV

Ack, I'm still alive, just finishing up exams.

For review:
Once Upon a Time in Rio by Francisco Azevedo (First Look)
Selected Fables by Jean de la Fontaine (First Look)
The Boy in His Winter by Norman Lock (Early Reviewers)
Tinkers by Paul Harding (Early Reviewers)

From World Literature Today:
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready (thanks, For What It's Worth!)

Birthday gifts:
Native Americans in Early North Carolina by Dennis L. Isenbarger
Society in Early North Carolina by Alan D. Watson
African Americans in Early North Carolina by Alan D. Watson

Purchased used (for a research paper):
Love Times Three by Joe, Alina, Vicki, and Valerie Darger
Becoming Sister Wives by Kody, Meri, Christine, Janelle, and Robyn Brown

Purchased at the local library book sale:
The Mark of the Golden Dragon (Bloody Jack #9) by L.A. Meyer
Kallocain by Karin Boye
Fantastic Stories by Abram Tertz
Spellbound: Inside West Africa's Witch Camps by Karen Palmer
Collapse by Jared Diamond
Among Stone Giants: The Life of Katherine Routledge by Jo Anne von Tilburg
Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America by Cathy N. Davidson
We Mean to Be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia by Elizabeth R. Varon

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Historical Fiction: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Series: Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #1
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Date: 2009
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: for Historical Novels course
Pages: 650
Reading time: one week

From GoodReads: Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell - a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

My review: For a novel that has, to quote my history prof, won "all the awards," this sure was disappointing. I just don't see its greatness. I'm sure a lot of it is my fault - like Lincoln, the previous novel read for this class, Wolf Hall is chock-full of dense (but well-researched) political shenanigans that I just really don't care about. Again, it's essentially a novelized form of one brief period of history. I say brief, but for how long this book is, I was always thinking five years had passed instead of only five months.

So maybe if I cared more about political history in general or Tudor history specifically, I would've found Wolf Hall more interesting and a more enjoyable read. But I don't, so I didn't. The religious-y bits about the Reformation and figures within in it who aren't quite as well known as Luther were nice, especially since I'm highly enjoying taking a class on New Religious Movements right now. I also liked seeing Mantel's characterization of Jane Seymour, who has a decidedly meek and obscured background role at this point (despite the book being named after her family's home...still not sure why that title wasn't reserved for the next book). Anyway, while I'm sure this is a fantastic book if you love the Tudors but not the typical romance-and-drama historical fiction that seems to go along with them, it just wasn't my cup of tea, and I don't think I'll continue with the rest of the series.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Historical Fiction: Lincoln by Gore Vidal

Publisher: Random House
Date: 1984
Format: hardback
Source: purchased used
Read: for Historical Novels class
Pages: 657
Reading time: about a week

From GoodReads: Lincoln opens early on a frozen winter morning in 1861, when President-elect Abraham Lincoln slips into Washington, flanked by two bodyguards. The future president is in disguise, for there's talk of a plot to murder him. During the next four years there will be numerous plots to murder this man who has sworn to unite a disintegrating nation. Isolated in a ramshackle White House in the center of a proslavery city, Lincoln presides over a fragmenting government as Lee's armies beat at the gates. In this profoundly moving novel, a work of epic proportions & intense human sympathy, Lincoln is observed by his loved ones & his rivals. The cast of characters is almost Dickensian: politicians, generals, White House aides, newspapermen, Northern & Southern conspirators, amiably evil bankers & a wife slowly going mad. Vidal's portrait of the president is at once intimate & monumental, stark & complex, drawn with the wit, grace & authority of one of the great historical novelists.

My review: I've never before disliked a novel that's this good. It seems paradoxical, I know, but it's true. Vidal's novel is like a fictional form of the history of the Lincoln administration. It's super-well-researched and basically a run-down of all the political and social shenanigans in Washington during the Civil War. Pretty epic in scope, right? It's like reading a history book, just with extra imagined dialogue and characterizations.

My issue: I don't like politics. It's booooring. So reading this was difficult, because it's pretty much all political dialogue. Gag. Great history, yes, but long and not personally interesting. The characterization of Lincoln, though, is intriguing. We see into the personal thoughts and motives of the rest of the characters, but Lincoln remains an intentionally closed book. The mystery surrounding who he really was is retained, even furthered through the novel. It's by far the most interesting part of the book. My last issue: the pacing is pretty much all the same. Social dialogue, major battles, Lincoln's assassination? All are discussed in basically the same way. It makes the reading even more sloggish than politics already is.