Book Fortyfour: The Social Amoebae

The Social Amoebae, John Tyler Bonner

Slime molds! I had been thinking about saving this for the read-a-thon because it's short and the intro was so witty and sweet and it seemed like a breezy read and then I could be all, hey, look at how smart I am! But boy howdy am I glad that I didn't, because while this was awesome and I loved it, it really took a huge amount of my concentration just to get it. A level of concentration I suspect will be in short supply during the read-a-thon.

But how can you not love a book that opens like so: "I have lived with my beloved slime molds for a long time."

Sure, the first bit was slightly tough going, but that was mostly where he laid the ground work, explaining the life cycle of the slime mold, so knowing some basic biology was somewhat important. But after that it was nothing but exciting facts and interesting experiments and crazy tidbits and the like.

And what this book does really well is make you enjoy learning something. And who doesn't like learning new things? Sure, I have no real investment in knowing anything about slime molds, other than having some good party conversation fodder... but what great fodder! For example, did you know that slime molds are made up of individual amoebae, but once they come together act together as a unit (or slug) toward a single purpose? Crazy! That they are driven by such factors as ammonia gradients, light, oxygen and heat? Nifty! That there are a couple of species that act carnivorously? What the what?!

I also enjoyed how funny Mr. Bonner is and how he approaches his beloved slime molds with both an earnestness and a sense of humor. I appreciate that he wanted to share his love of slime molds with the world and wrote his book in such a way that the layperson, such as myself, could understand it. So yay for science and yay for the scientists who want the rest of the world to love it as much as they do!

Book Fortythree: Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

I'm sure this is a Great Book. But probably not a great book for me. I found the dream-like atmosphere overwhelming and the poetry-like dialogue irritating. I know, I know, that was totally not the point of the book, and yet I just couldn't get past it. I notoriously dislike anything that has a whiff of Poetry about it (and no, that doesn't mean that I dislike actual poetry, the world is filled with some lovely poetry, but I mean things that are Poetic... and you know what I'm talking about, right?) And as a supplement to Jane Eyre it didn't totally make sense. I really am in love with the idea of humanizing the Bertha character, but I found this portrait didn't quite accomplish the task. It was actually quite difficult to finish the novel feeling much sympathy for any of the characters. Bertha/Antoinette may have had a difficult life and bad genetics, but that didn't mean she had to be so terribly self-absorbed, Rochester (who hardly felt like Rochester from Jane Eyre, even a younger more naive Rochester) seemed for a while like he was doing his best, but blew it a few too many times to be at all sympathetic, Mr. Mason was horrible no-good pimp, Antoinette's mother pretty much started off crazy, Christophine could have done anything other than anything she did, and... well, blerg.

I've said it before: I don't think a novel necessarily needs to contain any sympathetic characters to be considered good, but I do hold it against a book that was written in order better understand a character from another novel. And for me, this didn't quite meet that expectation.

Book Fortytwo: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Yay, book #1 for the Everything Old is New Again Challenge!

I must jot down my thoughts on Jane Eyre before I delve into Wide Sargasso Sea, since I have a feeling my original ideas will be completely and utterly different once that happens. You know, because I'm suggestible like that.

First off, I've been meaning to read it for, like, ever, because of the striking similarities between it and my own name (remove the "a" from the end of Ara, and flip the two words and there you have it). (When people hear my name they often like to call me Jane Eyre because they think they're being funny. Everyone thinks they're funny.) Secondly, this book rules. I love being called "Reader" by the narrator, something that seems to have disappeared from modern fiction. It's a super story, and even though I knew of the main spoiler--crazy lady locked in the attic!--I had no idea about anything else that happened, so the story kept me riveted. Who knew so much happened to poor little Jane?!

Thirdly, I have all sorts of crazy ideas about the inner meaning of Jane Eyre and its commentary on feminism. Perhaps this is old news to everyone else who read this a long time ago, but I found the message pretty heavy handed. And this is what I think the message is: marriage is impossible without some kind of equality in the relationship. I think Jane first refused to marry Mr. Rochester not because of the crazy wife in the attic, but because she couldn't handle the inherent inequality in their relationship. She goes on and on about refusing the clothing and presents and attention because she's uncomfortable with the fact that she is still like a governess (and 18 years old!) while he is a wealthy landowner who was her employer (and almost 40!). And if she married him at that point, even though she loved him, she knew there was no way for her to be on equal terms with him. She spends her whole life being dependent on others, and I think her decisions at this point are driven by her desire to change that. Then, when she leaves and finds herself with Mr. Rivers, the point becomes even more obvious, given that he openly states he doesn't want a wife who he loves and who will be his partner, but someone to serve God and serve him. Ugh and double ugh. Who hated St. John as much as I did? Every time he started with the speechifying I felt my eyes glaze over and my brain freeze up. Jane was a smart, smart cookie to refuse to agree to marrying him. I love her seed of thought here as she contemplates marriage with him:

"... But as his wife--at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked--forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital --this would be unendurable."

