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About a Boy
About a Boy
von Nick Hornby
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 14,41

5.0 von 5 Sternen The price of identity, 6. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: About a Boy (Taschenbuch)
In this book, an unattached, disengaged 36 year old man and a strange, troubled 12 year old boy teach each other how to grow up. The theme of the book seems to be that, in order to participate fully in life, we must make choices concerning how to be, but we also must make compromises. Nothing is gained without a price. And we must weight carefully the worth of what we are willing to sacrifice for what we hope to exchange. After all, what is at stake is more than just fitting in or engaging with people, it's our identity.
In the course of the novel, and through his relationship with Marcus, Will comes to trade security, comfort, detachment, disengagement, and a kind of anti-hero sense of rugged egocentrism for participation with others. It's not a struggle easily won. But, we are gratified when it is, because, until it is, Will is barely alive. He has money, security, and spends days entertaining himself for himself alone; in many ways he has an ideal life. But Hornby takes pains to demonstrate the vacuity of this kind of life. One of the points of the book is that isolation is a kind of curse. Will is a kind of laboratory with which to explore this idea because he is unlike the other characters. His isolation is carefully chosen and nurtured, while the other characters are desperate for contact.
Marcus serves as a kind of laboratory, too. He is genuinely nice and has special qualities that distance him from his classmates. But, as we all know, making one's way in school demands conformity. Because he is kind of weird, Marcus is perhaps justifiably teased. And because he lives alone with a suicidal mother, Marcus decides that having more people around him is better than living with all one's eggs in one basket - safety from isolation in numbers as it were. Yet, at the end Marcus, too, grows up and learns to conform. He gains more people in his life, but perhaps there's a hint that the price he pays for this conformity may be soul-crushing. After all, he learns to be more like the former Will.
And, it's hard to know what to think about this. But, if anything, this beautiful book teaches us not to be so cavalier with the choices we make. Because everything is a trade-off.


Giovanni's Room
Giovanni's Room
von James Baldwin
  Taschenbuch

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Explores universal moral conflicts, 12. Juni 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Giovanni's Room (Taschenbuch)
Foremost, Giovanni's Room is beautifully written. Baldwin writes incredibly well.
It would be a mistake to see this book as singularly about homosexuality (and to either read it, or not, because of that alone). Baldwin explores universal problems using a specific character and context.
What's most impressive is the way he describes, and then captures the consequences, of the moral dilemma. Though the context is homosexuality, I think similar conflict happens all too often, especially in relationships. You think you should be one thing or feel one way, and everything in your social, religious, intellectual voice tells you're right - except how you deep down feel. Baldwin has this one line about how hard it is to say "yes" to life. In that passage, I think he refers to how hard it is to reject your conventional self and embrace your deep down feelings. And this conflict could be about anything.
Then, too, Baldwin shows how, the stronger you love someone who provokes such internal conflict, the stronger your own self-hatred and hatred for that person. How terrible to most want to hurt the person you most love.


From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Cultural Triumph and Defeat, 1500 to the Present
From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Cultural Triumph and Defeat, 1500 to the Present
von Jacques Barzun
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen Worth a second opinion, 1. Juni 2000
I wasn't sure what to think while I was reading. But, I couldn't put this down. While reading, I thought Barzun crammed tightly so many ideas, events, details, and biographies that he verged on stimulus overload. Later, when remembering names or events that I encountered when watching TV or reading, I realized how much of the book is retainable.
Barzun is a famous stylist. Given how much I admire his writing, I was at first disappointed in the prose. This is not to say that it's written poorly. Only that I think Barzun was more concerned with imparting information in a straightforward way. Nevertheless, certain passages still sing.
I was also at first put off by the many biographies interspersed throughout the narrative. But, then again, after awhile I looked forward to them. They not only add information about famous persons, but color.
Barzun believes certain ideas-individualism, primitivism, self-consciousness, etc-are singularly Western. He uses all capital letters to denote these ideas each time they appear in the narrative. At first, these bothered me because I thought they were trite. But, again, I realized that Barzun was attempting to remind readers of the consistency of Western thought. He demonstrates that so many modern or even post-modern theories, which claim to be avant-guard and even anti-Western, really have deep cultural roots in the very things they revile.
This book is a challenge to those finding it fashionable to denounce Western Civilization. As Barzun says: "[T]he West offered the world a set of ideas and institutions not found earlier or elsewhere." We are rightly proud of them.


