Monthly Archives: December 2019

Book Review: Wild – From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail

Another Birthday Book Review… this time gifted by Mom.

Mom doesn’t know that reading books from Oprah’s Book Club is a bad plan.   Her intentions were good… pre-celebrating the results of the foot surgery I’m having next month, she got me a book about hiking the PCT.   Good thoughts, I embrace the hope and the idea, even if I didn’t like the book – except the part about the actual hiking.

To summarize my review of this book, I’d say that this work is:

  1. A novel of the modern type, where the subject matter is interwoven with autobiography, heavy on the autobiography.
  2. A feminist novel.  I could have read this in college.   Stereotypical Oprah’s Book Club.

I’ve hiked a bit of the PCT with my folks as a teen.  Living in California, if you go camping much (which we did), you’re bound to hit this famous trail and do a few miles.   It’s well worth the effort – I have walked the path winding along the top of the mountain, overlooking the desert below, the path that meanders between the two climate zones.   Glorious.   I’ve walked, similarly, some of the bits in the Sierra.  Amazing.

When Wild talks about the experience, I feel utterly at home and simultaneously homesick for the wilds of California.   I admire her tenacity, pushing through hardship to reach a goal.  I identify with that kind of heroine.

But the drug addiction, the divorce, the abortion… they make this a story about Ms. Strayed, not about the PCT, and not about hiking.   Sixty percent of this book is written about her life off the trail, and though I’d be happy to hear about “I worked through this on this climb”, it’s too much.  I want to read about the PCT.   I want to read about the rigors of hiking.   I don’t want to read about casual sex.   Trite.  Meaningless.  I know the modern feminist novel makes much of these events, but to me they’ve become tropes – yes, yes, you’re exerting your independence.   Shall I pat you on the head?  The hike exerts her independence, her perseverance, her strength!  The other stuff is detritus, best left behind forever.

This winding together of 70% autobiography 30% subject has gotten dreadfully common.  This is far from the first book I’ve read written in this style.  It must be the new non-fiction format.   I’ve read books by nice Christian ladies in the same style – books about houses and gardens, theoretically.    If I pick up a book about making a house a home, I want to read about making a house a home.  One doesn’t have to erase oneself as the author, but I didn’t buy the book to read your autobiography!!   Some is good, a sprinkling.  But all together?  No.

And so.  If you’re stuck in Oprah’s Book Club, this isn’t a bad book, and Strayed does have a solid backbone.   But that’s the nicest thing I can say about it.

Book Review: Dressed – The Secret Life of Clothes

Continuing through the pile of Birthday Books, we come to the dud in the room.   Beauty was such an incredible read that it’s only fair that one of the others would utterly fail to be palatable.

Pros:  It’s a beautiful book.  The pages are thick, turn well on nice stitching, and the photographs are interesting, well-labeled, and plentiful.

Cons:  In short?  This is written by a feminist philosopher and … that’s what this is.  Now, I could manage that if it had a point.  I remember (back in the day) enjoying Naomi Wolf.  (These days I’d disagree in the main, but again – she had something to disagree *with*).

One should listen carefully to ideas with which one disagrees.  Sometimes there are pearls in the muck…. and at any rate, your own thinking is sharpened.  “Why is this wrong?” is an *excellent* question to ask oneself.   It’s an even more excellent question to give oneself as an essay prompt.  Reason it out!

But Bari didn’t have an argument to chew on.  I got through half of chapter two (suits) before I had to give up.   The text (past the introduction, which did have some pearlettes) is a discussion of the symbolism of popular culture, bit after bit, with no cohesive argument to be made – just the understanding that the argument has already been won, and the author is only piling evidence up.   Frankly, I got bored.  “Are you still piling up evidence for an argument you’re not planning to make?  Okay – I’m out.”

Bari spent very little time talking about CLOTHES qua clothes.  Clothes in art.  Clothes in cinema, yes.   But then she mentioned clothes in contexts with which I am extremely familiar… and she told 2/3 of the story, missing the point entirely.   Or was flat wrong.   Besides which, reading symbolism into every.single.thing gets old.  It’s pretentious.  Certainly there is symbolism to be found in most stories – particularly old ones.  But feminist symbolism in every object, five layers deep?  Um.  No.   K.I.S.S.   Wisdom is found in simple truths.

I’m having good fun reading for research, it’s extremely inspiring – even when the books aren’t much use for anything except decor.

Book Review: Beauty – The Invisible Embrace

 

Beauty – The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue  Ten stars out of five.  😀

I instagrammed a picture of this book when I was in the first chapter, remarking on the fine sweet pain of reading the book that you wish you’d written.    More on that later… but suffice to say that I took *pages* of notes out of this book.   Written by a man who’s about to become my new favorite non-fiction author, this work covers Beauty from stem to stern – very nearly every aspect of beauty other than those popularized by the beauty industry.

A philosopher, once a priest, O’Donohue goes DEEP with his analysis of beauty.    He goes wide.  The list of works referenced alone is a trove of riches.   Well, it is for those of us interested in the philosophical and theological aspects to beauty.

Now to besiege you with quotes…

p. 193 “Beauty shines with a light from beyond itself.   Love is the name of that light.  At the heart of beauty must be a huge care and affection for creation, for nowhere is beauty an accidental presence.   Nor is beauty simply its own end.”

p. 127 “Architecture is one of the most public and permanent stages on which a culture displays its understanding of beauty. ”  [I found that statement both true and excessively depressing].

p. 67 “The soul is never fully at home in the social world that we inhabit.  It is too large for our contained, managed lives”.

p. 3 “Perhaps, for the first time, we gain a clear view of how much ugliness we endure and allow.   The media generate relentless images of mediocrity and ugliness in talk-shows, tapestries of smothered language and frantic gratification.   The media are becoming the global mirror and these shows tend to enshrine the ugly as the normal standard.   Beauty is mostly forgotten and made to seem naive and romantic.

That last… that last is where my fine sweet pain was born.  This … boxing up of beauty as naive, as weak, as romantic – that’s what I wanted to put to death.  Beauty has power.

Beauty touches all aspects of our lives, at least it does if we don’t deliberately wall ourselves off from it.   Sometimes we do, in the name of mediocrity, in the name of anger, in the name of intentional numbness.

I have spent the past few days (I read quickly) walking around my house forcing my family to listen to me read passages out loud to them.   One might say I’m excessively fond of this book.   It *will* be influencing my future work.

If you are at all interested in Beauty in any of her forms, this book will be a song in your heart.   Go.  Read it so that I don’t have to find you and follow you around and read it to you.   Because I might……. I might indeed.