Economic Education

February 18, 2013 at 12:35 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Finance

Lords of Finance Discussion Part One (I am writing this only 150 pages into a 508 page book.  I anticipate a series of reviews, much like how I handled Les Miserables in 2012, except over a short amount of time.  I will have the book completed no later than March 4th, 2013)

Title: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

Author: Liaquat Ahamed

Publisher: Penguin

Genre: Economics/ History

Length: 508 pages

Inevitably I read something and find about ten more things I need to read.  My constant lament on this blog is why we didn’t read more source documents in school.  So is it any wonder at all that while reading Lords of Finance for the HPB Humble Book Club I discover that I absolutely must have a copy of The Economic Consequences of the Peace? Probably not. Or it shouldn’t be.

In addition to that title, I find myself longing to dive into more history books on the time period as well as full length biographies on a few of the people mentioned.  You wouldn’t expect that kind of revelation out of reading a finance book, but Ahamed has a way of turning a phrase that makes interest and exchange rates, and the people directly responsible for their flux, fascinating.

I think this would be a great title to hand to a high school student during an economics course, it would definitely make the class more interesting.  I enjoyed my economics classes in college, taught by a clever little man with a wonderful accent (Scotland? Liverpool? Not sure) and had a great sense of humor despite teaching all his courses at eight o’clock in the morning.  But what I remember of high school economics was pretty cold and void of any kind of spunk.  It was filled with boring formulas, worksheets, and a fairly heavy textbook that we read very little of.  Obviously, the formulas are handy and important, but couldn’t there have been a little more meat? A little more perspective? A little more history?

Maybe living in a recession has weighed heavily in how I view the dollar, but I would like my child to grow to understand how much the economy effects politics, social customs, humanity, and art.

Idolizing money is a concern and a problem, but seeing how money fits into our lives and the bigger picture is important.  So often we are taught that money is separate and that we should keep it that way, but the truth is money is never separate.  Our history is riddled with money driven politics, so why is our history class and our economics class separate?  Our religions are filled with instructions on what to do with our money, our philosophies rooted in our thoughts on whether to live richly or poorly and how rich and poor are defined.  I think the history of banks, the dollar, and what your views are on the matter should all be addressed while you are learning how to calculate it, not as a completely separate train of thought.

HPB Book Club Spring 13 730Ahamed’s Lords of Finance was recommended to me by a customer at Half Price Books, it was actually chosen for the Humble location’s book club by that same customer, and I am so glad I took his advice.  We will be discussing the book as a group March 4th, 2013, starting at 7:30 pm.  Additional members are welcome, so if you are interested in the book and are in the area, please join us.  Treats are provided.

So far, the book is enlightening and informative, it covers a lot of the banking information provided in the documentary Zeitgeist without the haze of conspiracy theories and blasphemy.  I imagine we will have a lot to discuss when we meet. Until then, I plan to share my own thoughts here.

Other titles in my personal Economic Library:

Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations

Thorstein Veblen’s Conspicuous Consumption

Craig Karmin’s The Biography of the Dollar

Thomas Stanley’s The Millionaire Next Door

Please share any titles you think should be added from a historical, philosophical, or sheer financial perspective.

Next Lords of Finance Discussion Installment

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Oh Heavenly Days

February 5, 2013 at 8:44 pm (Events, JARS, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

DSC02517My post today is supposed to be  an update of last night’s book club meeting at Half Price Books in Humble.  We discussed Geraldine Brooks’ March, Alcott’s Little Women, Bronson Alcott, Fruitlands, and more.  Gigi’s Cupcakes in The Woodlands donated a half dozen cupcakes (which are more like really rich mounds of awesomeness than your typical idea of a cupcake) and mid way through the discussion and a bit of double vanilla icing melting in my mouth, all my very southern self could  think was “Oh My Heavenly Days.”  The I-literally-feel-like-I-am-in-heaven version of that line, not the rolling of the eyes sarcastic version… you fellow southerners know the very huge difference.

