I’ve been putting off writing my annual blogversary post — my fourth — for weeks now. I have to confess it’s because I have no idea what, if anything, I am going to do with this blog going forward. I feel as if I’ve run out of steam, and I have a sense that taking a break won’t help. I don’t know how other people feel when they quit blogging, but for me, it’s really hard to look back at four years of posts, of friends, of conversations, and of visitors, and just abandon it all, especially when more people are reading RRR than ever before. But it shouldn’t be about all the effort I’ve “invested” over the years, but about the pleasure I get from doing it now. More importantly, you’ll all still be tweeting and blogging, and I don’t have to stop talking with and learning from the wonderful people of the book blogging community.
I’m not sure if it’s a hiatus, a sabbatical, or The End, but am sure that I’ve had a great four years here, thanks to you.
Thank you so much for reading!
Edited to add: You can still find me on Twitter (@RRRJessica). Cheers!
If any reader was, I was primed to like this book, which was sent to me for review by the publisher. I teach feminist philosophy, and have admired and even assigned some of Valenti’s past work. I enjoy Feministing, the feminist website Valenti founded in 2004 (she retired in 2011). Valenti visited my campus last year, and I know for a fact her talk inspired some of our undergrads to take a degree in Women’s Studies. I also think that pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering are meaningful experiences for many women, as well as primary sites of women’s oppression. So I was excited to read this book. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in Why Have Kids?
Why Have Kids? is slight, at 167 pages of text divided into twelve short chapters (and expensive at $15.14 for paper and $9.99 for the Kindle edition). In the introduction, Valenti writes that “this is a book about how the American ideal of parenting doesn’t match the reality of our lives, and how that incompatibility is hurting parents and children.” The first section, “Lies”, includes chapters on such as “Children Make You Happy” and “Mother Knows Best.” The second section, “Truth”, contains chapters such as “Giving Up On Parenthood”, “Smart Women Don’t Have Kids” and “Women Should Work.”
Why Have Kids? is a kind of nonfiction you may know well: a nimble pastiche of reports of entertaining, if cherry picked, studies, personal anecdotes, and the buttressing stories of random women (“As Laurie, from Alabama, says…”). As is par for the course in this type of book, there are a lot of vague, unsupported, and hedged claims, like the idea that “We’re scared to death thanks to the media” or references to “the kind of secret depressions so many mothers seem to be having.” Valenti is very self-consciously writing to educated laypersons. As she said in a 2009 interview in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, “My informal writing style is a political choice, because I want feminism to be more accessible. ” As a reader, I don’t expect or require in depth analysis, careful arguments, or scholarly use of resources in this type of book — especially, to be honest, if I already agree with the author. But I have to get something out of it, whether it’s a resonant personal narrative, a systematic critique, a fresh take on an old issue, or, heck, even a laugh or two. Instead, this book reads as a disorganized, superficial effort curiously disconnected both from its title — a topic barely addressed — and the childbirth and parenting experiences of the author which purportedly gave rise to it.
Many of the claims presented in Why Have Kids? are in apparent conflict with each other. For example, how is it that natural births are on the rise at the same time cesarean births are? How is it that at the same time women are listening uncritically to medicine tell them about how to be pregnant and give birth, they are challenging CDC vaccine recommendations? How is it that women are both “too ashamed to admit that despite the love they have for their kids, child rearing can be a tedious and thankless undertaking” and yet “regularly discuss the everyday problems that make parenting harder?” How is it that we “overvalue mothering in woman” at the same time we fail to provide maternity leave? How is it that “parenting is the most difficult job” is a “lie”, yet the entire book gives reason after reason for thinking mothering is the worst of double binds for women — economically, emotionally, politically? How is it that “American culture cannot accept the reality of a woman who does not want to be a mother”, yet “American attitudes towards women choosing not to have children have become more accepting than in years past?” Valenti did not seem notice these seemingly disparate realities, let alone integrate them into a coherent feminist analysis.
