Friday, June 11, 2010

Escape by Carolyn Jessop

As a work of literature, this book could have used additional editing. As a story, however, it's compelling and disturbing.

Escape is the personal account of Carolyn Jessop's life and eventual escape from polygamy in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Married at 18 to a man three times her age, Carolyn recounts harrowing memories of abuse in every sense of the word--physical and mental abuse, the abuse of power, and even spiritual abuse. It's truly disturbing when ever she mentions specific dates; it reminds the reader that these events occurred only a few decades ago, and continued into the 21st century.

The story is interesting and somewhat well strung-together. My main issue with the editing was that many details were repeated multiple times, and I felt that some of the stories were redundant, particularly those relating to Carolyn's sister-wives. I also had a difficult time following Carolyn's actual evolution throughout her journey. Perhaps because it's written in hindsight, she chose to emphasize mainly her rebellious qualities (or rather, the situations where she was willing to stand up for herself--regarded as rebellious by her husband and sister-wives). While I'm sure her experiences over nearly two decades of abusive marriage significantly changed her over the years, I felt that since it was being narrated from the already-changed Carolyn's perspective, it was difficult to understand or get a genuine feel for her initial faith in the FLDS religion and culture.

One aspect of the book that I found particularly interesting was how men were also manipulated and mistreated in the FLDS. Since Escape is the story of a woman's experience, it often emphasizes the crimes committed by men in the community, and women are generally presented as mere pawns within a larger power-play. Carolyn does mention quite a few times, however, the abuses that men suffered and how men also served as pawns within the power-structure of the FLDS (particularly when Warren Jeffs came to power). Although her husband, Merrill Jessop, is undeniably a cruel, monstrous person, Carolyn does present us with a sliver of his his own sad story. She describes how as a young man Merrill had fallen in love with a woman, and everything was done to prevent him from marrying her. He was forced into an arranged marriage, was not allowed to see the woman he loved, and was forced time and time again to marry women he did not love or want.

I find it deeply touching that Carolyn included this detail about her husband, who is otherwise described as a cruel, manipulative man, who was essentially a puppet to Warren Jeffs and his power-hungry wife Barbara. Carolyn mentions other crimes committed by the FLDS against men in the community, and these details make her a particularly compelling narrator. Although Carolyn suffered as a woman, she understands the seriousness of the FLDS's crimes from a holistic humanitarian perspective.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rock Candy by Femke Hiemstra

View a video preview and images from the book.

I've been a fan of Hiemstra's work for some time now. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to see that she was releasing a book and I finally got a copy this month for my birthday!

Kirsten Anderson's introductory essay sets the tone, preparing the viewer for the strange combination of childlike whimsy and subtle horror that marks Hiemstra's work. Each image presents a mysterious narrative that demands to be puzzled over. Content aside, the technical proficiency of Hiemstra's paintings and drawings is pretty amazing. Everything appears just so, not a single mark out of place.

Despite its small size, you really get a feel for the amount of detail that goes into Femke Hiemstra's work (still, I kind of wish this book was HUGE just so the images could be inspected more closely). Many of the spreads include a full-page image with a close-up on the preceding or following page. There are also quite a few spreads from Hiemstra's sketchbook, which fit in nicely with the finished pieces since on any given sketchbook page you're apt to find a little thumbnail or character sketch that was incorporated into one of the finished works in the book.

The book is also beautifully designed and edited. From the die-cut cover to the carefully chosen type (including hand-drawn type by Hiemstra), each aspect of the book's design was created with the utmost attention to detail. If you have any interest in pop surrealism, low brow art, or just plain good looking books, definitely pick up a copy of Rock Candy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Frank O'Hara

A short poem by Frank O'Hara:

Recently I've been neglecting this blog.
Books I've read in the past month or so:
First They Killed by Father by Loung Ung
The Children of Men by P.D. James
The Street by Ann Petry
Critical Condition: Women on the Edge of Violence edited by Amy Scholder
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Right now I'm reading Frankenstein for the third time and I've decided to conquer The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I'm also reading many books about museums for my Art History thesis. Real updates/reviews soon I hope.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tigerbuttah: A Hand-Painted All Ages Story Inspired by Golden Books

Becky Dreistadt is the creator of Tiny Kitten Teeth, a beautiful (and adorable) hand-painted web-comic. Her Golden Books-inspired project features Tigerbuttah, "a little tiger who doesn’t know much about life yet." He is featured weekly in single-paneled comics on her site. You can see more of Becky's work at her deviantArt page.

There are only 15 days left to make a pledge for this project. It sort of slipped from my mind for a few weeks, but I suddenly remembered it and made my $15 pledge today. The project has already reached its goal of $5,000 but additional funds will be used to print more copies of the book and increase their distribution.

Click below for more info about the project--a $15 donation gets you a PDF of her mini-comic "Little Beaky" as well as a copy of the book when it's printed.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

I browsed some of the reviews for this book on Goodreads while I was still in the process of reading it. Many found it inspiring, some daunting, and others seemed to be just plain put off by Kingsolver's "pushy" attitude. I did feel that Kingsolver occassionally seemed to be scolding me. As much as I'm sure she'd like this book to appeal to everyone, for the most part I think she's probably preaching to the choir (or at least, people who agree with her views even if they aren't quite living according to them yet). Nonetheless, Kingsolver and her family provide a wealth of information--anectodal, factual, and delicious (recipes!)