The discussion was awesome. I am quite enjoying this little once a month activity. I love how prepared my gentleman patron comes, with several books and research in tow.  I love yacking aimlessly on end about our likes and dislikes and anything about the book that has moved us that much.  Add in free cupcakes from GiGi’s and I feel as though we have created a true little slice of heaven tucked away in the corner of Half Price Books.

As far as the discussion of March was concerned, one thing that was agreed upon was the difficulty in reconciling the characters Brook created with the characters we all know and love from Little Women.  How did such a hot-headed Marmee become such a controlled and beautifully calm version we read in Alcott’s original work? Things that Brooks clearly well researched don’t mesh with the feel we have for the same history growing up in the States. One thing that stuck out in our minds, as a group, is whether Marmee would have actually gone and stayed under the same roof with the character Grace.  What do you think? It’s not too late to join the discussion, leave your thoughts in a comment or come to the meeting next month.

We also agreed on a memorable quote that made an appearance quite early in the novel:

“For to know a man’s library is, in some measure, to know his mind. And this mind was noble in its reach, wide in its interests, discerning in its tastes.” – pg. 18-19

Of course a group of bibliophiles would enjoy that one, of course.

January 2013 078I am still reading Eden’s Outcasts, a book about Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May.  I believe I expressed this opinion last night, so I shall re-hash it here, and will probably say it again when I provide an official review of the biography… Bronson Alcott was a weird dude.

Louisa May Alcott’s father was a true transcendentalist, and with that come some shocking beliefs to someone raised as I was.  To have your sole guide to life be your own conscious is rather difficult when your conscious moves you to establish a commune with other transcendentalists.   Fruitlands became a commune of many differing beliefs and activities that never seemed to find a happy balance.  You have one member running the place naked with another member refusing to farm, another with children, and others anti-children.  The only common belief system to educate and be separate from the world.  In Bronson Alcott’s attempt to create a heavenly utopia he created a hot mess, which upon seeing it I would exclaim in sarcasm now: Oh My Heavenly Days.

I am amazed that Louisa May Alcott came out mostly well adjusted. I am not, however, surprised that the story of Little Women in a happy little world to lose yourself.  Little Women functions as a biography of the best versions of her family brought to life in fiction, all the strange and unhappy parts discarded probably for the sake of sanity.

That brings me back to Geraldine Brooks’ March.  March is a much darker, sinister, true to life version of the tale of Little Women and Mr. and Mrs. March.  It is a grown ups history.  I think what is most difficult is reconciling the fictional tale of Little Women with the very real feeling war novel of March.  There are some details here and there that ring false, but for the most part it is graphically realistic of some pieces of the Civil War.  It captures the darker sides of human nature that Little Women does not address, things that coming from an abolitionist’s family Louisa might have been very familiar.

What do you think?

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February 2013 at Half Price Books Humble

February 1, 2013 at 12:06 am (Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

See you there!

HPB Book Club Spring 13 730

ValRaffle2013

Poetry night

TRbooksigning

Also, we will be journaling together February 14th from 7pm-9pm.

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March

January 16, 2013 at 12:39 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

march300-196x300Title: March

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Publisher: Penguin Books

Length: 280 pages

When I first selected March for the HPB Humble Book Club, I wasn’t fully aware of what I was getting myself into. I knew two things: it had been on my TBR for quite sometime and it had been quite popular with private book clubs in the area. By the cover and Geraldine Brooks reputation, I assumed it was some kind of historical fiction and that it was most likely to be something I considered good. I had not yet discovered that it was the story of Mr.March while off at war and Marmee. I did not realize I’d be reading back story on characters I’ve loved my whole life.

Geraldine Brooks’ writing is impeccable, amazing. It should be, she won a Pulitzer for this incredible book. I love the story.

Marmee Sarandon

I was ten when Susan Sarandon appeared in Little Women. It was not the first version of the movie I saw, nor the last; but as I watched the movie and re-read Little Women for the first time she became and still remains my favorite Marmee.

The problem is, I had an image of these wonderful people in my mind, an image I held onto for years and years.  From the first time I read the book to the last time I re-read the book, through every movie adaptation, Marmee and Mr. March, though less present than the other characters, were pillars of perfect parenting, virtue, and strength.  Brooks doesn’t take that away exactly, but she makes them so human it’s a bit disconcerting.