Valenti recommends that “we need to start thinking about parenting as a community exercise” without suggesting how we go about doing that, or what about our capitalist, patriarchal society actively discourages it. Most of her concrete suggestions amount to admonishing individual women to change their attitudes, for example, “We have to get real about our expectations”, “We need to let go of the notion that we [mothers] are the only ones who can do it correctly.” and “It may be that American mothers are so desperate for power, recognition, and validation that we’d rather take on the burden of considering ourselves ‘expert’ moms rather than change the circumstances that demand such an unreasonable role for us.”
Valenti apparently has little faith in her readers or in the power of women to rationally disagree. At several points she cautions the reader that “This book will likely make you angry”, “you might feel insulted” and even warns “Before you throw this book across the room or frantically Google me for an email address to send hate mail to, hear me out.” In the chapter on breastfeeding, Valenti cites approvingly Joan Wolf’s book Is Breast Best?, notes that Wolf has been compared to a Holocaust denier, and recounts a visit of Wolf’s to a daytime talk show in which she was “raked over the coals by a panel of well-coiffed celebrity MDs.” But the truth is that Wolf’s book, while offering interesting insights on public health promotion of breastfeeding as it plays into social expectations of “total motherhood,” was controversial for cherry picking data (to take just one example: ignoring evidence about the causal connection between formula feeding and obesity) and failing to offer convincing empirical evidence for her own assertions. There are some balanced critical reviews of Wolf’s book out there, but if you read Valenti, you wouldn’t think anyone is capable of it.
Valenti shares stories of being accosted by strangers for daring to formula feed, of a crazy woman on Twitter who harassed her, of a woman who was so cowed by the breastfeeding mafia that she “almost inadvertently starved her son” etc., etc. Is everyone who disagrees with her a nutty zealot? Is there any reason to think breastfeeding advocacy actually is a feminist issue, and not just the purview of busybodies with nothing better to do than make formula feeders feel guilty in shopping malls? What about the lack of workplace support for breastfeeding moms? Or shaming of breastfeeding in public? Or women whose husbands pressure an early end to breastfeeding because they are being denied access to their “sexual property”, women who are reported to child welfare agencies for breastfeeding “too long”, or women who are told they can’t keep their milk in communal fridges because it is “too gross”? What about the ways that the formula industry, in particular companies like Nestle, have promoted formula around the world with ad campaigns that were far more misleading, costly, and damaging than anything the DHHS and FDA breastfeeding campaigns could approximate? All of those are key issues for many women, too. But perhaps Valenti is acknowledging that when she concludes a chapter devoted to debunking the superiority breastfeeding over formula feeding with the statement, “Obviously I support breastfeeding.”
In the end, I was disappointed in Why Have Kids? It rehashes old debates without moving them forward, and isn’t nearly as bold as the author seems to think. It’s yet another entry in the tiresome mommy wars waged between privileged white women, except this time, by a “third wave” feminist who at least makes parenthetical references to the 99%, which is either a tiny step forward or completely insulting depending on your point of view. It’s half-baked, wan, and rarely engaging. Save your money and wait for her next effort.
The Marriage Bargain, a contemporary romance, was published by digital first Entangled Publishing in February of this year. It became a runaway hit, selling more than half a million copies in six months. Rights were sold to Simon & Schuster imprint Pocket Books for seven figures. Tomorrow, the print version will be available in mass market paperback for $7.99 and trade paperback for $12.99. A film deal is in the works.
When I was offered a digital copy from the publisher, I accepted, because I was curious about this book which has become so popular. Overall, I found it to be an adequate contemporary romance. I read it and mostly enjoyed it, but I confess to being immune to whatever magic spell it has worked on its half a million readers and counting.
Here’s the blurb:
To save her family home, impulsive bookstore owner, Alexa Maria
McKenzie, casts a love spell. But she never planned on conjuring up her best friend’s older brother—the powerful man who once shattered her heart.
