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Showing posts from March, 2011

Week 13: The Day of the Triffids

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The Day of the Triffids , by John Wyndham Classic science fiction about walking poisonous plants taking over the world! Who wouldn't want to read it? Wyndham published his book in 1951, positing a world in which nearly everyone goes blind overnight after unusual astronomical events. As if that isn't enough of a disaster, this is a world with triffids--tall plants that can move around. They are carnivorous and have poison stings, which are docked for domestic use, but undocked triffids are also grown industrially for their oil. After the disaster, survivors must battle hostile triffids in a dying world. Wyndham uses his setup to explore ideas about different kinds of government. If we had to start all over again, what sort of society would work best? It looks like someone is working on a new 3D film adaptation, so get your copy before it becomes uncool. This cover image isn't what mine looks like; it's way better. I do actually have a postcard of it on my bo

Week 13: The New Vichy Syndrome

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The New Vichy Syndrome : Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism, by Theodore Dalrymple I like grumpy writers, and Theodore Dalrymple is by far my favorite grump (though he is not quite as annoyed as Peter Hitchens). The New Vichy Syndrome is Dalrymple's take on modern European, especially British, malaise. He says that although Western Europeans believe they have created societies that are very nearly ideal, and are more comfortable and secure than nearly anyone in the world has ever been, there is anxiety that Europe is no longer in the center of the world and is falling behind. After a century of war, Europeans have a "miserablist" view of their own history and culture and no longer believe that there is much meaning in life besides personal economic security and nice vacations. It's interesting to note that Dalrymple does not point to overwhelming immigration as a problem, as so many writers do. His feeling is that the majority of immigrants accl

Week 12: Marriage and Caste in America

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Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal in a Post-Marital Age, by Kay Hymowitz This book has been on my TBR list for a long time, and I finally got it through ILL. It's actually a pretty quick read, not long at all, but full of issues to think about. Hymowitz takes on some very touchy subjects about marriage and poverty, with some racial issues thrown in. Her thesis is based on the last 40 years or so of social history; ever since Americans decided that marriage is optional and that raising children and marriage are easily separated, children brought up without both parents in a stable marriage have suffered (and so have the parents). Hymowitz describes what she calls The Mission--the particularly American project of republican marriage, involving a couple who have freely chosen each other setting up an independent household and raising children to be informed and self-reliant citizens. Children destined to be active, independent participants in a republic need

Take a Chance: Two Titles

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The Russian's World: Life and Language , by Genevra Gerhart The Twentieth Wife , by Indu Sundaresan These are both for the Take a Chance Challenge #2: Loved One’s Choice: Ask a loved one to pick a book for you to read. Well, my mom and I trade books all the time, and my husband wouldn't recommend anything, so I did something a little different. I posted on facebook that if anyone recommended a book to me, I would pick one and read it by the end of March. I got lots of great recommendations back, and several of them are on my TBR list, but two I got right away. My sister-in-law, Katya, recommended The Russian's World --and she should know, since she is Russian. Then there is The Twentieth Wife , recommended by Meghan, my friend in homeschooling and Bollywood ventures. Katya was actually horrified to find that I had to make do with the first edition of The Russian's World , from 1974. She refuses to endorse it, since she's never read it and it's 40 yea

Week 11: When the Luck of the Irish Ran Out

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When the Luck of the Irish Ran Out , by David Lynch This is a short history of the last 30 years or so of Irish economic (and political, and cultural) history. It gives a nice background of the difficulties Ireland has faced for so many years and then goes into detail about the Celtic Tiger period of the mid-90's to 2008 and the economic meltdown that hit Ireland much harder than it hit the United States. Even in the early 90's, Ireland lacked infrastructure and jobs. The tech boom of the last 20 years brought the Irish into the global market, but as property prices spiraled, a massive housing bubble developed that makes Las Vegas look reasonable. I was really interested to read the details of how all this happened and the extensive cultural changes that Ireland has experienced in the last few decades.

A Doll's House

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A Doll's House , by Henrik Ibsen I'm a bit embarrassed that I've never read A Doll's House before, since it's so famous and all. Anyway, thanks to the Feminist Classics Challenge , I can now say that I've read and enjoyed it. A rundown (full of spoilers!) for those who haven't read it: Nora is a middle-class housewife who has always cheerfully submitted first to her father's and then her husband's authority, as a good Victorian woman should. Her husband, Torvald, treats her like an indulged child, always calling her his little songbird and squirrel. Of course, he would never dream of treating her like an adult or an equal. Nora admits to her friend, however, that several years ago she saved her husband's life by borrowing money to finance a year in Italy for the sake of his health, for which she forged her dying father's signature. She is proud of her secret efforts on his behalf and has worked to repay the money, but fails to unders

Week 10: Girls on the Edge

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Girls on the Edge , by Leonard Sax I saw this at work and thought, "Yet another book about how modern girls are in crisis--do I really want to read this?" Then I read the first couple of pages and it started talking about how there are all these supergirls with goofball brothers. As it happens, I had just been discussing that phenomenon with my good friend after reading a NYT essay . So I read the book. And it was worth it. Sax wrote Boys Adrift a few years ago, which I also thought was very good. Sax points to four elements in modern culture that push girls to perform for an audience without, perhaps, figuring out who they really are inside: early sexualization, constant pressure to be up on social media, obsessions (such as with dieting, sports, or academics), and environmental toxins that may cause puberty to start earlier than it should. If you've got a daughter, I think it's a good book to read and think about.