Feats of Greatness, Feet of Clay: Authors, Flaws, and the People Behind the Stories

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(Orson Scott Card poses at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in 2008. Wikimedia Commons/ Nihonjoe)

“Just because someone’s a member of an ethnic minority doesn’t mean they’re not a nasty small-minded little jerk.” ~ Terry Pratchett, from Feet of Clay 

There is a reason I frequently shy away from reading biographies:  people suck.  Even the best people suck.  If you want to go on admiring someone, don’t know them personally.  The art, of course, speaks for itself.  It need not be burdened by the shortcomings of its creator.  But (at least for me) it is difficult to separate the two once you know.  You cannot, as the saying goes, unsee something.

Today, a lot of people, including myself, were surprised to learn that beloved science fiction writer Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Gameis an anti-gay activist, and has been for a very long time.  In 2008, he wrote that “marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down.”   Responding to the Supreme Court decision on the topic of gay marriage, Card told Entertainment Weekly  “it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.”

Hmmmm…. interesting that someone who is against tolerance wants to see how people with tolerance respond….

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Hmmm… Seems to be a Book! Ten Gift Suggestions for Christmas Reading

Among my friends, (who, lets face it, often regard sunlight as the enemy) there can never be a better Christmas present than a coveted book. Most of our friends, family members, and colleagues know we love to read. However, what to get your favorite bibliophile can be daunting:

“Hmmmm… well, Diana sorta likes cats. How about this special, 40 lb tome of Cats Through the Ages?” 

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“Who doesn’t want to learn the ancient art of origami?” (*Me) …Variation: “Who doesn’t like spy novels?”  (*Also me).

So, instead of grabbing a random book, here are ten suggestions from my well-read friends that may help you select a welcomed gift that will actually be read:

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10.  Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel 

This Man-Booker prize winning sequel, as well as  Mantel’s first novel Wolf Hall (which also won the Man-Booker!) are both on my personal list.

From Publisher’s Weekly: Henry VIII’s challenge to the church’s power with his desire to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn set off a tidal wave of religious, political and societal turmoil that reverberated throughout 16th-century.

9.  Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats 

A required volume for lovers of poetry. Both newcomers and those already familiar with the work of Yeats will appreciate this collection which ” includes all of the poems authorized by Yeats for inclusion in his standard canon. Breathtaking in range, it encompasses the entire arc of his career, from luminous reworkings of ancient Irish myths and legends to passionate meditations on the demands and rewards of youth and old age, from exquisite, occasionally whimsical songs of love, nature, and art to somber and angry poems of life in a nation torn by war and uprising.”

8. The Language of Flowers by Vanesa Diffenbach

Consider picking this New York Times best-seller and recent book club favorite:

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

7.  January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Scofield

A good choice for a lover of non-fiction reads, one friend says the memoir is “heartbreaking and engrossing at the same time. I couldn’t put it down and read it mostly in one day.”

At six years old, January Schofield, “Janni,” to her family, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the worst mental illnesses known to man.  What’s more, schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe in children than in adults and in January’s case, doctors say, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.

7.  The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy 

Got a political junkie on your list? A friend tells me this is a Can’t-Put-It-Down choice.

Starting with the surprisingly effective relationship of Harry S. Truman and Herbert Hoover, and following through “Obama and His Club,” TIME Magazine‘s Executive Editor Nancy Gibbs and Washington Bureau Chief Michael Duffy trace the surprising, complicated story of “the world’s most exclusive fraternity.” Sitting presidents and their predecessors have at times proved remarkably simpatico, at others impossible thorns in each other’s sides. The authors’ extensive research demonstrates that ex-Presidents have a penchant for morphing from consummate team players into irascible rogues, sometimes within weeks, as they strive both to remain relevant and to shape their own legacies.

6.  The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor

Under that frayed sports coat lies the heart of a beast! Your English professor or quiet librarian may well be hiding a little secret… tattoos that express their love of literature. This beautiful text is “a collection of more than 150 full-color photographs of human epidermis indelibly adorned with quotations and illustrations from Dickinson to Pynchon, from Shakespeare to Plath. With beloved lines of verse, literary portraits, and illustrations—and statements from the bearers on their tattoos’ history and the personal significance of the chosen literary work—The Word Made Flesh is part collection of photographs and part literary anthology written on skin.”

5.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Perfect for both the  book lover, bookstore lover, and mystery fan, Sloan’s novel is “a gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.”

4.  Fairy Tales from the Brother’s Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman

Most people know that the versions of the Grimm Brothers’ tales many of us grew up with were “sanitized” verisons of the original stories. In this new edition, author Philip Pullman “retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.”

3.  Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Laura Leto 

This is another entry from my personal Wish List. Do you know how some people snoop through bathroom medicine cabinets or desk drawers? Personally, I eye their bookshelves. Most book lovers do. We want to know what we have in common or who we need to stay away from, often making instant friendships or enemies based on libraries alone. In her study, Leto provides a “hilarious send-up of—and inspired homage to—the passionate and peculiar world of book culture.”

2. Cezanne: A Life by Alex Danchev

Okay, I confess. This is also on my list (get yer own blog!).  Cezanne’s life has long fascinated me, and after hearing an interview with Danchev, I am eager to learn more.  Here’s an overview:

With brisk intellect, rich documentation, and eighty-eight color and fifty-two black-and-white illustrations, Danchev tells the story of an artist who was originally considered a madman, a barbarian, and a sociopath. Beginning with the unsettled teenager in Aix, Danchev takes us through the trials of a painter who believed that art must be an expression of temperament but was tormented by self-doubt, who was rejected by the Salon for forty years, who sold nothing outside his immediate circle until his thirties, who had a family that he kept secret from his father until his forties, who had his first exhibition at the age of fifty-six—but who fiercely maintained his revolutionary beliefs.

1.  Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kerns Goodwin

Steven Spielberg’s wonderful new film Lincoln was largely based on the research of famed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Anyone interested in politics or history will certainly enjoy this compelling re-examination of the drama surrounding the eventual adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.


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