I would group myself among the people who found this book absolutely inspiring. Each semester I drudge through in college draws me ever closer to the idyllic vision of living in the mountains, growing my own food, and being surrounded by beauty and life. Perhaps not exactly where a college degree "should" take me, but I feel increasingly attracted to such a direct way of living. Kingsolver emphasizes how this directness--planting, nurturing, and harvesting foods right in your backyard, or purchasing them from your neighbors--creates an invaluable link between people and their food. Quite a few times she mentions that Americans are increasingly disconnected from their food sources, and this may be why we are hard-pressed to define an actual American food culture.

Additionally, and despite Kingsolver's tut-tutting, she repeatedly states that eating local and organic is something that everyone can do (perhaps in varying degrees, but she also proposes that every little bit helps). She backs these claims up with hard facts by analyzing the funds her family spent on growing their own food and buying food from farmer's markets, compared to the "hidden" fees that consumers pay when they purchase food that has traveled a great distance to get to the grocery store.

And I must say...the recipes at the end of each chapter sound divine--I'll definitely be trying many of them. Homemade mozerella? YES PLEASE!

Overall, I think Kingsolver presents an insightful, humble, and well-researched solution to many of America's food problems. The solution isn't to make farms bigger and ship foods cross-country. The solution, instead, involves stepping out into our own yards and cultivating even the smallest garden; seeking out local farmers and farmers markets in our communities; and learning (and appreciating) what the earth beneath our own two feet has to offer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Convalescent by Jessica Anthony

I literally just finished reading this book today during my morning commute on the train. Still not quite sure how I feel about the ending, but I loved the rest of the book. I suppose the ending is kind of amazing because it's so bizarre (although that certainly isn't the only part of the book I would describe that way).

Anyway, The Convalescent is about a small ugly man named Rovar Pfliegman who sells [stolen] meat out of a broken down bus in the middle of a field in Virginia. The narrative jumps back and forth between the history of the Pfliefman's and Rovar's day to day existence and occasionally also his childhood. All of these aspects are seamlessly woven together to create a portrait of a simultaneously humorous and somber existence.

I could probably ramble forever about all the little things in this book that were interesting and funny and contribute to making it totally-worth-reading. However, one thing in particular has been nibbling on my brain as I've been thinking about this book. Rovar is a strange narrator. About 3/4 of the way through the book, he gets a look at his folder in Dr. Monica's office, and sees her notes about him: "Pseudomaniacal tendencies...Invents various illnesses for personal attention...PHYSICALLY, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HIM" (187). This blunt note comes as a surprise, as Rovar laments his unfortunate physical state repeatedly throughout the narrative. Is it all a lie? Or do others simply not perceive his pain? Are his claims of disfigurement not physical but rather a metaphorical reflection of himself, or society?

Rovar's reliability as a narrator comes into question, but it's not quite as simple as just that. Since throughout the book he also is relating the history of his people, Rovar's narration also represents a construction of history--an untold history, no less. And with Rovar as the supposed last remaining Pfliegman, he is the only source for this history aside from a book given to him by his grandfather: The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Hungarians by Anonymus (sic) (as for the title...I think that's about right). Throughout the book, it is implied that the weakest members of a society, those whose history is forgotten and left untold, are often the ones who hold society together, the ones who create an invisible skeleton upon which the epic "mainstream" version of history can be constructed. Perhaps not a novel concept necessarily, but Anthony presents it with enough humor and fantasy to make one really wonder what could be missing from our history books, and how that history was decided on.

Aside from the epic question of HISTORY, The Convalescent also simply calls attention to the small things in life--whether the small things are actually things, or even people.

It's a beautiful book and I highly recommend it. The book design and bookjacket are also wonderful so even if you hate reading it, I'm sure you'll at least enjoy holding it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabrial Garcia Marquez

Before reading this book, I had only read Marquez's more recent novel Memories of My Melancholy Whores. I read it for a World Lit class. We were asked to read any novel by Marquez, and due to the pressures of other classwork, I chose the shortest, smallest book I could find--Memories of My Melancholy Whores fit that bill nicely. It was a quick read and I read it twice, the second time so that I could better write an essay about it for class. I found Marquez's writing magical and illuminating--simultaneously gritty and ethereal. One Hundred Years of Solitude, which must be at least 4 or 5 times the length of Memories is also a beautiful tale, apparently heavily influenced by his grandmother's storytelling. This novel seems much less obviously personal than Memories (in which the narrator/main character seems to be Marquez himself in many ways). Nonetheless, there is a sense of childlike wonder, as though Marquez has placed himself simultaneously in the position of storyteller (with his grandmother's straight face--even at the most absurd moments--and fantastic stories) and avid listener, eyes wide with excitement.

One of the things I found most interesting about this novel is the sense of time that is created as the story progresses. Ursula, a strong woman and the character who most clearly ties together the various generations (aside from her son Aureliano perhaps), represents a "wise" and grounded sort of figure--a woman who has seen everything and is ready to meet life head on. She repeatedly sees in her own children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren the repetition of time, old habits, and dark family secrets. Despite the passage of time (100 years or so sounds about right!), one gets the sense that time is standing still, with new characters inhabiting a simultaneously different and similar realm as their ancestors. Almost like a parallel universe, but with the lingering shadows of the past very much present rather than completely unseen.

Unfortunately I'm writing this quite a few weeks after I finished the novel. The start of school has interrupted my thought process on this book. There are many characters with similar names, which gets confusing (thank goodness for the family tree at the beginning of the book). In a way I think this is appropriate, however, especially in light of Ursula's viewpoint, from which history appears to repeat itself. A somewhat disheartening notion lined with optimism...the idea that no matter how far we feel from our roots, we are all connected in an inescapable way.