It’s like the first time you see pictures of your own parents at parties when they were young, before you were around.  Or, the moment you come home at the proper time after prom to discover they are nowhere to be found and when you call them they are at some event you were unaware of, laughing and joking.  In those moments you think, ‘Wow, they have a life.’  Marmee and Mr. March weren’t exactly having a party, most of the book is about the devastation of slavery and the civil war.  Still, that moment you read about Marmee and Mr. March making passionate love in the woods before they were married, a tryst that resulted in Meg, you think: ‘No! I didn’t want to know that about them!’

At the same time, there’s something magical about the way Brooks has managed to weave a new tale from and into an old one.  To take a small little quote about the girls missing their father who was so far away where the fighting was and turn it into a very distinct and unique piece of work, to read the telegram insisting Mrs. March go to her ill husband and have a whole life story revealed, it’s simply breath-taking and a bit of genius.  It is all very excellent.  It just isn’t what I had imagined for them myself.

Granted, many say Brooks based the story off of Louisa May Alcott’s own family life, as Alcott had written Little Women with the same background in mind.  With that said, it stands to reason that Brooks book probably honors the author and her own imagination well.

mr march paper dollsStill, I go back to my eight year old self (the first time I read Little Women) every time I re-read the book.  The magic of books is that they may always take you back to a moment, a bit of time in your life where your mindset was a certain way, the feeling you had the first time you read those lines… like a song that gives you chills decades after it has made you cry.  Geraldine Brooks’ March, though beautiful and epic, doesn’t fit with my eight year old Little Women reading self.  There’s a disenchantment there.

The book is a dichotomy that flusters me to my core.  To love a book so much and to be equally indignant about it is frustrating.

I plan to read Eden’s Outcasts next. It is a biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father.

There will be a meeting to discuss March at Half Price Books in Humble at 7:30 pm.  Join us!

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A Homemade Christmas

December 20, 2012 at 12:30 am (Recipes, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Homemade LifeTitle: A Homemade Life

Author: Molly Wizenberg

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length: 313 pages

It was the cover that got me first.  I saw a stack of these books and thought, those little white mugs look so lovely against that sage green.  Those crystal glasses look so clean.  I want my life to look like that; I need my life to look like that.

Of course, my kitchen life looks a little more like someone’s rummage sale: hodge-podge glasses; mugs of all shapes, sizes, and colors; I never have any idea what kind of utensils are in the kitchen as they have all been gifts, hand-me-downs, or left behind by various room mates.  (I couldn’t possibly imagine where my waffle iron came from, but it’s ancient, difficult to clean, and I love it.)  I say my ‘kitchen life’ as though it is only my kitchen that suffers from this unfashionably eclectic manner of acquiring my belongings, the truth is my whole life is this way.  The library is not the gorgeous leather bound, gold embossed on mahogany shelves thing of Beauty and the Beast or the Bodleian… instead it’s got some of those and a lot more ratty hard backs and tired old paperbacks, stacks, piles, a thousand different wood grains and colors, and pretty much a hot mess forgiven merely because it is a hot mess of books.  Even my cozy blankets have no continuity: quilts, afghans, fuzzy God-knows what kind; some made by old ladies, some by family, some just picked up at a thrift store, some from my childhood.

But it’s ok.  The cover is lovely and it gives us something to aspire to.  Even better than that, it isn’t fancy, it’s simple.  Molly Wizenberg may have a neat and organized life of homemade goodness, but it’s simple and easily attainable.  Her book isn’t about being the next Martha Stewart, and it isn’t about being a project obsessed Julie Powell, it’s just a cozy little recipe driven memoir – more than a memoir, actually.  Her book reads like little life essays, not life lessons, just life in the ‘and then I fell in love with coconut’ sort of way.  I like knowing these kinds of things about people… I don’t care about your degrees, your successes, your battle for this or for that, tell me how it was you fell in love with coconut.  Tell me your thoughts on white chocolate and all the memories those thoughts unleash.  Talk to me about rotten bananas and french toast, and what your parents were like in the kitchen.  Molly does.  And I love her for it.

