Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
By: Oliver LaFarge
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1929
Laughing Boy is the story of the clash of Navajo and American societies in the early 1900s. The title character, Laughing Boy, marries Slim Girl, a young orphaned Navajo who was sent to American schools as a child. LaFarge explores the deep love that Laughing Boy has for the Navajo way and the bitterness that Slim Girl experiences as a result of her time spent in the American school where she was forced to take on the American ways and forget her own. Slim Girl seeks revenge on the Americans by marrying a Navajo, but ultimately finds a link to her people that she never expected.
While I often struggled with the flowery language used to describe Navajo society, mythology, rituals, and even everyday living, I was interested to read a story that is different from any Pulitzer winners I have read to date. Having lived as a child in New Mexico and spending time there most summers of my life since, I was able to visualize LaFarge's descriptions of the outpost towns, landscape, and Navajo dwellings and art. I know I would have never read this book on my own and I'm not sure that I will read it again, but it did expose me to some unfamiliar Navajo ideas and traditions which always make a reading worthwhile.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
By: Claude H. Van Tyne
I do apologize for the delay in this post, but this book was such a BEATING that it took me a month to get through it. OK, so I'm being a little dramatic, but it was rough. I think part of the problem is that it is volume 2 of Van Tyne's series, The Founding of the American Republic. It became a series when Van Tyne began writing and realized that he could fit it all into one volume, but only the second volume won the Pulitzer. Because he is in the middle of the story, I didn't feel like I fully understood where he was picking up. He also does not write a chronological narrative but focuses more on topical subjects, so I lost interest quickly. The Pulitzer was awarded posthumously, which I find interesting, but that is about it.
I did continue on with my reading while finishing this one, so I will have a post for Laughing Boy within the next couple of days!
Monday, October 27, 2008
Being a Texan and one whose family has lived in Texas for generations (since before it was a state) I was SUPER excited about reading Marquis James's The Raven. I know that Texans can be annoying about their home state, but if you are from there you understand the deep pride we have in our state's history. I will qualify this by saying that I do not hate your state, or country for that matter. In fact, I love to travel and even live in different places to see how the people live and what it is about their location that they have to be proud of. No matter where you come from there are things in it's past to be proud of. I hope that you are able to find that about your home.
OK, now we can move on. I was excited about reading The Raven because I spent a good deal of my childhood learning about Sam Houston's role in Texas history, but I realized that I knew very little about the actual man. For those unfamiliar with Texas history, Sam Houston was not only a Congressman and Governor of Tennessee, but he was president of the Republic of Texas, Senator from the state of Texas and Governor of Texas. I had know idea what a wild life Houston lived and what a romantic figure he was in America during his lifetime.
The physical descriptions that I read about him gave him a type of John Wayne-image in my mind (maybe not the real John Wayne, but definitely the type of characters he played). He was tall, handsome, and mysterious. A free spirit, Houston a good part of his life living with the Cherokee - even becoming a type of adopted son to a great Cherokee chief. The Cherokee were responsible for his nickname, The Raven.
I could go on and on about all that I learned about Sam Houston in James's book, but I won't bore you. The book is not difficult reading and not so boring either. If you like biographies, I think you'll like this book, but I would be interested to see if there are any non-Texans out there who have read The Raven and if they found it as interesting as I did.
(** Special Note ** I do apologize for being late in posting. For those of you who don't know, I am in school right now and find it difficult to motivate myself to any extra writing. But, I continue to read whether I write or not. Thank you to those who do read the blog. I will do my best to not let you down!)
Thursday, October 09, 2008
By: Julia Peterkin
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
The Training of an American: The Earlier Life & Letters of Walter H. Page is, interestingly, not the first Pulitzer for Burton J. Hendrick, and, on top of that, it is not the first Pulitzer about Walter H. Page for Hendrick. Hendrick's The Life & Letters of Walter H. Page, focusing on Page's later years as American ambassador to Great Britain, won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1923. Page, whose name doesn't often appear in our modern studies of American history (at least as far as I remember), must have been a greatly admired figure in the 1920s.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
By: Charles Edward Russell
Doubleday, Page & Company, 1927
In The American Orchestra & Theodore Thomas Charles Edward Russell takes on a subject that I had never considered before. Before Thomas began the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, there had not existed a permanent orchestra fully supported by public benefactors and ticket sales. Orchestra's did exist that were supported with government fund but none that could support itself. These government funded orchestras in the United States played music that, Thomas felt, was substandard in the world of music. He sought, with his orchestra, to introduce to the country great European composers like Beethoven and Wagner. His first orchestra made it's home in New York, but later it traveled the country. Thomas ended his career as the creator of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra which still plays in the orchestra hall he dreamed of and was finally able to have built shortly before his death in 1904. The hall still has the name Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall inscribed in it's facade.
The story of Thomas and his orchestra is a painful one. Thomas spent most of his life in debt, partially due to his generosity and partially due to the fact that this type of orchestra was a novel idea in the United States and took some time to gain a footing. Thomas was also often criticized for not playing the type of music that the public wanted to hear - his standards were very high and he refused to lower them to play the waltzes and polkas demanded by the people. In the end, though, he succeeded in raising the standards of the people.