Billionaire Nicholas Ryan doesn’t believe in marriage, but in order to inherit his father’s corporation, he needs a wife and needs one fast. When he discovers his sister’s childhood friend is in dire financial straits, he’s offers Alexa a bold proposition.
A marriage in name only with certain rules: Avoid entanglement. Keep things all business. Do not fall in love. The arrangement is only for a year so the rules shouldn’t be that hard to follow, right?
The arranged marriage set up is very conventional in the genre, if more common in historicals or in contemps with heroes who hail from Greece or Italy. I enjoy this trope, although in The Marriage Bargain, I felt it was undercooked. But I have a thing about going along with the setup, so I plunged ahead.
Nick is very uptight and afraid of getting hurt. Like many romance heroes, he’s Sworn Off Love. I felt that by the end of the book, thanks to a visit from his cold, manipulative father, his attitude was pretty well explained. Alexa is an emotionally open bookshop owner with a big happy family and curly hair. They knew each other as kids, but had lost touch for years, despite the fact that they apparently live in the same town and Alexa is BFFs with Nick’s sister. The sexual attraction is strong when they meet again. As in many such books, it’s the sexual attraction that signals their growing fondness and emotional intimacy. Probst did a nice job with the sexual tension and love scenes.
There seem to be two kinds of families in the romance genre: happy and evil. I appreciated that Alexa’s family had rough times — her father had a drinking problem and abandoned them for a time — but got through them.
Ultimately, I had a several problems that kept me from really getting into this book. First, I felt that Alexa’s decision making was so poor as to be uncredible. She has siblings and parents. Why does she think she, and she alone, is “selfish” if she doesn’t marry in order to get money to save her parents’ home? Alexa recognizes that her parents put a huge value on marriage, having worked so hard to save their own, and that if they knew what she’d done “they’d never forgive her.” So why do it? She knows “she’s always been a sucky liar” yet she manages to pull this off? Then, why does she decide to lie to Nick about the reason she needs the money, letting him believe it’s for her own business? She says it’s because “at least he’ll resent her and keep his distance.” Hm. If you can figure that one out, let me know. Finally, she makes a series of stupid smaller decisions throughout, such as agreeing to shelter eight puppies in her pet-averse compulsively controlling and neat husband’s home, believing he’ll never know. As a reader, I recognize that each of these moves by the heroine propels the romance narrative forward: (1) pushing her into marriage with, and thus forced proximity to, the hero, (2) setting up a large conflict with the hero around trust, and (3) getting the hero to get out of bed at midnight for a heated argument that ends in a kiss. But as a reader, I need to believe that the heroine’s decisions come from her character, not the needs of the genre.
Second, I felt that the tone and style of The Marriage Bargain zigged and zagged across several romance subgenres, not in an exciting, envelope-pushing way, but in an “author can’t decide whether she is writing a Harlequin Presents or a Jennifer Cruise” way. You have the Nick who says misogynistic Presents things like “She’d become jealous and demanding like any normal wife,” and “her ability to pretend she was innocent was dangerous.” He behaves in an irrationally jealous way when his Alexa so much as looks at another man, and his trust and power issues throughout the book are classic alpha hero. But then you have a friends to lovers set up, him bantering and joking with her, a Mets versus Yankees rivalry, he’s cooking for her, and, by the end, doing improv at her bookstore with a mutt sidekick to get her attention. For this reader, it did not gel.
Another way to put this is not in terms of characters but in terms of world building. The book was a mash up of a kind of small town romance and a Presents billionaire setting. I did not feel the book was credible at all on the billionaire side. For example, in describing a posh party, the heroine smells “clouds of Shalimar and Obsession.” I almost laughed out loud at that one. And the description of each of the hero’s amazing architectural feats ended up sounding like a T-Rex or Planet Hollywood chain restaurant. It’s not that I doubt he’s a billionaire at his age or his profession, but “renovating the Hudson Valley waterfront” does not scream “billionaire” to me. I felt the billionaire aspect should have been cut entirely. Why not just make him wealthy enough to be able to give the heroine $150,000, not a huge sum these days. Then again, I’m not selling half a million romance novels, so what do I know?