Reclaiming the Canon: Essays on Philosophy, Poetry, and History
Reclaiming the Canon: Essays on Philosophy, Poetry, and History
von Herman L. Sinaiko
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 61,49

5.0 von 5 Sternen A Perfect 10, 23. Mai 2000
The title suggests this is another polemic in the "canon wars." But it isn't, at least not directly. Sinaiko defends the canon not by running down selections by feminist or multicultural theorists but by showing why the great books-by Homer, Plato, Tolstoy, etc.-are great books.
He does not do this through argument. Alone, such arguments often fall on deaf ears because they are simply not convincing. Instead, by stepping readers through the process of detail-oriented, deep reading Sinaiko shows why, for example, after 2500 years Homer still has something to say to modern readers.
The best thing about Sinaiko's method is that he does what so many college professors fail to do today: demonstrate the tangible reward of taking time with great books. Sometime, as with Tolstoy's War and Peace, he does this by showing the relation between a novel's plot and its structure. Other times, as with Homer's Iliad, Sinaiko concentrates on small details (like Homer's similes) contained in the writing of the lines themselves.
Sinaiko communicates simply and effectively. His tone is never pedantic or authoritarian. Instead, he writes as if these were lectures, which they were. The effect one gets in reading is as though one was in class with a master teacher. At once, it is humbling because we see the demonstrable skill of a master. But it is also uplifting. We are inspired to read these books and to imitate the attention he gives to them.


Sister Wendy's 1000 Masterpieces
Sister Wendy's 1000 Masterpieces
von Wendy Beckett
  Gebundene Ausgabe

1.0 von 5 Sternen Sister Wendy knows nothing about art, 22. Mai 2000
Despite her popular success, Sister Wendy knows nothing about art.
In attempting to bring art appreciation to the public, there is nothing more noble than what Sister Wendy is doing. What I question is the kind of appreciation she brings.
Sister Wendy's methodology is to tell stories about paintings. That is, she tells stories about the content of paintings. But, there is more to art than content. If content was the only important issue in art, there would be no need for various artistic mediums. After all, photography is just as good, if not quite a bit better, at factual representation than painting. Or, for example, if the idea content of fiction was the only reason for reading literature, there would be no reason to read literature. Non-fiction essays or histories would do just as well. Indeed, it requires little or no training to move from the unique, intrinsic character of a work itself to the ideas or facts with which the work is concerned. But, no one, aside from perhaps Sister Wendy and her ilk, looks at art, listens to music, or reads literature simply for content, for content alone can do nothing to reveal the sources of pleasure that a particular work affords.
Instead, aesthetes "prattle on about color, technique, or social context" because those ingredients add to, not distract from, the experience of art. For example, critics study color theory because color effects people's emotions. Understanding how an artist manipulates color to achieve a certain effect helps one understand how art achieves its emotional impact.
Indeed, study of artistic technique is vital for appreciation of the arts because without it there is no vocabulary with which to discuss one's experience of enjoyment (and without vocabulary, perhaps there is no thought or enjoyment). And, even if content held preeminent position in the aesthetic hierarchy, techniques such as color, form and composition, positive and negative space, or meter, structure, rhyme scheme help explicate the content.
After all, what is aesthetic experience if not the alert perception of art?


How To Read and Why
How To Read and Why

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Showing by sincere example, 22. Mai 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: How To Read and Why (Gebundene Ausgabe)
The title of the book is misleading. Those looking for, as the title suggests it is, a primer on how to read literature deeply will be disappointed. Aside from a few pointers in the beginning, Bloom really does not explicitly address strategies for how to read and appreciate literature. In my opinion, this is unfortunate because such a book can be written and would be useful.
What Bloom does instead is discuss a variety of novels and short stories. Perhaps Bloom is attempting to show how to read by providing examples of how he reads. As such, this succeeds, and the examples he provides are generally good ones.
I praise Bloom for writing as if he was one reader simply talking to another. I wish all his books were like this one. Gone is the academic Bloom who can't even take time to read his students' papers. That Bloom is replaced by someone who wants to communicate simply his love for books and for reading. Along the way he illuminates many of the novels and short stories he reviews. In this book Bloom follows the examples of his heroes, Johnson and Hazlitt, and brings readers closer to great books by showing what makes them great. Given the state of contemporary literary criticism, this is a welcome relief. Bloom returns to being what a critic should be.


Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning
Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning
von Morris Philipson
  Taschenbuch

5.0 von 5 Sternen Well written and argued critique, 22. Mai 2000
There are many ideas in this devastating critique of contemporary universities and of the educational system in general.
According to Barzun, the advent of making research profitable (through grants, the publish-or-perish mentality, etc.) has fatally wounded universities. Before this, teachers were teachers first. Research was conducted on a teacher's own time, and important works were often published at the end of a teacher's long career of teaching, reading, and thinking about a subject.
In contrast, teachers today resent students because students take time away from research. The publish-or-perish doctrine has resulted in a wash of triviality. Information that was once a footnote is now the subject of an article. What was once an article is now a book.
Barzun also disapproves of the politicization of universities. Teachers, he says, should concern themselves with providing the tools needed to get along in the world: reading, writing, counting, and thinking. The result of those tools should be of no interest of the teacher - because it isn't any of their business.
Primary education is little better than the universities. Educators fall under the spell of their own rhetoric. No one can teach creativity, self-esteem, etc., and teachers should stop claiming that they do. Instead, teachers should teach those subjects that are teachable: reading, writing, thinking, and counting.


The Roots of Romanticism (A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts)
The Roots of Romanticism (A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts)
von Henry Hardy
  Gebundene Ausgabe

4.0 von 5 Sternen Revolt against the Enlightenment, 22. Mai 2000
Berlin's thesis is that romanticism arose as a reaction to the Enlightenment. The axioms of the Enlightenment are that: all the great questions have valid, objective answers; these answers can be obtained by certain methods (i.e., rationalism and the scientific method); they can be stated as propositions that are compatible with one another; and these answers, or propositions, point to the ideal, perfect state of affairs.
Romanticism proposes two counter ideas. One is that there is no objective structure of things. Thus, there is no pattern to which individuals must adapt themselves. The second is that values are not something to be discovered and understood, but created. The result of these ideas is that an individual's universe is what he or she chooses to make it. Hence, the heart of romanticism is invention and creation. This accounts for the various manifestations of the movement-individualism, nationalism, emotionalism, etc.
This book began as a series of lectures. As such, it is easy to read. Berlin presents complicated ideas in a simple, straightforward manner. My only criticism is that the book is mistitled. Berlin was a philosopher. He concentrates on ideas, but this narrow focus hardly describes the roots of the Romantic Movement. There is little discussion of either the historical, political, or social events that gave rise to romanticism. Berlin treats the romantic ideas as if they appeared in a vacuum. For a deeper understanding of the historical roots of romanticism, I'd recommend Jacques Barzun's Classic, Romantic, and Modern or his Romanticism and the Modern Ego.


An Experiment in Criticism (Canto)
An Experiment in Criticism (Canto)
von C. S. Lewis
  Taschenbuch

5.0 von 5 Sternen How to experience art, 15. Mai 2000
According to Lewis, we judge a person's taste by what he or she reads. Instead, Lewis proposes an experiment: to judge literature by the way person read it. Thus, good literature is that which compels good reading.
Lewis begins his discussion of good reading by an analysis of viewing pictures and listening to music - to the experience of art generally. Of the two ways to experience art, receiving and using, receiving art is best because it helps us transcend ourselves. When we receive art we allow our senses to follow the pattern defined by the artist. The art thus enriches our life, allowing us to see or experience something foreign and new. On the other hand, when we use art, we are merely using it to confirm or facilitate ideas, feelings, and beliefs that we already hold. We have not allowed art to enrich our life.
Lewis mostly defines good reading by comparing it to bad reading. He, of course, describes in detail these habits. Ultimately, Lewis believes that we read literature to transcend ourselves, and yet paradoxically we are never more ourselves than when we do.


Shakespeare our Contemporary (Norton Library)
Shakespeare our Contemporary (Norton Library)
von Jan Kott
  Taschenbuch

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Essays Against the Grain, 15. Mai 2000
This is a book of interpretive essays about many, but not all, of Shakespeare's plays. Other than Harold Goddard's The Meaning of Shakespeare, this is the best book of Shakespearean criticism I've read.
Written in plain, but elegant prose, these essays reveal a darker Shakespeare than most commentators admit. Kott was a fighter in the Polish resistance and assumes Shakespeare must have had knowledge of political repression and loss of freedom.
The best of the essays deal with the History plays. Kott argues that all of the History plays are about power and use the metaphor of a staircase. A king is shown to be weak or unjust, a usurper claws his way to the top and then must remove all rivals, and then is toppled by another. Different plays show different pieces of this process. Lear views the staircase from the way down. Richard III is about his joyful ascent up the staircase. The various Henry's (and Richard II and King John) show its endless cycle.
The essay on Richard III must have been the inspiration behind the interpretation used by the recent movie version with Ian McKellum.
The essay about Othello concentrates on the evil power of Iago. Is there an wonder why Iago is silent in the end? According to Kott, it is because his worldview has won.
The essay on A Midsummer Night's Dream challenges the normal interpretations that this is a happy comedy about confused love. According to Kott, the play is really about the animosity and power struggle behind love, and rather than loving, the characters really compete with one another.


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