review: class matters

12 January 2014

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: library
pages:
review written: 6.1.14
edition read:
originally published: 2005


The acclaimed New York Times series on social class in America--and its implications for the way we live our lives
We Americans have long thought of ourselves as unburdened by class distinctions. We have no hereditary aristocracy or landed gentry, and even the poorest among us feel that they can become rich through education, hard work, or sheer gumption. And yet social class remains a powerful force in American life.
In Class Matters, a team of New York Times reporters explores the ways in which class--defined as a combination of income, education, wealth, and occupation--influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity. We meet individuals in Kentucky and Chicago who have used education to lift themselves out of poverty and others in Virginia and Washington whose lack of education holds them back. We meet an upper-middle-class family in Georgia who moves to a different town every few years, and the newly rich in Nantucket whose mega-mansions have driven out the longstanding residents. And we see how class disparities manifest themselves at the doctor's office and at the marriage altar. (review from goodreads)

My thoughts:
This was a book assigned by my AP Language/American Literature class. I was given a similar book to read over the summer, The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and I couldn't help but draw the parallels between this book and that one. Class Matters is a compilation of articles from the New York Times describing the gap between the rich and the poor and how there is generally less mobility between classes. A wide variety of issues and causes are tackle. Each article explores a different portion of the whole pie about class.

What I found a little funny was that this book was published in 2005, so the "Bush administration" was used in the present tense. There was mention on how markers of wealth were becoming blurry and people of low income could now purchase their own house with mortgages from banks. Little did they know in 2005 that this practise would cause an economic recession in these past couple years. I found these small details amusing but they're small "mistakes" that are to be expected from news articles that are written to express actions of the current time. This being a class book, I took notes and I think the first chapter was the "thesis" chapter and provided an introduction as to what the articles would later explore.

Blurring the Landscape
Harder to read position in possessions- material goods are cheaper
Class alignments in politics=jumbled. Pros once Republican, now Democratic
Shift due to social issues
Religious affiliation no longer reliable class marker- rise of Evangelical Christians
Race and class affiliation weakened. African-Americans in middle + upper middle class
Diverse elite- more Catholics, Jew and Mormons in Senate
Globalisation killing factory jobs that were one stepping-stones to middle class= jump in income                      inequality
Class determines whether you get college degree
Class differences in health- upper-middle class lives longer than middle class that lives longer than                 bottom
Where and with whom affluent Americans live- increased isolation of affluent
Those at the top work more than those at the bottom

  Because this book was mainly informative rather than "entertaining" in the tradition sense, I can find little criticism except from one article, "Fifteen Years at the Bottom Rung" about Mexicans working at a Greek restaurant. It was confusing and tried to explore too many different streams of the topic. It was my least favourite, least enjoyable read of the whole compilation. 
  Unfortunately, this book didn't tell me anything new. I kind of new a lot of what was happening and I attribute this to my AP Human Geography class, in which I studied the relationship between human activity and geography. So I didn't find this book particularly enriching, but it did bring to mind the interesting question of whether or not the American Dream is really dead. I was aware of the lack of class mobility today, but then I remember the olden times where you could literally go from rags-to-riches. For example, John D. Rockefeller was raised in a "poor" household but later became co-founder of Standard Oil, a monopoly in the twentieth century. That was the American Dream, and now it's just an idea we believe to be true. It truly is a dream that we cling to, though it has long since passed. True, there are always exceptions, but in general, the Dream is dead. 

   If you're interesting in socio-economic dynamic in America, or are just interested in understanding the world we live in (here in America), then this is an enriching book that's just for you. It's always good to stay educated not just on the past but also the present. Despite being published in 2005, it's still relevant today. It wasn't too terrible, so I feel guilty for considering giving this two out of six umbrellas. So I'll give it three.

review: the enchanter

06 January 2014

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: libary
pages: 95-96
review written: 6.1.14
edition read: G.P. Putnam's Sons, NY
originally published: 1986

The Enchanter is the Ur-Lolita, the precursor to Nabokov's classic novel. At once hilarious and chilling, it tells the story of an outwardly respectable man and his fatal obsession with certain pubescent girls, whose coltish grace and subconscious coquetry reveal, to his mind, a special bud on the verge of bloom. (Summary from goodreads)

My thoughts:
The Enchanter is a short novel written by Vladimir Nabokov as is classified as Russian literature and as a classic. The title "The Enchanter" is a nickname that the protagonist gives himself in a certain scene with a pubescent girl. Nabokov wrote a pre-face describing this book as a precursor to Lolita. He called it "a beautiful piece of Russian prose, precise and lucid...". I have to agree with him on that part. Now, the book covers were all really...unfitting for as strange and simple a book as this--and this cover by Penguin was one that I thought fit the story best. With around one hundred pages, every tiny detail is important, and the toy horse is one of them. I enjoy this cover too, with the little girl in the background, and the faint flower behind the horse. But you know, the version I read was garishly old and the cover was not pleasing to the eyes.