There were some winning moments in The Marriage Bargain that made reading it overall enjoyable: the scene when Alexa punishes Nick for an indiscretion with his old flame, the scene when Nick realizes that a gift is something the receiver wants (a dog), not something the giver thinks the receiver should have (a car), and even the finale when the hero makes his grand gesture at the book store in a Mets cap. I definitely did get caught up in moments of genuine emotion between these two. But ultimately, I remain mystified by its wild success: the “kitchen sink” feel and the characterization problems I had made The Marriage Bargain just an ok read for me.
As has become an annual tradition (see 2009 and 2011. No idea what happened to 2010!), I’m posting this year’s syllabus for the upper level undergraduate course I teach on Ethics and Fiction. The course is cross listed with the English and Philosophy departments and capped at 20 students. Usually, I have 20 students, evenly split between the two disciplines. School starts Tuesday, and so far I only have five students enrolled in the philosophy section while the English section is over-enrolled. Hopefully that will change a bit next week. I also have, as per usual, a couple of English master’s students sitting in or enrolled in a grad version. It’s always nice to have them.
I change things up a bit every year. Again, I’m using the textbook Ethics, Literature, Theory edited by Stephen K. George. I added The Parable of the Sadhu (link opens a PDF) for the first day, as an easy to read example of a kind of naive ethical criticism. The discussion last year about censoring Huckleberry Finn was so engaging and profitable, that I added Huckleberry Finn and two philosophical articles on that novel. I got rid of the Wilde, although I loved teaching it, because something had to go, and the Hesse basically does what I was using Wilde to do. I switched Sartre for Borges and back about 1035 times before finally settling on Sartre again. I added some readings on postmodern criticism. I also added the Angela Carter feminist fairy tale, and a reading by Jennifer Crusie on fairy tales and the romance novel. My hope is that the fairy tale and folk tale and their unique position in the history of ethical criticism serve as a kind of minor theme in the course. I also added an article on Crusie from JPRS. I added the IEP entry on contemporary ethical criticism, because I basically cover all of that anyway, and I think it’s important for students to have a sense of the different live options on offer today.
The organization is artificial, but I tend to see that as a good thing. Everything really is related to everything else.
Of course, I am still tinkering. Some items will probably be moved and deleted as we embark on the journey. But I hope this “in flux” syllabus is interesting anyway! If you’re curious about any of these readings feel free to ask in the comments.
9/4 Introduction to Course
Parable of the Sadhu (handout)
I. How fiction and moral philosophy can enhance each other
9/6 Marianne Jennings, “The Absence of Stories: Filling the Void in Ethics” (George)
Nina Rosenstand, “Stories and Morals” (George)
9/11 Ursula Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”
Wayne Booth, “Why Ethical Criticism Can Never Be Simple” (George)
9/13 Cunningham, “Reading For Life” (George)
Tobias Wolf, “The Chain,” “The Night In Question”
9/18 Jack Harrell, “What Violence in Literature Must Teach Us” (George)
Orson Scott Card, “The Problem of Evil in Fiction” (George)
“Sunshine,” Lynn Freed
Recommended: Guts, Chuck Palahniuk (FYI: extremely graphic and disturbing)
9/20 Marshall Gregory, “Ethical Criticism: What It Is and Why It Matters” (George)
“I Got Somebody in Staunton,” William Henry Lewis
II. Theories of art and ethical criticism
9/25 Plato, Republic (360 B.C.E.) (selections) (PDF)
9/27 John Gardner, “Premises on Art and Morality” (George)
Nussbaum, “The ‘Ancient Quarrel’: Literature and Moral Philosophy” (George)
10/2 Leo Tolstoy, What is Art? (1896) (excerpts)
Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) (first three chapters)
10/4 Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) (chapter four through end)
10/11 Susan L. Feagin, “Incompatible Interpretations of Art”
Recommended: “The Death of the Author: An Analytical Autopsy,” Peter Lamarque
10/16 Angela Carter, “The Tiger’s Bride”
Recommended: Margaret Atwood, “Happy Endings”
10/18 Class Cancelled: Professor at conference: start reading Huckleberry Finn!
