“Xingu”

Wharton, Edith. “Xingu.” New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916.

Reason read: June is short story month.

This is a story of contradictions. Even though this story is less that fifty pages long, it packs a wallop of a punch. Though billed as a satire it is also a humorous and witty commentary on human psychology. Some even think it is a cerebral jab at Henry James after he criticized Wharton’s writing. No matter how “Xingu” is perceived or meant to be perceived, Mrs. Roby is my hero.

In a nutshell, a group of snobbish high society women form a lunch group to gather and discuss didactic topics and one-up each other. In their view, the weakest link is Mrs. Roby, a seemingly not-so-bright woman who doesn’t appear to fit in with them. She asks all the wrong questions and clearly doesn’t know societal protocol. When the group invites an even snobbier author to discuss her latest book, “The Wings of Death,” the event falls apart. Osric Dane is even more dismissive than the snobs in the group. It isn’t until Mrs. Roby one-ups them all by mentioning a xingu philosophy. No one has ever heard of xingu but they all, including author Osric Dane, must pretend they know it well. Only after Mrs. Roby and Ms. Dane leave does the group dare to look up the word xingu and discover they have been duped. Xingu is actually a river in Brazil.

Author fact: something I did not know about Wharton is that she was a designer.

Nancy said: if you have never read Wharton Pearl suggested starting with the novella “Xingu” (p 144).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: The Americans” (p 144).


Underworld

DeLillo, Don. Underworld. Read by Richard Poe. New York: Recorded Books, 2003.

Even though this is a long book I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. From the prologue I was hooked. By the way, everyone loves the prologue best. But the book as a whole, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a stand-alone novella in itself. I guess I could equate Underworld to a bumble bee ride. At times the plot flies over time and space, flitting from one character to another without really touching down long enough to establish foundation. But, there there are other times this bee lands, spends an inordinate amount of time digging around one particular scene and rooting among the details; rolling through the dialogue and repeating itself a lot. Diverse yet nitty gritty. If you get to the part when Nick is trying to talk to his wife while she watched a movie you’ll see what I mean. Excruciating! I found their dialogue painful.
As a whole, Underworld is a biography of 20th century American culture, flayed and dissected and analyzed. Guts and all. It’s 50 years of society spanning the country, from Arizona to New York and points in between. It’s 1951 and fifty years beyond. There is no real plot. There is no real point other than to show the complexities of the times we live in.

Reason read: February is National History Month and Underworld is chock full of history, real and imagined.

Author fact: Although Don DeLillo is mentioned five times in Book Lust I am only reading three of his books, Libra, White Noise and of course, Underworld.

Book trivia: Underworld is a huge book – over 800 some odd pages long. I had to borrow an audio recording and a print version just to finish it within the month!
Audio trivia: I just had to mention this since it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a library do this: the Westborough Public Library warned me, “the cost to replace this item is $109.75 Please handle carefully!” Why not make it an even $110? Just saying.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “American History: Fiction” (p 22).


Lord of the Flies

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Perigee Books, 1954.

What high school English lit teacher hasn’t put Lord of the Flies on his or her syllabi? What student hasn’t read at least one excerpt from this book? I shudder to think classrooms have moved to the movie version, but if that means Golding’s story lives on, so be it.

This could be called the most chilling sociological experiment of all times (besides Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game.) What happens when you take the most prim and organized society (proper English boys from a prep school), hand it the suggestion of chaos and violence (they are escaping a nuclear war), then leave it to its own devices without guidance (a deserted island without adults)? All normalcy goes out the window when the boys try to build their own hierarchical, structured society. In a Darwinian approach some boys, the strongest & smartest, rise to the top while weaker boys become scapegoats and victims of paranoia. In the beginning the group is held together by necessity. They recognize the need for fairness and organization, especially if they want to be rescued. But all that vanishes when the younger boys become increasingly convinced there is a monster on the island. No amount of rationalizing can calm them. Fear and violence escalates until there is no turning back. All calm is lost to tragedy.

Probably the most frustrating part about the book was something very deliberate on Golding’s part. When the boys are finally rescued the Naval officer is embarrassed by the children, especially Ralph’s emotional breakdown when remembering how it all fell apart. You want the officer, the adult, to be more understanding, to take the boys more seriously.