It all started when my friend, Deniz and I went to the library to get some books. We naturally went to the classics, and Deniz found Lolita. She described to me what her friend had told her--the basic synopsis of the book. It was the story of a man who married a woman because he lusted after her young daughter (I imagined her as eight years old). The idea of getting inside a paedophile's head was immensely interesting to me, but Deniz had gotten the last copy of Lolita at the library, so naturally I was disappointed. Being the good friend that she is, she found this book, The Enchanter,  which was a precursor to Lolita and was basically the same thing. Ayn Rand did this with her books too, starting off with a short hundred-page Anthem and building up to a massive Atlas Shrugged. Similarly, The Enchanter is less than a hundred pages and Lolita  is over three hundred pages.

What I noticed first was the incredibly detailed and philosophical way Nabokov writes, which is to be expected because he's a Russian writer. He starts off with a statement from the main character, a forty-year old, "respectable" man "How can I come to terms with myself?". This gained sympathy from me. At least the paedophile knew that his thoughts were abnormal, and not in the good way. But despite his conflicted thoughts, the thoughts themselves made me lose sympathy. He said that he did not intend to ever rape the girl, that when she wanted to explore her sexuality, he would be there. But his actions do not reflect his intentions. He ends up touching her anyway. I felt little sympathy for the nameless protagonist, and yet I was shocked at myself for being fascinated in the same way he was. Of course, I felt myself vomit with the descriptions of a pre-adolescent girl written as if she were a sexually appealing woman. But the way it was written was oddly fascinating.

"The girl's arrival, her breathing, her legs, her hair, everything she did, whether it was scratching a shin and leaving white marks on it, or throwing a small black ball high in the air, or brushing against him with a bare elbow as she seated herself on the bench--all of it (while he appeared engrossed in pleasant conversation) evoked an intolerable sensation of sanguine, dermal, multivascular communion with her as if the monstrous bisector pumping all the juices from the depths of his being extended into her like a pulsating dotted line, as if this girl were growing out of him...." (53).
I felt disgusted with that. Yet, you must agree with me, that was an interesting description? Regardless, the entire book follows that way and it doesn't take very long to finish it. Apparently, Nabokov had a childhood love that died and he remembered her when he met a woman of twenty years and thus wrote of his childhood love. They kissed, but got no further. Nabokov had a more active romantic life than I did--when I was that age, all I thought about was getting candy.

Regardless of subject matter, the writing itself was rich and fascinating.

"Knowing, rationally, that the Euphrates apricot* is harmful only in canned form; that sin is inseparable from civic custom; that all hygienes have their hyenas; knowing, moreover, that this selfsame rationality is not averse to vulgarising that to which it is otherwise denied access....I now discard all that and ascend to a higher plan" (22)
* thought by some to have been the true identity of the Biblical apple
 This is something I've read over and over again and that I can't forgot nor can I comprehend. "the Euphrates apricot is harmful only in canned form"--what does this mean? The amount of religious reference in this bit is more than any references he's made in the whole story.The last bit about ascending to a higher plane indicates what religion basically is, and the Euphrates apricot is a direct Christian reference. The protagonist is speaking of his "vulgarity" as if it's something....oh I'll think on this. What do you all think of this quote?

The unnamed protagonist disgusted me, and to make a reader hate the main character is skilful on the writer's part. The other characters, the little girl, her mother, and an old woman that took care of the girl, were all women. It surprised me that the protagonist was the only male at the scene, and I would like to think that somehow this is a significant detail. Kind of like a reverse of an enchantress that ensnares men--an enchanter that ensnares women. The overall theme, I think, was the conflict between morality and desire. Yet not completely so because the protagonist at a certain point stops worrying about morality and changes his mindset to that of a predator. He had a prey, a goal, and he acted and waited patiently to achieve it. I guess the theme then is open for interpretation.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a quick read, but not entirely developed as it will be in Lolita. If you want to read something quickly, but you want your brain to be enriched with something controversial, try The Enchanter. I give this book 3 out of 6 umbrellas.

review: the devil in the white city

05 January 2014

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: public library
pages: 390
review written: 5.1.14
edition read: paperback Vintage Books, Random House
originally published: 2003

Bringing Chicago circa 1893 to vivid life, Erik Larsen's spell-binding bestseller intertwines the true tale of two men--the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World's Fair, striving to secure America's place in the world; and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling. Erik Larsen has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.

My thoughts:
The Devil in the White City is written by Erik Larson--a non-fiction, historical novel spiced up with murder mystery. The title incoroporates the two halves of the book: the Devil and the White City. The Devil is infamous murderer H.H. Holmes and the White City is the Chicago Fair that America yearns for.