Of course, if you bother to tell someone how you fell in love with coconut, your memories of the 80’s and white chocolate, your dad’s insights to making the best french toast on the planet, the moment you decided raw cabbage wasn’t half bad if prepared by the love of your life… you end up telling them about more than your food experiences, you basically tell them all the high and low points of your life, the parts that are way more personal than what degree you got in college.

Molly grew up in Oklahoma, being from Houston, TX, I don’t exactly consider that the south, but if you were from Montana I guess you probably would.  Nevertheless, reading something written by an Oklahoman during an 80 degree December feels a little more weather-mood appropriate than reading something written by, let’s say, a Canadian.  For a warm, southern winter, A Homemade Life perfectly fits the bill as it is all about the warmth of family in the kitchen, making a cozy way for yourself, and fabulous but mostly simple recipes… great for the holidays.  But only if those holidays are warmish, because there are several summer and spring recipes that would totally throw me off my game if it was snowing outside.  I’m a mood reader.  For me to enjoy a book to the max, the weather, the house, the book, and the stars all have to align.  Not entirely, I’m pretty good at getting completely lost in a book with absolutely no awareness of what is going on around me, but let’s face it, not everyone can write a 5 star book that doesn’t need ambiance guidance, and not every book is supposed to be read void of ambiance.

A Homemade Life is well-written, and thoroughly enjoyable, but it was written with the kitchen in mind.  I’ve read much of it at the kitchen table over coffee or soup.  Not every book is a coffee and soup at the kitchen table kind of book, but this one is.  This book has made me greatly long for a window seat in my kitchen.  The window seat would have a little garden box attached on the outside for all my kitchen herbs, I could open the pane and inhale the glorious scents of rosemary and green onions.  I don’t have that.  Instead, I read this sitting on a 30 year old, uneven chair with a rip in the leather, looking out the nearby window to my deck and tree.  It’s a great view, but when I open the pane I get a strong whiff of dog, ancient wood, moss, and whatever smell is coming from the water treatment plant in the back of my neighborhood that day.  My good days are in April when my jasmine masks all of that with vengeance.

But in my kitchen, I’m not just in my kitchen, I’m in Molly’s kitchen too.  I’m falling in love with her character of a father, lovingly referred to as Burg.  I’m living his grand moments, his love for breakfast and dinner, his love for his daughter, and his legacy after death.  In Molly’s kitchen I am introduced to her husband, their friends, and their exciting life together.  She shares all of this simply, eloquently, and with recipes.

In the spirit of recipe sharing, which in addition to being a lovely writer, is Molly’s forte, I will share a recent one of my own.  I used to do this more often, but lately I’ve been hoarding my recipes to myself and a few friends, not intentionally, my blog is just book driven and my facebook page is picture driven.  This recipe was birthed from a strong desire for Greek Chicken Orzo Soup and a simultaneous urge to hop in the car and get some Potato Soup from Panera Bread.  I can see your eyebrows raised in suspicion as I type, but I assure you, it came out pretty fabulously and I’ve since made about four variations of it.  I’m pretty lazy in the kitchen and this was all dumped in a crock pot…

Andi’s Greek/Potato Soup-ness:

1 can of cream style corn

1 can of whole kernal corn (optional, depending on the size of your pot)

1 can of water (I use the corn can and fill it with water)

1 chicken bullion cube

(in a vegetarian version we skipped the can of water and the chicken b. cube and used one can’s worth of vegetable broth)

a bit of milk (anywhere from a quarter cup to a whole can, depending on you and your pot)

mushrooms if you like, I’ve done it with and without

lots of chopped potato, just fill that pot up with as much as you can fit

celery, chopped… include the leafy bits, this is a must

and the part that makes it what it is… wait for it… ALL PURPOSE GREEK SEASONING, just shower it in over all those potatoes floating to the top, stir it up and shower some more.  Greek Seasoning is absolutely the most awesome ‘secret’ ingredient to a soup ever.  If you have an aversion to peppery flavors hold back, there’s a lot of black pepper in the flavor, but I have  a black pepper allergy and it didn’t cause me problems so that made me happy

Because I’m from Texas, I put Tobasco in everything

The first time I made this was shortly after Thanksgiving and I added left over chunks of Thanksgiving ham to it, it was heavenly.