Book Trivia: Lord of the Flies influenced musicians like U2 and Iron Maiden and sparked television parodies but a full length movie has yet to be made.

Author Fact: Golding won a Nobel Prize for literature.

Favorite line: “The group of boys looked at the conch with affectionate respect” (p 128).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads: Decade by Decade (1950s),” (p 177).


House of Mirth

Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth. New York: Signet Classic, 1964.

House of Mirth is one of those classics you read to analyze society from several different angles: society and the woman’s role it in; society and the pitfalls of economic status (or lack there of); society and the role of etiquette. House of Mirth is the book you read in college, in grad school and then go on to write about in your dissertation.
In a nutshell, Lily Bart is an orphaned young woman desperate to keep up with the Joneses. She is in love with status and wealth. After her father’s ruin and subsequent death, Lily’s mother pins her hopes of future fortunes on her daughter’s good looks. Only she too passes before Lily can put her beauty to good use and be married off to some wealthy bachelor. Lily is then taken in by a wealthy relation who tests Lily’s morality in the face of greed and luxury. In a modern spin, Lily is a classic gold digger, looking to “land” a prosperous mate at whatever cost.

Best lines:
How Lily describes New York, “”Other cities put on their best clothes in the summer, but New York seems to sit in its shirtsleeves”” (p 7). How I sometimes feel, “She wanted to get away from herself, and conversation was the only means of escape that she knew” (p 20).
The perfect example of Lily’s “sacrifice” for wealth, “She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce – the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice – but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honor of boring her for life” (p 29). Really?

Author Fact: Edith Wharton got married when she was in her early 20s in 1885 but wasn’t afraid to get a divorce 28 years later. Rock on, girl!

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “New York, New York” (p 170). But, also from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1900s (p 175).


Yes You Can!

Drake, Jane and Ann Love. Yes You Can!: Your Guide to Becoming an Activist. Ontario: Tundra Books, 2010.

Right away I have to say I wouldn’t have classified this as “juvenile” literature. The language might be a little simplistic, definitely geared toward young adults, but the message is something we should all sit up and take notice of no matter what our age: if the world around you makes you sick do something. It’s the age-old promise, “you CAN make a difference!” But first you have to DO something.

Yes You Can is a how-to manual of sorts. Each chapter covers a different step to becoming an activist including an example of someone taking that particular step. The histories of organizations such as Amnesty International and Save the Children illustrate what can happen if the right steps are taken successfully. For every chapter there is a section on the historical time line of that step in action. There is also a section on the accomplishments as well as the challenges called, “Milestones and Setbacks” which put everything into perspective. Almost like a textbook there is a checklist to test what the reader has (or hasn’t learned). My favorite piece of advice was “know your cause inside and out.” The ability to see both sides of any argument can go a long way in the effort to sway opinion or make a change.

My only sticking point? This classification of juvenile literature. Why juvenile? It really should be “for all ages” because the vocabulary used in Yes You Can! is not consistent. There is talk of “family” and “classmates” in one chapter and “colleagues” in another. I don’t know any child who would refer to his or her peer as a colleague.


Tipping Point

Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000.

Judging by how many people have Tipping Point in their LibraryThing libraries and how many reviews have been written about it I feel as though I am late to the Tipping Party. And I call myself a librarian! Sheesh!

This book was fascinating! Within the first 22 pages I was hooked. I found myself googling different references Gladwell made like the names Darnell McGee and Nushawn Williams. To explain a tipping point Gladwell used some variation of the word ‘yawn’ no less than 25 times. His point was yawning is contagious and by using the word over and over he could get me to yawn. He didn’t, but I understood his point.

Malcolm Gladwell explains the tipping point as epidemics, fast-paced mysterious changes in society such as the sudden interest in a fashion or a sharp decline in crime in an isolated area. It’s a fascinating look at why major shifts in societal influence happen so suddenly and without warning. He explains how a single idea or behavior can influence an entire population. Everything from fashion trends to severe life-threatening epidemics are analyzed. Have you ever wondered where the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon came from? Gladwell explains it and the root of where it came from. You can thank a man named Stanley Milgram.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “BBB: Best Business Books” (p 33).