This was a book assigned by my AP United States History class to read over the winter break. Naturally, I forgot about it until two days ago, so I've been cram reading. But since it's a book for school and I'm going to be tested on it, I read it with great care and attention to detail.

The book is actually two stories into one. And I think this is the reason I was able to read the book so closely yet also finish in a record amount of time. Part of the story follows Burnham, a prominent architect, and other architects that come together to build a World's Fair to rival the one in Paris where Eiffel stunned the world with the Eiffel Tower. The other part follows the story of notorious serial killer H.H. Holmes. I enjoy reading architectural literature, like descriptions of buildings or the details and plans and emotions that go behind it. I enjoy the descriptions of the types of stone, the types of scaffolding, the types of windows or doors used: that's just something weird I realised when I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. But in The Devil in the White City, the story is not about the architecture itself, but the process of building a fair with architecture. The doings of the companies, the architectural firms, and the workers were all described. For instance, Olmstead, a landscape architect, was feeling ill and had a disagreement with other architects and committees. Matters like this that I found interesting, but not enough to keep my reading. Had I been reading this for pleasure, I would have felt discouraged and put it down about half way through. Though I think it's not so unbearable that one would suffer from reading it. The reason I kept reading was not because of the architectural story, but the H. H. Holmes story. Like the Chicago World Fair, the story of H.H. Holmes starts from the beginning.

What I enjoyed about the story of the World Fair was the arc. It all started with an idea, and then the planning and then the execution and then the enjoyment and then the demise. I felt as if I were watching a fast-forward film footage of a baby growing into an adult and slowly declining into old age into death. When one follows a person from conception to death, one is left with a feeling of completeness and a feeling of nostalgia. I feel like I've known the World Fair. I know it's origins and I know its end. That sort of arc is fulfilling in a sense. Of course, H.H. Holmes' story barely covers his birth and early childhood. We start from when he's a young, handsome, popular man. But I feel that same sense of completion as I did with the World Fair.

The book is mainly fact, with little fiction. I believe whatever fiction was involved was there simply to make the facts flow with a literature-like rhythm.  For instance "The sun emerged late in the morning, though squalls continued to sweet Jackson Park through much of the day" (290). Details like the sun emerging late seem like fiction, but I don't know if Larson did detailed research. The citations at the back of the book surely describe extreme attention to detail and staying true to fact. Actual quotes from architects and characters are strewn within the writing with a natural flow and ease and it feels as if one is reading an account from a person that was there at the time of the Chicago Fair. I think in this sense, The Devil in the White City is a remarkable achievement. Many books that try to describe past events with this much detail tend to fail, but The Devil in the White City proved that misconception false.

If you enjoy history, especially one with lots of detail, and if you enjoy murder mystery then this book is a perfect mix of both. It has more architectural story than Holmes, so this part was a turn off. Overall, I think I enjoyed it. I give it three umbrellas out of six.


(What I don't understand is why Holmes was considered handsome and charming. He doesn't look attractive to me:
source
This is the man that convinced many pretty ladies to marry him. I don't see it. When I imagined Holmes as described by Larson, I imagined someone beautiful, not ordinary.

Happy New Year and Resolutions!

01 January 2014

source: unknown (if you know it, send me the citation)

Hello Readers!
   Time to be incredibly informal with you all. For some reason, whenever I blog, I'm just this bookish, nerdy, professional kind of girl that writes very properly and formally, double checking for grammar mistakes (which I often make without catching, so help me out). I comma splice often. Anyway.

   I have done shit in 2013. Literally, my whole life was a fail. I was just flopping through like a starved fish waiting for the year to be over. Of course, not only in my real life but also in my blogging life (yeah, 'cause blogging isn't real life, I don't even know). This has been a really unproductive year. I think it's because we all died in 2012 and 2013 was a wtf year.

   So I'm doing Parajunkee's New Years Meme thing where I make a new post every day for 2 weeks which I think will be record for most continuous blog posts. Let's be honest. I'm going to write like, five of them today and just schedule it. I'm kind of high right now on three different types of chocolate, like dark chocolate with almonds, milk chocolate, and wafer milk chocolate. I'm just being brutally honest.

 All right, let's do this.

  1. Review more books. I'm a Junior so I don't have time to read books, like I don't. But I hope that I can review more books.
  2. Comment more. I was scrolling through my dashboard looking at posts from all these blogs that I loved so much and all these bloggers that I haven't talked to in ages and I'm like "Gurl where have I been". So I want to be more active and involved with you guys.
  3. Be pro. Like, I decided that I was mainly going to post reviews a while back and I hope to carry that out through this year. It's all about books here. My personal blog is just my name, Kirthi Rao. But even that's pro. I guess my personal blog is my Tumblr but I'm to embarrassed to share it with you. 
 Many happy returns, my dear readers, and a happy new year!



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