Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dubliners Double Duty (for Irish Short Story Month, and Wondrous Words Wednesday)

Who's afraid of James Joyce?  I am, or was.  I can say that now, although I'm not promising to read his novels.  I opened Dubliners with some degree of trepidation.  Was it the fact that this book, edited by Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz, from my college days, has sections devoted to scholarly criticism and notes?  James Joyce.  The author's name alone is intimidating.  More pointedly, James Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake, a novel of comic prose noted for its avant-garde, experimental style, which has been called one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language (according to Wikipedia).



James Joyce, courtesy of Wikipedia
Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (1882-1941) is considered to be one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century.  He's well known for his novel Ulysses (1922), a lengthy book that establishes a series of parallels between its characters and events and those in Homer's Odyssey.  In addition to three books of poetry, a play, and published letters, other works by James Joyce are his short story collection, Dubliners (1914), and his novels, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939).  I decided to revisit Dubliners, an older book I've had on my shelves since my college days, for Mel's third annual Irish Short Story Month, a special event on The Reading Life.




Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I did not retain any of my school notes on the stories in Dubliners, and it felt as if I were reading these stories for the first time, although I did feel an inkling of familiarity, and I did not think, thankfully, that these stories were too difficult to understand.

Dubliners, a collection of 15 short stories by James Joyce, was first published in 1914, when Irish nationalism was at its peak.  I read several of the stories, in order (for the most part), starting with the opening story, The Sisters, which is a good introduction to this collection of stories, and to the work of James Joyce in a larger sense, in terms of the setting and the themes (Dublin, and religious issues, such as guilt).  Apparently, many of the characters in Dubliners reappear later in small roles in his novel, Ulysses.  The first few stories in Dubliners are narrated (in the first person) by young (child) protagonists, while subsequent stories focus on the lives of (progressively) older people, in accordance with James Joyce's tripartite division of development, from childhood to adolescence to maturity.  His stories often feature epiphanies, moments when main characters experience self-understanding or illumination.

My comments are general, as I read many stories in this collection, including The Sisters, An Encounter, Araby, and Eveline.  (I'll read more of the stories, including what has been called his best story, The Dead, which is also the last story in this collection.)  I was relieved to learn that James Joyce wrote exclusively (or almost exclusively) about Dublin, Ireland.  Since his work is focused on Dublin, I was able to remain in Dublin, rather than travel all over (there's a measure of comfort in going to a new place and staying there for a while).


Map of Dublin inside of the book

"For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world.  In the particular is contained the universal."
~James Joyce

James Joyce's Irish experiences were essential to his writing and stories, which are set in Dublin.  In addition to being the setting, Dublin is also a "character" in these stories, and there are numerous descriptions of the streets of Dublin (as in the third story, Araby, which begins with a description of quiet North Richmond Street).  

Religion was a fixture in Dublin and is a strong theme in this collection of short fiction. In the first story, The Sisters, the narrator, a young boy, Jack, has just learned that his older friend, Father Flynn, has died of "paralysis".  In the second story, An Encounter, two poor boys throw rocks at the narrator and his friend, Mahony, and mistake them for Protestants (the tension between Catholics and Protestants is alluded to throughout the stories in Dubliners).  In the third story, Araby, the narrator, an unnamed boy, recalls the priest who died in the back drawing-room of the house before his family moved in.  Religion is heavily featured in these stories, which depict Irish middle class life in the early years of the 20th century. 


While reading, not surprisingly, I came across a few words to highlight for Wondrous Words Wednesday, a wonderful weekly wordie meme hosted by Kathy from BermudaOnion's Weblog.  Each of these words is from the first story in the book, The Sisters, and two of the words are related to religion.


Breviary, courtesy of Wikipedia
1. breviary: A breviary (from the Latin word brevis, meaning short or brief) is a book of the Latin liturgical rites of the Catholic Church containing the public or canonical prayers, hymns, the Psalms, readings, and notations for everyday use, especially by bishops, priests, and deacons.

