Talking About Books . . .

Things Fall Apart

We recently discussed Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in my Reading the Classics book club.  In it Achebe tells the story of a Nigerian indigenous society from the point of view of its members, and then describes what happens when first missionaries and then the British invade.  The society of the natives was quite sophisticated and worked well for them, but the interlopers insisted that it was evil, and set about forcing changes in it.  Just as with any society, some of its members were able to adapt to change while others were not.  The protagonist, Okonkwo, a very important member of his tribe, is unable to adapt to the new way of living with disastrous results.

The Poisonwood Bible

Then I read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible in which the story is told from the point of view of the family members of a Baptist missionary from the United States.  Much of this story takes place in 1960 in the Belgian Congo.  In Kingsolver’s novel the missionary, Nathan Price, is totally inflexible in both his dealings with the Africans and with his wife and four daughters.  A crisis occurs when the rulers of the country are overthrown by rebels.  All foreigners are directed to leave, but Price refuses to abandon his mission, and he refuses to allow his family to leave.  Tragedy follows and the Price family survivors’ lives are altered forever in ways I did not imagine.  Late in the book Kingsolver spends a lot of time talking about the politics of Africa and possible involvement of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (with the blessing of President Eisenhower) in the events that took place in the Congo and elsewhere.  She puts this within the context of the lives of the novel’s characters, but I found it a bit overdone.

Both books are very worth reading, and I strongly suggest that you read them in the order in which I’ve described them above.  The novels are different in many ways, but similar enough that you will be able to intertwine the stories nicely.

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 According to information a member of my Reading the Classics book club sent me, reading books – but not newspapers or magazines – can help you live longer.  I did some research on the research and found a Guardian article that reports (in terms that we non-scientists can understand) on what studies have found.  Note that the researchers don’t know yet if these results are different for those who read fiction versus nonfiction or a physical book versus an e-book.  That will require further studies.

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 Are you feeling a bit down because of the news this summer?  The Guardian, suspecting that a lot of us need some positive reading material, has instituted a series of articles called “Books to Give You Hope” in an attempt to lift our spirits.  There are only a few books in the series at this point, but more are being added each weekday.

I wondered if one book, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, a collection of short stories by Wells Tower would fit the stated purpose of the series, but we are assured that “it will not only give you hope in mankind: it will also give you hope in the future of short fiction.”  I hope so.

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 Wanda June

Kurt Vonnegut completed the libretto for an opera based on his play Happy Birthday, Wanda June a few weeks before he died at age 85 following a fall.  The opera will be performed September 16-18 by the Indianapolis Opera company as part of a number of activities honoring Indianapolis’ hometown boy.  Beth J. Harpaz has penned an article for the Associated Press that outlines many of the upcoming activities.

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 Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has gathered together “slightly more than 100 exceptional works of journalism” from 2015 for us.  Not only are the subjects diverse, but perusing the list will introduce you to sources for great articles that you might otherwise never know about.

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 Blade Runner

What book is the movie Blade Runner based on?  How about Bridget Jones’ Diary?  To find the answer to these questions and more about movies based on books see the Jonkers article here.

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 BOOKish is recommending books for us to read this summer.  They’re currently featuring 10 books for this week, but you should also check out their Summer Previews.  I like the Summer Previews because the books are broken down by category.

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 The American Scholar features an ongoing series entitled “The Complete Reading Lessons” where “Poets, novelists, essayists, journalists, and scholars name a book they prize above all others and tell us why.”  The books reviewed include Willa Cather’s My Àntonia, John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Cormack McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Virgil’s Aeneid.  And there are many more, so check out the list.

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 Quirk Books has compiled a list of women in fiction who were either bad or misunderstood mothers.  You have to decide for yourself.  I think the first mother on the list, Mrs. Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is an excellent example of the difficulty in categorization.  She spends her time trying desperately to get her daughters married off, but when you look at the situation of unmarried women in the British society of the time you might want to give her a break.

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