Russell knew Thomas and covered him as a journalist before writing this biography. Because of this he often writes in the first person. This is generally against all rules for this type of writing, but I found it a bit refreshing. It gave the story a more personal note - Russell knew this or that because he had witnessed it first hand. I truly enjoyed reading about this particular part of American history that I had never read about before.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
By: Thornton Wilder
Albert & Charles Boni, Inc., 1927
The story begins with the collapse of an old Incan rope bridge over a canyon in Peru. Five people die, one person witnesses the event. That one person is Brother Juniper, a friar. Brother Juniper decides that there must be a reason that each person was on this particular bridge at this particular time, which must have been destined as the time for each of their deaths, and sets out to probe all possible nooks and crannies of their lives to determine what that reason might be.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey reads almost like a parable. Brother Juniper examines each life lost on the Bridge for any signs that would give good reason for that individual to be removed from this earth at that time. I won't go into the details of the lives so as not to give away exactly who dies, but it is true that each of the lives are connected to the others in some way. There is one woman who connects them all and, ironically, her life is not taken.
The question Brother Juniper seeks to answer is an age-old question that inevitably appears when tragedy strikes. "Why?" Was that person just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is there a "destiny" on each of our lives that determines precisely when we will die? Why does it appear so unfair when the seemingly undeserving suffer? I believe that we often just have to place our trust in God at such times, knowing that we won't always have answers.
Thornton's book is very short (I think I read it in 3 hours) and easy to read. I recommend you read it to see what you think about his conclusions on why tragedies might inexplicably strike.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Thursday, May 08, 2008
By: Vernon Parrington
Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1927
In Main Currents in American Thought, Parrington uses the example of important literary figures in American history to show the movement of thought through the years. His main focus is the difference between Hamiltonian federalism (big federal government, focus on capitalism) and Jeffersonian populism (states rights, focus on agrarianism) over time. The interesting thing is that, even though some of the issues might have shifted around there is still a basic divide in our country between those who feel that the federal government should be more involved in our lives and those who believe that that should be left to the states.
Parrington's book is not entertaining in the least. But, it would be a useful tool for research as each literary figure's section is neatly separated from the others and could be helpful to the researcher looking for information on a certain person. The thing that impressed me most was the vast amount of research that Parrington must have done to complete this work. Many of the literary figures he focused on were not necessarily the most famous. Imagine doing in depth research in the 1920s - no Internet, not even easy access between different libraries. This is truly an impressive feat.
Totally unrelated fact - Vernon Parrington was also the second head coach of the University of Oklahoma football team. Just thought that might interest somebody.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
By: Sinclair Lewis
Harcourt Brace and Company, 1925
Arrowsmith follows the life of Dr. Martin Arrowsmith as he moves from reading Gray's Anatomy in a doctor's office in a small Midwest town to an unhappy doctor and, finally, to one of the world's leading scientist. Arrowsmith move up the ranks as a scientist with the unwavering support of his wife, Leora. He spends most of his life skeptical of most doctors of the time who practiced medicine superficially - convincing people of ailment so that they would have to pay for treatment - and caring very little for finding out exactly why illnesses and diseases occurred.
When I finished this book, I breathed a contented sigh of relief and for a moment felt very happy that Martin Arrowsmith was finally able to find the life he had so desired all of his life. He spent his entire life searching for the thing that would make him happiest and actually found it. But then, after I really thought about it, I realized that he had accomplished this at great cost. He was an incredibly selfish man. Along the way his searching cost the death of his faithful and loyal first wife, whom he often neglected, and the abandonment of his second wife and his only child. He hurt many people along the way. So, my question is, is it truly worth it? Our natural inclination as humans is to search for what will make us happy. Lewis leaves us with the assumption that Arrowsmith died happy, no matter how he hurt others along the way. Is that reality? Is it possible to search for our own happiness and find it if we end up virtually alone?
Lewis's book, like his others, carries heavy overtones of sarcasm - often resulting in comedic scenarios. He was highly critical of American society and capitalism at the turn of the century. The book was a bit long, though, for all of the criticisms it containing. I got his point long before reaching the 440th page. Interestingly, Lewis declined the Pulitzer because he felt that these kinds of prizes caused authors to write for the prize committee and not for excellence. He also felt that "the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment."
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Thursday, March 27, 2008
By: M. A. Dewolfe Howe
Atlantic Monthly Press, 1924
Barrett Wendell is probably not someone that most have heard of. He was an author and Harvard professor. He travelled the world lecturing on the writings of Shakespeare and other important literary figures. He was well known in his time, especially in the New England area.
The importance of Barrett Wendell & His Letters, to me, is not necessarily the record of Wendell's life revealed through his vast amounts of written correspondence. More importantly we see the development of intellectualism in the years prior to and even during World War I. We also see the political struggles of the time - especially the great debate over neutrality in the years prior to World War I.