After a few years of sitting on my shelf (this is pretty typical unless the book is sent to me by an author or publisher to review), I picked the book up for the HPB Humble Book Club, we will be discussing it in January.  I’m hoping the other members of the group enjoyed it as much as I have and maybe even tried out some of the recipes.  I still can’t decide which concoction to bring on the first Monday in January, but I plan to make something of Molly’s to celebrate the joy of a life homemade.

Don’t forget to check out Molly’s blog, the Orangette.

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HPB Humble Spring Book Club Picks!

December 14, 2012 at 6:42 pm (Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

HPB Humble Spring Book Club Picks!

January – A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg (cooking/memoir)
February – March by Geraldine Brooke (fiction/literature)
March – Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed (business/economic history)
April – On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (fiction/literature)

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Old Curiosity Shop – A Curious Book

December 5, 2012 at 4:09 am (Events, Reviews) (, , , , , , )

the-old-curiosity-shop-movie-poster-1976-1010384193Title: The Old Curiosity Shop

Author: Charles Dickens

Length: The Reader’s Digest version is 523 pages

Chosen for the Half Price Books Humble Book Club for the December discussion to get in the spirit of winter without the over kill of A Christmas Carol, I was incredibly excited about finally getting to this particular Dickens title. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my great expectations (pun intended) and failed to become my new favorite Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby still reigns supreme in my eyes.

With a villainous dwarf, a troupe of dancing dogs, and then some, The Old Curiosity Shop was less about a cozy antique shop (which is what I wanted) and more of a Don Quixote style adventure occurs within a Les Miserables themed tale of woes for an old man/ young girl  runaway team.  Spectacular! Spectacular! from The Moulin Rouge comes to mind: bright colors, forced marriages, evil characters who resemble carnies… it was a bit much for me, but allegorical novels usually are.

Nell was too perfect and met too tragic an end.  Quilp was too disturbing, too evil.  Who makes their wife stand in a corner all night and not move for the sheer pleasure of mental torment?  Not to mention, he’s a dwarf! Give him a good, hard kick and go on your merry way if he’s evil!

Master Humphreys ClockDespite my lack of love for this novel, I think it a great selection for a book club.  There was so much to talk about, so many things worth speculating.  First, the merits of reading it as it was initially released, which was in serial.  I think reading Dickens’ work in weekly installments instead of all at once as a novel brings back a level of magic to his stories that was lost after they were printed and bound in one volume.  Second, at the book club meeting, we had a lengthy discussion of the use of names and archetypes.  Third, the ties to Master Humphrey’s Clock, Dickens’ Wife’s Sister, and a number of other seemingly random connections that bring new light to the book.

The most interesting to me currently is that of Master Humphrey’s Clock, because I own the book and have not yet read it.  Master Humphrey’s Clock was a periodical of short stories about the ‘curiosity shop’ I actually wanted to read about when I began the story of Little Nell.  Master Humphrey is actually the narrator of the first few chapters of The Old Curiosity Shop and then steps out of the picture.

There aren’t many members in our little book club at Half Price Books, and it seems to be on the verge of becoming a gentleman’s [book] club run by a non-gentleman [I’m a lady], but the meetings are open to anyone and everyone the first Monday on the Month at 8 pm.  Snacks are provided and the book discussions so far have been pretty awesome.  Up for discussion in January is Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life.  See you there.

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How I Waste My Time

November 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I am supposed to be reading The Old Curiosity Shop for HPB Humble’s December Book Club meeting.  I love and adore Dickens so I’m actually very excited about this.  Plus, the weather is perfect for it.  But every time I sit down I find something else has made it into my hands and reading time.  Yesterday I breezed through Unrecounted by W.G. Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp before starting and completing Sarah N. Harvey’s The Lit Report.  Both were short, breezy books, but neither were on my immediate TBR pile.

