Tuesday, September 12, 2006

On the Job #2

This is why no one likes working the guard desk at the library. You're trapped and can't go anywhere. This guy had it easy. At least this girl sounds normal and non-Igor like. Jennifer had it the worst: "Hi, I'm Jim" *dead fish handshake* "I have an off campus apartment."

And it's actually not so much the people who stare at you from over the top of your book, so much as the people who come up to you, when you can't leave, and tell you there life's story. I don't care if you're on your third engagement... but really only your second because you're engaged again to the first guy. I don't care that you can't find your book because the alphabet is beyond your comprehension skills. And I certainly don't care that you have a problem with the libraries ban on cell phones. So take your phone, and your illegal, uncovered coffee cup from the pseudo-Starbucks outside. I want to read my homework in peace, not have you leaning against the countertop as you not so subtly leer at my chest. Thanks for getting your dirty fingerprints all over the marble, I have to clean that (again!) now.

I get it. I'm at your whim and will because I can't leave the desk. It's my job to check your bag, tell you to return your stolen books, toilet paper, laptop pieces, and large marble busts to the front desk. So leave me alone you creepy creepy person.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Book 69: Hornblower and the Hotspur

TITLE: Hornblower and the Hotspur
AUTHOR: C.S. Forester
STARTED: September 3, 2006
FINISHED: September 5, 2006
PAGES: 344
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: "Repeat after me," said the parson.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Preparation for war against the French, daring commando-style raids and the rigours of naval discipline - classic ingredients of this adventure which tests Hornblower's ingenuity and courage to the limit.

REASON FOR READING: Working my way through the series

THOUGHTS: How can you not love a book about warring adventure on the high seas? There's action, drama, and sexy ships. Throw in Forester's fantastic character of Horatio Hornblower and you have yet another "can't-put-it-down" book.

Hornblower and the Hotspur
includes all the elements that made the first two books in this series fantastic reads: dramatic plots, creative characters, and beautiful prose. This book, however, adds one more element the Hornblower saga: romance. With this addition, Forester adds a new depth and complexity to his series that gives the book a more well rounded and intriguing dimension. In the past, Hornblower thought only of himself and how other saw him. This self-measurement is self ever present. Hornblower careful ways his actions and words against how other would view him. This is perhaps best seen when Hornblower must contemplate how to deal with the fate of his personal servant, a man who has strucks a superior officer. Hornblower debates over pages and pages how to deal with this man; a man who clearly knew better, felt regret, but in the heat of the moment dealt a blow to a bully who more than deserved it. Hornblower knows the man must die under British law, but he can't help but wish for a better outcome. The way Hornblower resourceful solves the crisis of conscience and law, highlights why the Hornblower series has become a best seller.

In Hotspur, Forester continues Hornblower's trend of self-analysis, but now, he throws a wife into the mix. Hornblower readily admits that he is not in love with his spouse, but Forester writes Hornblower's thoughts in such a way that you cannot fault him for marrying a woman he only feels the merest affection for. Hornblower may have married the woman out of feelings of responsibility and guilt, but the reader can see that, though he may not love her, he knows that he must be the best husband he can be. And, when Forester details how Hornblower struggles to become the best man possible, it strengthens his character for both the reader and the story.

While the central point of Hotspur is the resurgence of Britain's war with France, Hornblower's domestic life creates an unexpected tension in the lead character that counteracts the naval side of his life. Forester allows the reader into his lead's mental debates and passions. The drama that this creates endears Hornblower even more to the reader. We get to see him grow and mature as both a naval officer and a man. Hornblower must careful balance his naval life with his new, landed responsibilities. No longer must he think only of his fate, but that of his wife and, later on, children as well. One of the most endearing scenes occur when Hornblower receives word that he is to be a father. Forester artfully shows Hornblower's internal progression from shock, to acceptance, and impatience about the birth of his child.

This new, tender side of Hornblower - the one who writes weekly letters to his wife, Maria, and plays with his son - dramatic parallels his life as a naval officer at war. We see him risk his life for his country, by engaging in a battle of minds and cannons against a French ship. We see his daring attempt to harrass the French navy as it sits at anchor. We see him put out the fuse of a lighted howitzer shot with his own hand.

