Saturday, July 28, 2012

Another Country

Why I love Reading the RA favorite books is because they vary so much in depth and topical area.  Another Country by James Baldwin is the story of an African American male living in the Greenwich Village-area (circa 1970s) that is fighting something within himself, especially his race and his sexuality.  This is the theme of the book throughout, finding oneself and dealing with the various stages of friendship, admiration of others, the demons within, infatuation and the urge to act on it. Rufus is a complex character, as are all of Baldwin’s characters in this story.  Rufus falls in love with a white woman who recently left the South after escaping a failed marriage.  Rufus is overcome by past relationship issues and eventually falls into a ritual of physically hurting the ones he loves.  Rufus has a core group of friends, all artists of some sort (actors, writers, and musicians).   Rufus, after losing his latest love to an asylum, determines life is not worth living and jumps to his death via the George Washington Bridge.  His remaining living friends, including his sister Ida, come to each others' support trying to figure it all out.  What happens is a series of love trysts between women and men, men and men, crossing race and breaking up marriages and alliances.  What a very complicated read strewn with characters that do have some level of reality and despair.  The characters are actually pretty intriguing though their motivations and drive seem somewhat inconsistent with their development by the author.   It reads as if it should have been set on some commune where the characters are “taught” this is the way we live to succeed.  While this in no way was a book one could have guessed how the story would end up, it led me to say “ok, so what?”  I understand the timing and how the era makes for a fitting story, I just didn’t get to feel a sense of care when it wrapped up.  Probably would have made it as a made-for-TV weekly movie.  Certainly not a boring read, but somewhat unbelievable.  Wasn’t really sure what the author wanted the reader to get out of this one.  Not my favorite read, but could see how this would be a good read for people questioning sexuality or even how to commit themselves in a relationship.    

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind

It takes all kind of books to make you feel like a well-rounded reader… for instance, Charles Nicholl’s Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind which tells the story of the life of da Vinci.  This is a historical review of da Vinci’s life.  Not having much background, only surface material from history courses, I learned a great deal about the complex artist and inventor.  da Vinci’s life had humble beginnings, raised by his father from a one-night love affair, da Vinci never met his mother.  The author scoured many literary sources to piece together the latest book on the life of the man.  From Milan, Mantua, and Venice and finally back home again, da Vinci was a private man, could have been because of his sexuality (deemed punishable by death for some who were known to be homosexual at the time, c. 1470s – 1519).  Nicholls shares stories from his youth, the people who influenced his art and thinking about life, his apprenticeships, travels around Italy, his alleged affairs, his works of art, and various other thinkings that affected the world in his time.  I had no idea his drawings helped with the creation of airplanes and other mechanical devices which did not come to fruition until centuries after his life.  da Vinci was a Renaissance man who “hung” with the artists and deep thinkers of the time.   I loved how the author presented all of his art work and drawings in the book with the “back story” on how and why each was created.  I often forget how brilliant and influential da Vinci was to art from his Mona Lisa, The Vitruvian Ma, The Last Supper, St. John the Baptist, Virgin of the Rocks, and Madonna (to name a few).  da Vinci had numerous jokes written throughout his notebooks, some he may have penned himself!  Freud had a field day thinking about the life of da Vinci, probably loved this particular joke penned in one of his books: 
A woman was washing clothes, and her feet were red with cold.  A priest who was   passing by was amazed by this and asked her where the redness came from, to which the woman immediately replied that it was caused by a fire she had underneath her.  Then the priest took in hand that part of him which made him more priest than nun, and drawing near to her, asked her very politely if she would be kind enough to light his candle. 
Funny guy with a brain for seeing the beauty in things.  da Vinci turned back to the church upon his death bed.  Life has a way for some coming full circle.  His impact in the world of art is seen today and lives forever.  While the book was quite dense, art historians will revel in the stories and his experiences.  For me though, a bit too many anecdotes and connections to things that just are not that interesting to me.  I’d take a pass on this rather long and, at times, sleeper.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ready Player One

Imagine being in 2044 and living in a time where the top 1% have it all, and everyone else lives in trash and has limited food supplies, etc.  Yet there is one BIG jackpot out there to be had for the person who can solve the mystery of the video game, which was created by James Halliday who died a billionaire.  In Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, you get a sci-fi real life action packed adventure.  Start with James Halliday, a “gamer,” who wrote a complex gaming system called OASIS (which most everyone in the universe subscribes to) and in doing so whomever can collect three keys (Copper, Jade, and Crystal) that are hidden throughout the universe of OASIS and pass through the matching gates (and find the golden egg) will receive his fortune and controlling stake in his company (worth 240 billion dollars!).  After four years of no one coming even close to finding anything, a young 18 year old, Wade Owen Watts (his on-screen name is Parzival), hits gold by opening the first gate, gaining national attention.  Unfortunately for Wade, I mean Parzival, he has many more steps to take and simultaneously ward off Innovative Online Industries, the multinational corporation that serves as an Internet service provider for most of the world and hopes to take over and monetize the OASIS.  The OIs (as they are known) are putting in big bucks to buy anything standing in their way, including Wade and his 4 “vagabond” friends.  The story includes 1980s and early computer culture games (Pac-man, Galaga, and Zork) and movie anecdotes (Risky Business, Real Genius, and Blade Runner).  The OIs vs. the five pack makes for great adventure, intrigue, and thrills.  At every step there is excitement up the very last page.  Who will win, the big almighty corporation or the upstart young tech kids?  Throw in a love story, embattled friendships, and clues that you might remember from your childhood (if you are 40 something!).  What a great story!  I can see this one becoming a movie, though I hope not!  Pick this one up, a very fast read and well worth your time.  It has it all!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sister Outsider

Always good to learn where theoretical constructs develop in our society and clearly Audre Lorde, author of Sister Outsider, had something to do with the beginnings of “intersectionality.”  Well, what is “intersectionality?”  As Lorde discusses her understanding of who she identifies as a person, the reader begins to learn about Lorde’s upbringing and how she begins to think about herself through gender, orientation, race, and socio-economic backgrounds that merge to a complex being.  The book is a series of essays and speeches that Lorde writes/speaks about over the course of a fifteen year period, beginning in the late 1960s through the early 1980s.  Lorde was born in New York City to mixed immigrant parents.  Her parents emigrated from the Caribbean yet were born in Grenada (which is the focus of the closing article).  Lorde was married to a man and had two children before she met her eventual life partner, a white female.  This love combination added one more “identity” to her complex understanding of self.  Lorde uses some of the challenges her children met from classmates and their parents while being in school.  They were ridiculed for not only being black, but children of a lesbian and mixed race family.  Lorde tells of her anger at society’s inability to embrace differences in her interview with Adrienne Rich and other various short interviews and essays.  Not being “white enough” compared to her two siblings and trying to bleach her skin to “fit” into society were a couple of her childhood memories.  The level of hatred and bigotry that Lorde faced fueled her desire to speak out as an adult even though she faced attacks from fellow feminists, blacks, and lesbians not clearly appreciating the depth of the various identities of the author.  The book provides a brilliant perspective of the 1980s and how our society was on the precipice of the debate for gay marriage and acceptance of those outside society’s “privileged” groups.  This will be seen as a precursor to what our society will look back on 100 years from now and say, what was the big issue? (Or at least let’s hope).  Brash, angry and capable of holding her own against the fiercest of enemies, including a fourteen year battle with cancer, Lorde is afraid of no one.  This book is a nice mix of readings that captures a woman ahead of her time.