Unrecounted is a coffee table book shrunk down to the size of a trade paper back, in my opinion.  Housed in poetry, yet I find myself more captivated by the art.  The book is a series of Tripp’s art and Sebald’s verse married together very simply in a manner you might see at an art gallery rather than in a poetry book.  I enjoyed it immensely, but I would have preferred to walk through a perfectly lit hall with the images taking up half the wall, the verse on a plaque nearby, rather than flip through the pages of a book.  Although it would be far less accessible that way, the emotional impact would be far greater.

The Lit Report is a fabulous young adult piece for older teens.  In the style of So Many Books, So Little Time, the story follows a year in the life of Julia questioning the beliefs of those around her and defining her own world view while reading and walking her best friend through a secret teen pregnancy.  Christians are not shown in the greatest light.  In fact I doubt that the ‘Christians’ presented in this book actually are Christians as they tend to be people more focused on beating religion into others or attempting to save themselves from the wrath of God by burying themselves into activities of a highly questionable church, instead of simply believing in the Truth and love of Jesus Christ.  The book is also pretty consistent with how most modern teens live and has its fair share of swearing , misbehavior, and (obviously) sexual activity (after all, one girl is pregnant).  But the novel rings true as a supposed memoir of a girl’s life… while reading it you feel as though this could be someone’s experience somewhere – this could happen.

The Lit Report is something I wouldn’t mind re-reading with the kiddo when she is older and we can discuss the thoughts and opinions of the girls, their actions, and the actions of their parents.  It has valid and necessary topics to discuss: the cruel dogmatic ways of some people who call themselves ‘Christians’ and how they influence the public’s view on what being a Christian means, sexual activity as a teenager, and of course how literature can be a part of your daily life.  It is important to see what someone who ‘walks the walk’ looks like in comparison to somewhat who has hardened their heart and spouts biblical references at people out of context.  It is important to know where you stand as a sexual being and what your expectations and standards are, and finally, how your decisions affect those around you.  The novel really makes you stop to think what the author’s own life experiences with so-called Christians have been.

As for The Old Curiosity Shop, I am a few chapters in and it waits patiently for me on my night stand.  Maybe tonight will be the night… or, maybe I’ll find myself wasting more time.

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A Book Club Possessed…

November 6, 2012 at 6:06 am (Events, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

… by the power of the words of A.S. Byatt.

    

I already shared with you my thoughts on A.S. Byatt’s Possession, how the novel leaves me overwhelmed with inadequacy.  But tonight, at the Half Price Books Humble monthly Book Club meeting, I got to discuss with others how it made them feel.

Over a strawberry cream cheese coffee cake, we talked a lot about French mythology, feminism, the Victorian era, the roaring twenties (a discussion that branched out of our feminism discussion), human nature, and more.

There is so much to talk about in this book, so much material, so many memorable quotes, I found it exhilarating that the things I wanted to discuss were things someone else wanted to discuss too.  When I asked about favorite quotes from the book, a typical book clubbish question, it was exciting to see that Henry had underlined the same quote on page 39 that I had.  What are the odds?

“It’s an odd affair – tragedy and romance and symbolism rampant all over it […]”

The quote is about the fabricated poet Christabel LaMotte and her poem about Melusina, and in hindsight it doesn’t necessarily stand out that much from the other wonderful quotes to be found in the book.  However, it is so close to the beginning that you wouldn’t know that so many amazing bits of prose are to come.  I think I had initially underlined it, supposing (correctly) that it would equally describe Christabel’s poem and Byatt’s work as a whole.  There is tragedy.  There is romance.  And the symbolism is rampant all over it.

The idea of cleanliness, purity, and the color white intermingle with Victorian era ideology while also contrasting against the deviance of feminism in bold greens, crimsons, plums, and blues.

What is so interesting about all this symbolism with color, is that like it’s themes, that the white and the color overlap so effortlessly, so surprisingly, when the final work is complete it is hard to decide where you would want to end up – with the pure white? or the passionate color?  It seems as though to be complete, there would need to be both.