IV. Huckleberry Finn, moral motivation, and censorship
10/23 Huckleberry Finn [available online here: Huckleberry Finn]
10/25 Review Ch. 16 of Huckleberry Finn
Jonathan Bennett, “The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn”
10/30 Alan Goldman, “Huckleberry Finn and Moral Motivation”
11/1 John H. Wallace, “The Case Against Huck Finn” (George)
Dudley Barlow, “Why We Still Need Huckleberry Finn” (George)
Toni Morrison, “Huckleberry Finn: An Amazing, Troubling Book” (George)
V. Philosophical fiction
11/6 Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy (1872) (selections)
Recommended: Beyond Good and Evil, Ch. IX What Is Noble?
11/8 Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf (1927)
11/15 Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism
11/20 Sartre, No Exit
11/27 No Exit (cont)
VI. Analytic ethical criticism: snapshot of the contemporary scene
11/29 Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Ethical Criticism of Art
12/4 Richard A. Posner, “Against Ethical Criticism” (George)
Wayne C. Booth, “Who Is Responsible In Ethical Criticism?” (George)
VII. Gender, Genre, and Ethical Criticism
12/9 Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie (first half)
This is Not Your Mother’s Cinderella: Romance Novel as Feminist Fairy Tale, by Jennifer Crusie
12/11 Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie (second half)
12/13 Joanne Hollows, “Reading Romantic Fiction”
Glass Boys (Douglas & McIntyre, 2011), Nicole Lundrigan’s fourth novel, is being reprinted next month in the US. Lundrigan is originally from Newfoundland, where Glass Boys, an example of “Newfoundland Gothic,” is set. Here’s the description (from Goodreads):
With vivid and unflinching prose, Nicole Lundrigan has created a riveting and deeply human saga of the persistence of evil and the depths and limits of love.
When Roy Trench is killed in a drunken prank gone wrong, his brother Lewis sees blood on the hands of the man responsible: the abusive alcoholic, Eli Fagan. Though the courts rule the death an accident, the event opens a seam of hate between the two families of Knife’s Point, Newfoundland.
Desperate to smother the painful past with love, Lewis marries Wilda, and the pleasure he takes in their two children — Melvin and Toby — recalls the happier days of his childhood with Roy. But as he watches his small family fracture, the darkness of the past begins to cloud the present, leading Lewis back to Eli Fagan — and his watchful stepson, Garrett Glass.
In the style of Newfoundland literature, established by Michael Crummey and Lisa Moore, Glass Boys is the haunting story of an unforgivable crime that brings two families to the brink.
Glass Boys is beautifully, if disturbingly, written. Characters speak in Newfoundland dialect. Here’s an early example, the Trench brothers, Roy and Lewis, getting drunk on home-brewed potato vodka one afternoon:
“Only thing that’s going to fix me, now, is a good woman.”
“And where’s you going to find a woman willing to take on that type of labor?”
“What type of labor?”
“You, that’s what.”
“They be lining up once I put my sign out.”
“Yeah, clamoring for cruel and unusual punishment. She’d have to have some awful strong stomach on her.”
“Some broads go in for that.”
“The only broad that’s going to fall for your charms, now, is Nellie.”