This book became a bit tedious towards the end, especially because the most personal of his letters were omitted. I was thrilled, though, in the last chapter to find references to two different Pulitzer prize winning authors who were writing their prize-winning books at the time - including Albert J. Beveridge (The Life of John Marshall) and Booth Tarkington (The Magnificent Ambersons). I am noticing that the books written at least in the first half of the twentieth century quite often make reference to prominent people and events of the time - assuming that the reader knows what they are talking about. More often than not I do not know what they are referring to - I might recognize a name but not know it's significance. It feels good every once in a while to know exactly what they are talking about!
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
by: Marilynne Robinson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004
As you can tell, I have skipped ahead quite a few years. My husband and I had a long road trip this past weekend and I thought there would be no better time to get an entire book knocked out. We found Gilead on CD and it was the perfect length for our trip.
Gilead is a kind of letter/journal "written" by Rev. John Ames, a pastor in his late seventies, to his 7-year old son. Ames knows that he will not be around to watch his son grow up or to instruct him in the ways of life. So, he writes this letter to his son - full of family history and tips on life. Ames tells the stories of his grandfather, a pastor heavily involved in the raids of abolitionist John Brown; his father, a pastor also, who deals bitterly with the family's violent past and associations; and, finally, himself and his dealings with his best friend's son who is like his own. Ames also comments on his son's daily activities and shares life lessons.
I would not necessarily recommend listening to this book in an audio format. I haven't looked at an actual copy of the book, but I think it might do a better job of cutting the book up into journal entries. The book is also not chronological, so I would often find that if I zoned out even for a minute I didn't know if he was talking about his father, grandfather, son, godson, or himself. It is interesting, though, because it reads like any journal a person would write recording their memories. Memories don't always come in chronological order. Sometimes a memory leads Ames to remember an important lesson he learned from that event and he proceeds to expound on it.
Coming from the family of a pastor, Gilead had special significance for me. To hear the thoughts and struggles of a pastor reminded me much of what my own father has had to deal with over the years. It is a touching story of how the generations that come before shape what we become, but also how we can learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. I feel that Gilead might be a book I would purchase to have on my bookshelf and reread in the future.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
By: Margaret Wilson
It is so easy for me to get bogged down in many of these books that require so much thinking. I have learned so much from the heavier books, but I often find myself looking forward to the novel that won each year. I know that for at least a week or two I will be able to relax. The Able McLauglins was, for me, a welcome respite. I could just sit back and read.
The story centers around a Scottish family in the Midwest during the late 1800s. It focuses mainly on the oldest son, Wully, who is a Civil War soldier returned from battle. We see him become a man as he woos his wife, builds his home, faces great heartache and pride, and, ultimately, triumphs over the great foe of his life.
I continue to enjoy the novels that take place in the Midwest. Until now the stories have mostly been about the developing cities of the Midwest. It was interesting to read a story focusing on the life of farmers on the plains. We often forget what the early pioneers had to endure. It is also interesting to see that many of the interpersonal problems that they dealt with are the same as problems we have today. Definitely an interesting and easy read.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
By: Charles Howard McIlwain
The Macmillan Company, 1924
Thank goodness for the rare prize-winning book out there that is less that 200 pages long! I have been a bit overwhelmed, especially in the non-fiction category, with the multi-volume works that won Pulitzers. Fortunately, this book was the exception.
McIlwain belonged to the historical school of thought concerning the Revolution and constitutional conflict that dominated the early twentieth century, although that school was beginning to wane as the progressive historians, who focused on economic motives for the Revolution rather than constitutional, took over. In The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation, he spends a great deal of time attempting to prove his argument that the colonists had constitutional precedents that supported their demand for their rights as Englishmen. McIlwain mainly compares England's constitutional relationship with Ireland to its relationship with the American colonies, but also its relationship with Scotland and several other of Great Britain's imperial holdings.
The argument is interesting, although I wouldn't say the entire book is. I am interested to see how interpretations of the American Revolution evolve over the years through the reading of these Pulitzer winning books.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
By: Michael Pupin
Scribner's Sons, 1923
From Immigrant to Inventor provides the modern reader with glimpse into the life and experiences of an immigrant to the United States in the late 19th century. Pupin's goal in the book was to describe the great expansion of the sciences, especially physics, in the United States around beginning of the 20th century, but he spends a vast majority of the book giving his life story to prove to the reader his authority on the subject.
This book contains two types of passages - passages describing events in Pupin's life and passages describing the scientific concepts he studied. The passages describing events provide a fascinating story of the life and trials of an immigrant in a new land. The passages describing scientific concepts lost me completely - and I really tried to understand! I finished the book and still could not give a definition of what it was that Pupin had invented. I knew it had something to do with electromagnetic theory and radios and telephones, but that was the extent of my understanding. So, I went to my trusty friend, www.wikipedia.com, and found this: "Pupin is best known for his landmark theory of modern electrical filters and for his numerous patents, including a means of greatly extending the range of long-distance telephone communication by placing loading coils (of wire) at predetermined intervals along the transmitting wire (known as pupinization)." Hmmm.