There’s an essay floating about in cyberspace written by a Stephen Dondershine titled Color and Identity in A.S. Byatt’s Possession.  In it, he talks of the book being just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting and quotes Raymond Watkinson”s Pre-Raphaelite Art and Design:

One of the marks of the finest Pre-Raphaelite work was, and still is, the exciting and disturbing power of its colour — very much the least naturalistic aspect of the new painting. The painters of the Brotherhood, and their associates, went beyond the frank record of the green trees and grasses, the bright pure hues of flowers, and reintroduced into painting ranges and relations of colour unused in European art since the Middle Ages — an alarming array of blues, greens, violets, purples, used not simply because they were there to be painted, but chosen for their powerful emotional effect. It was not of course simply the colours, but their combination, that compelled and provoked these effects.

Dondershine stresses the word combination with good reason.  Would any of these paintings speak to us visually and emotionally even half as well if the lights and darks were not so opposite and vibrant?  If the color was not so colorful and rich, if the white was not so stark?

     

Would Maude be so fascinating if she wasn’t so broken by Fergus? Would Christabel’s story be quite so passionately romantic if she hadn’t been a virgin before Ash? Would the story have meant so much if their love hadn’t been somewhat forbidden?  At the same time, doesn’t her fate make you think twice about her rash haste to be independent?  Doesn’t the idea of freedom being found within the safety and confines of a marriage, a partnership become solidified when viewed in the severe contrast of Christabel’s dependency on her cousin later in life… when seen how famously Roland and Maude get along?

Then there is Melusina.  Melusina, the story actually being described in that oh so telling page 39 quote.  I had never heard of Melusina until this book.  I am now completely captivated by the French version of the Scots selkies, the Ondines/Undines of the world; except instead of being a beautiful and gentle seal-woman, Melusina is a serpent of the water-sprite variety.  Now, of course, I am dying to get my hands on a compilation of French myths, equipped with illustrations throughout history, of course!

All in all, it was an exciting meeting, and left me much to ponder. I cannot wait until next month’s gathering when we will discuss Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shoppe.

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The Ultimate Possession – a book by Byatt

November 4, 2012 at 3:57 pm (Reviews) (, , , , )

Title: Possession

Author: A.S. Byatt

Publisher: Random House

Length: 555 pages

Nothing can make you feel so inadequate as a writer as when you read a piece of such perfection that your own work cannot but pale in stark comparison. It’s possibly something like being the mediocre gymnast addicted to watching the Olympics, knowing that the athletic achievements they witness will not and cannot be their own reality.

Someone can write and write, practice with diligence, read, and surround themselves with excellence of the craft – but there is an element of giftedness that can only be handed down by the command of God.

A.S. Byatt is such a person graced with immense giftedness.

Possession is overwhelmingly and alarmingly riddled with her talent and sheer genius for the craft.

Prose, poetry, storytelling, she has it all and shares it with such ease. Nothing is forced, everything unfolds with the exquisite engineering of a flower in bloom, or a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.  Intricately beautiful.

How can a person contain so much talent?

I imagine hundreds of years from now archeologists and scholars will discover a copy and upon inspection will accuse the author of not being a lone writer – but a pen name used for a collective.  They will say the book is a collaborative effort between several poets, a journalist, a researcher, and possibly a novelist.  Someone would be supposed to offer their services as the voice of Christabel LaMotte, another as R. Henry Ash.  They may even miss the point altogether and believe it to be an actual account on a literary discovery, or a novelization of a literary discovery.

I think of myself as a writer.  I have unfinished stories, a three-quarters written novel or two.  I even used to attempt to write poetry – that was eons ago.  None of it is really any good.  I love words, but do not have the grasp and understanding of them to put them to proper use.  I do not have the finesse of a linguistic artist.  The words just linger muddled and puddled in my brain and sometimes my journals, fragments of fragments end up on this blog.  I always tell myself that I’ll be better when I’m older, but I never am.

The only thing I can claim with absolute truth, is that I am a reader.  As one reader to another, I must tell you, anyone who makes that claim cannot go through life without having read Possesssion.

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