“Oh, yes,” Roy reached down, rubbed Nellie’s head with vigorous strokes. Leaned and poured an ounce into Nellie’s water and she hoisted her fat trunk off the floor, clicked a few steps, lapped. “That’s all you’ll be having, too, Miss Nellie. Don’t you be looking for more. We’re the ones wants to be slobbering around on all fours. You’re already there.”
Shortly after, Roy is dead at the hands of Eli Fagan, and the war between the Trenches and Fagans, including the next generation, is on. This is a novel about family and about its impact — usually negative – on a person’s outlook and prospects. The excerpt is a good example of why I didn’t enjoy this novel: even the simple act of petting the family dog is relayed with a kind of negativity. Something that could potentially be a heartwarming little movement is described in terms that invite reader distaste.
Virtually everyone who has reviewed this book recognizes that it is (a) well written, and (b) dark. I found it to be so unrelentingly depressing I had a hard time getting through it, and would not have pushed through to the end if the publisher hadn’t sent it to me. In particular, one of the POV characters is a pedophile, a subject about which I personally prefer not to read. Other reviews marvel at the way Lundrigan refuses to allow the reader to hate even seemingly evil characters. This is helped by the fact that Glass Boys is written from the point of view of at least six different characters. I regret that the compelling and unusual setting and the lovely prose could not overcome my dislike for this kind of writing that unearths the darkness in every corner of every thing from the human psyche to the human form to inanimate objects and nature itself. As always, your mileage may vary.
Here’s a more positive spin from The National Post:
Everyone has a history, and this novel is built on that premise. It highlights how, nine times out of 10, the things that shape people are beyond them. The effect is that while we won’t forgive her characters, we understand them, and few writers have the skill required to make despicable characters hard to hate. Likewise, Lundrigan’s “good guys” are flawed enough to feel human.
Twitter is great for snooping and horning in on things. I saw that two of my favorite bloggers, Amy of My Friend Amy and Iris of Iris on Books, were planning to read David Mitchell’s 2004 novel Cloud Atlas , and asked to join in. Then a fourth blogger, Zibilee, decided read along, too. Zibilee’s blog, Raging Bibliomania, is new discovery, another great thing about twitter. Our plan is to read a chapter or two a week, and rotate the posts around. This post is on the first two chapters.
First some background, from Wikipedia:
Cloud Atlas is a 2004 novel, the third book by British author David Mitchell. It won the British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award and the Richard & Judy Book of the Year award, and was short-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize, Nebula Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and other awards.
Cloud Atlas is now a film to be released in October. While I adore the films of Tom Tykver (Winter Sleepers, Run Lola Run, Heaven, Perfume), I couldn’t be less happy with the Wachowskis or the “ensemble cast” headed up by one of my least favorite actors, Tom Hanks, but maybe it will be great:
The novel was adapted to film by directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis. With an ensemble cast to cover the film’s multiple storylines, production began in September 2011 at Studio Babelsberg in Germany. The film is scheduled to be released in the United States on October 26, 2012.
Cloud Atlas has an unusual structure. It has eleven chapters, and six intertwined narratives. The first five chapters present the first part of each of five distinct narratives. How distinct? In terms of both setting and style, very. Ranging from mid-19th century Chatham Isles, near New Zealand, to 1930s Belgium, to a 1970s California political thriller, to a contemporary assisted living facility in London, to a near future Korea dominated by corporations and genetic modification of humans. The sixth chapter presents one whole narrative. Then chapters 7,8,9,10,11 present the second half of each of the first five narratives, in reverse order. So it goes like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Here’s a screen shot from the Table of Contents in my Kindle edition:
In an interview with The Paris Review, Mitchell says that
“Cloud Atlas” is the name of a piece of music by the Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi, who was Yoko Ono’s first husband. I bought the CD just because of that track’s beautiful title.