And then (clearly spoilers abound here) when she finally goes back to find Mr. Rochester, it only makes sense that he is now blind and crippled, Thornfield burned to the ground, and clearly not as wealthy as he once was, living like a recluse. So when Jane arrives and finds him in this state, it puts them on more equal footing. She can help him in a way that he didn't need before, she can add something to the relationship that goes beyond being some kind of young, doting trophy or obligated slave, and now she is the one with the money. And the fact that crazyatticwife is now dead is kind of a moot point, in my opinion. Though perhaps that is supposed to be another example of what happens in a marriage of such extreme inequality of disposition and station in life, that one of you is going to end up crazy and then dead, but not after completely ruining the other's entire life?

Again, I say all this having not yet finished Wide Sargasso Sea and kind of ignoring the humanity of the crazyatticwife, so I might eat my words, but I still feel determined that this was her whole point.

Or maybe it's just a love story, pure and simple. Which is really kind of a nice love story on its own and I just pooped all over it by analyzing the bejeezus out of it. Sorry.

*Also, I just wanted to add how much I loved Dame Darcy's illustrations in the edition I read. Swoon.

Everything Old Is New Again Challenge

Being sick really lends itself to overly-optimistic reading goals, no? I have signed myself up for my first-ever reading challenge, Everything Old Is New Again, put on by the loverly Raych at books i done read. And since I've had Jane Eyre and The Woman in White in my reading stack for the past year or so, I figured it was high time I settled down to some serious Victorian fiction. Plus, today is just so rainy and grey and gothic that it all seems meant to be. (I will realistically not finish all the books in the challenge, but am hoping to at least get a Bachelors.)

Book Fortyone: The Chrysalids

The Chrysalids, John Wyndham

It is pure coincidence that I picked this off the to-read stack right after putting down To Kill a Mockingbird. Superficially these are insanely different novels. One is the story of a small southern town in the 30s struggling with racism and the other is about a post-apocalyptic colony whose hatred of mutants fuels their religious fervor. But really, in some sense the subtext of both books is about fear of the "other" and what that fear leads people to do and become. And both happen to be told through the voices of child narrators, making their similarities that much more striking. If I taught high school English I would certainly teach these two books back to back!

And in my very (very very very very) limited reading of science fiction, I've found that sci-fi is the perfect vehicle to give deeper insight into god and religion. Okay, the only other books I can cite in that category are The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God, but that's enough to make my point, right?

Book Forty: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

It's nice to re-read books from one's youth and be reminded that they're just as good as you remembered them to be. Nothing's worse than having your precious memories dashed to bits when you return to a once-loved book. Sure, some of the ideas seemed a bit simple this time around, yet that's probably the beauty of To Kill a Mockingbird--seeing a very complicated world through children's eyes. Oh, and I think I finally get the metaphor of Boo Radley. Yeah, I'm slow like that.

Book Thirtynine: The Grand Sophy

The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer

As is typical for every Georgette Heyer Regency romance, this was an insanely delightful read, save for the infamous and shameful scene depicting the worst and most horrifyingly stereotypical Jewish moneylender. Yikes! I would love to quote you the worst of the descriptions, but it makes me shudder just thinking about it. Obviously Georgette Heyer is known for her meticulously researched novels, but this being written in the 1950s, she should have known better than to feature such a disgusting Shylockian character. That aside (though, honestly, how can one put such a stinking pile of poopiness like that aside?) everything else in here tickled me to death. Sigh.

The 24-Hour Read-a-Thon

I just bit the bullet and signed up for Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon! Yay! Ever since I read about it last year on my most favorite book blog (and ok, probably the only other book blog I actually read) I've been obsessed with the idea and knew I wanted to take part next go-around. I now have it written down in my calendar and am thinking about the books I want to read for the day (or, rather, trying to figure out which books will best keep me interested and awake). Sure, I'm freaked out, and sure, I know my sad old self probably won't be able to stay awake for the entire 24 hours, but I will still be happy to try.

Book Thirtyeight: To the Power of Three

To the Power of Three , Laura Lippman

For a book that I just randomly picked off the shelf at the library (and for one with such a horrible cover... gah!), this wasn't half bad. Well, sure, I picked it because it's by my first mysterary love, Laura Lippman, so it had that going for it. Maybe not quite as great as What the Dead Know, but still a well-told story with characters you want to know more about. Essentially she starts with a school shooting (or a shooting at a school? ha!) and then you get glimpses of the past to understand what really happened, since it's pretty clear that the story being told by the only survivor isn't the whole truth. And then you get the history behind the friendship of the three girls involved, and of course young girls' friendships and inner emotional lives are always an area of depth and compellingness, no? Well, to me they are!