Forester's skill comes into that he shows Hornblower's courage, daring, and responsibilty. He does not merely state what Hornblower has done to earn such prestige in the eyes of his comrades. He shows. He describes the action in artful prose, with a flair that makes the reader hear the sails flap and the cannon boom. Forester describes the cramped ship quarters and the blood after a battle. He creates complete scenes that puts the reader in Hornblower's world.

Then he lets you into Hornblower's head. Forester shows his lead character's doubts and fears, his own personal flaws of characters. Forester lets Hornblower talk about being annoyed that he now has to worry about dieing because it would cause pain to his wife. Hornblower is shaken to the core with fear when he realizes that live ammunition is burning on his ship's deck. Forester let's Hornblower tell the reader all his insecurities and weaknesses, and then Forester shows him overcoming adversity. It is this triumph of self that makes Hornblower a once in a lifetime character.

Hotspur indicates better than any of the other books in the series I have read, why Horatio Hornblower has become such a powerful character in fiction. He is mere man, who knows he's a mere man, but refuses to let that stop him from doing superhuman actions.

MISCELLANEOUS: I want to own this series so bad it's not even funny.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): It must go back to the library. *whimper*
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: The Scourge of God by William Dietrich
RN: Not a clue.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Book 68: Joan of Arc in French Art and Culture (1700-1855): From Satire to Sanctity

TITLE: Joan of Arc in French Art and Culture (1700-1855): From Satire to Sanctity
AUTHOR: Nora Heimann
STARTED: August 21, 2006
FINISHED: August 31, 2006
PAGES: 215

FIRST SENTENCE: [From the Introduction] Joan of Arc's spectacular, triumphal, and tragic life story has more of the leements of heroic legend than of veritable history.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] In her meticulous and wide-ranging study, Nora M. Heimann follows the metamorphosis of Joan of Arc's posthumous representation during the years in which her image ascended from relative obscurity as a minor provincial figure in the middle ages through her treatment as a figure of political satire in the eighteenth century to her ultimate emergence as an image of piety and sanctity in the mid-nineteenth century. Offering the first scholarly art historical and cultural analysis of the origins of the modern Joan of Arc cult, she takes on the challenge of chatting, as no previous critic has, why and how the Maid of Orleans has been all things to such a diverse public through the ages, particularly during the rapid shifts in political regimes that came in the wake of the French Revolution.

REASON FOR READING: I went to Paris was Nora during my first college spring break. Her passion and knowledge piqued my interest, and when I heard she had a book out, I had to read it.

THOUGHTS: Overall, I was not disappointed in Nora's work. Her book is well-written, with in-depth research. The approach she took, chronicling how Joan was first portrayed as a comedy of errors to a saintly heroine, was well thought out and presented. When it comes to non-fiction, I always fear the the material and writing will put me to sleep. While some areas of Nora's work were incredibly academic (mainly the footnotes which I found myself constantly reading), the book, as a whole, we evenly paced, which made the reading easy.

Nora moves chronilogically through history, which made it very easy to discern her main point: that Joan of Arc's story and image has been manipulated by history to suit the leaders of the current era. In her book, Nora lays out her argument in a structured, but not templated, way. She balances the history of the era with the actual object of study. In this way, she shows how the two worked together to create Joan of Arc's image. Her findings are easy to comprehend and well thought out. Nora backs up her reading of the images and literature with in-depth research and logic. It is very easy to see why she is considered a leader in the area of Joan of Arc studies.

My main complaint, actually, has to do with the title and layout. I hate it when books have titles for subtitles and subtitles. While this really bears no reflection on the actual material of the book, it does annoy me. Secondly, I disliked like how all the art was group in the middle of the book as plates. Nora constantly refers to this works and, in order to appreciate fully Nora's explanation, one has to constantly flip do the apporporiate plate. I found this to be incredibly jarring and it took me right of the book in many cases. Again, this has nothing to do with the substance of the book, but it does affect the overall reading experience.

MISCELLANEOUS: But what would she say about modern film?

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to the library
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: Hornblower and the Atropos by C.M. Forester
RN: I have not thought that far ahead.