In the same Paris Review interview, when asked how he came up with the idea for Cloud atlas, Mitchell responds:
The first time I read Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, I didn’t know what I was dealing with. I thought we’d be going back to the interrupted narrative later on in the book, and I very much wanted to. Finishing the novel, I felt a bit cheated that Calvino hadn’t followed through with what he’d begun—which was, of course, the whole point of the book. But a voice said this: What would it actually look like if a mirror were placed at the end of the book, and you continued into a second half that took you back to the beginning? That idea was knocking around in my head since I was eighteen or nineteen years old and, by my third novel, had arrived at the front of the queue.
The first chapter is the South Sea Pacific journal of an Adam Ewing, a Californian aboard the Prophetess, who journals his experiences including the white Christian missionaries’ work on the islands. What I enjoyed about this one is Ewing’s moral compass getting all screwy as he navigates new fields dealing with colonizers, missionaries, native peoples, and seamen. His voice is not delightful to read (unless you love Defoe?) but when I fought through the priggish formal tone of his diary I liked what he said:
As many truths as men. Occasionally, I glimpse a truer Truth, hiding in imperfect simulacrums of itself, but as I approach, it bestirs itself & moves deeper into the thorny swamp of dissent.
Mitchell, David (2008-11-13). Cloud Atlas: A Novel (p. 17). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
The second chapter is the letters of Adam Frobisher, a musical genius, rogue, sexual omnivore, written to his lover and best friend, Sixsmith, in Cambridge, about his life in the town of Zedelghem in Belgium where he is charming and lying his way to become amanuensis to a reclusive and irascible English musical legend Vyvyan Ayres. Adam is irresistable. A complete narcissist but astute and very compelling:
Faith, the least exclusive club on Earth, has the craftiest doorman. Every time I’ve stepped through its wide-open doorway, I find myself stepping out on the street again.
Mitchell, David (2008-11-13). Cloud Atlas: A Novel (p. 75). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
I could understand some readers who feel Cloud Atlas is gimmicky, or that it apes too seriously other literary styles, or is too precious, or too knowing. As the NYT’s Tom Bissell put it, “The novel is frustrating not because it is too smart but because it is not nearly as smart as its author.” I’m sure I missed most of the literary allusions. I certainly had to use the Kindle dictionary more in the first two chapters than in any other book I’ve read. But I like everything about Cloud Atlas so far. I like the structure, I like the fact that the style and tone changes dramatically to reflect the setting, I like the surprising but sense-making connections between the stories (will I destroy my nonexistent literary cred if I compare that to Crash?), and I like the implied author I sense behind the words. I’ll leave you with a wonderful quote, again from the Paris Review interview:
Is there such a thing as overreading? Just because it wasn’t part of my grand design doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Things do happen in books that the writer is too submersed in bringing the narrative to life to notice. To put it a little pretentiously, Cloud Atlas is a novel about whose echoes, eddies, and cross-references even its author possesses only an imperfect knowledge. That’s not unique—many writers can say the same about many books.
There is much more to say about this book, but alas, I chose the week I am on vacation with my family to post! Have you read Cloud Atlas? Any thoughts?
Welcome to Part Six of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. I’m reading from the Kaufmann edition, but you can find this text online, for example, Ian Johnston’s.
This section is titled “We Scholars.” Uh oh.
In this section Nietzsche attacks his fellow philosophers, as well as the scientists of his day. Nietzsche notes that science is valued more than philosophy:
Science is flourishing today and her good conscience is written all over her face, while the level to which all modern philosophy has gradually sunk, this rest of philosophy today, invites mistrust and displeasure, if not mockery and pity.
Nietzsche notes that “today” if a man is praised for being a “philosopher”, it’s not because he has truly engaged with life, but because he lives apart, “prudently” or “wisely”:
Wisdom — seems to the rabble a kind of escape, a means and trick for getting well out of a wicked game. But the genuine philosopher — it seems to us, my friends? — lives “unphilosophically”and “unwisely,” above all imprudently, and feels the burden and the duty of a hundred attempts and temptations of life — he risks himself constantly, he plays the wicked game–