"Whenever I'd bring in his soup to him there, I'd find him with his breviary fallen to the floor, lying back in his chair with his mouth open."
~The Sisters, James Joyce

The word can also refer to a collection of Christian orders of prayers and readings, from Anglican or Lutheran resources. It may be used to refer to an abridged version of any text or a brief summary of some subject, but is usually used to refer to the Catholic liturgical book.


2. simoniac: a person who practices simony, which is the buying or selling of church offices or powers. 

"But then I remembered that it had died of paralysis and I felt that I too was smiling feebly as if to absolve the simoniac of his sin." ~The Sisters, James Joyce

This word stems from Simon Magus (Acts 8:18), who tried to buy the power of conferring the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles.  Simony was said to have become widespread in Europe in the 10th –11th century, as promotions to the priesthood or episcopate were bestowed by monarchs and nobles, often in exchange for oaths of loyaltyMore widely, it's any contract of this kind forbidden by divine or ecclesiastical law.


3. truculent: eager or quick to argue or fight; aggressively defiant; savage

"His face was very truculent, grey and massive, with black cavernous nostrils and circled by a scanty white fur."
~The Sisters, James Joyce

I'm glad I looked this word up because I thought it meant thin or transparent (referring to facial skin), or something of that nature. The sentence above is the boy's description of the priest who has just died, Father James Flynn.




Have you read Dubliners, or other works by James Joyce?  As always, I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Capital of the World: Review and Giveaway

The United Nations, courtesy of Wikipedia
What? Did you know that the United Nations headquarters could have been built in Riverdale (a section of the Bronx), or in Black Hills (South Dakota), Atlantic City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, St. Louis, or in over two hundred other cities, large and small, in America or Europe?  I had no idea that New York City was the last choice for the location of the United Nations! The "Capital of the World" was not supposed to be located in midtown Manhattan on the East River. 

When I was in college, many people I knew were studying International Relations, or "IR", as it was called.  At the time, I didn't really know what that course of study covered, but the term seemed rather grand to me.  Growing up in NY, I'd always met people from many countries, from African and Asian and Latin American countries, and just about everywhere, and I became friends with people of different nationalities.  I'd visited the United Nations on a few school field trips, and had felt a sense of awe and reverence each time. (If I could, I'd travel the world, and I'd love to be a diplomat.)  Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations by Charlene Mires, a new book published in March of 2013, appealed to the side of me that's interested in people from other cultures and countries.  I also wanted to learn about the early history of the United Nations, the "Capital of the World" (the idea of a world capital runs deep in history, dating to at least 27 BCE, according to this book), a meeting place and a workshop for nations who value peace.


After the devastation of two horrific wars, the world was eager for peace.  The United Nations was formed (replacing the League of Nations) at the end of World War II, in 1945, to maintain international peace and promote cooperation in solving the world's economic, social, and humanitarian problems.  Author and history professor Charlene Mires says that at the end of the Second World War Americans in particular were determined, hopeful, and anxious, and ready to avoid future wars.  In both a symbolic and a practical sense, the creation of the United Nations provided hope and the opportunity to live in a more peaceful world. The question then became where to situate the United Nations, the "Capital of the World".  Countless cities wanted the United Nations headquarters in their city, but only one would have this distinct honor.  This created a boisterous competition, and for several years a "race" for the "Capital of the World" ensued.  Public officials, business leaders, civil boosters and citizens alike formed committees, composed letters, and created promotional campaigns, and fervently tried to persuade others that the headquarters belonged in their city.


Back cover
 "Civic leaders among this generation--the parent generation of World War II--seized upon the dream of creating a Capital of the World.  They chased it beyond reason, although it seemed perfectly reasonable to them at the time.  At the end of the Second World War, when so much had been risked, so much lost, and so much achieved, it seemed possible, even imperative, to dream."
~Capital of the World, Charlene Mires




A letter from Wales by Mabel Morris that arrived in America suggested that a ship be the headquarters of the United Nations, which could "be moved to any nation".  This was humorous at the time, but in hindsight may have been "the right metaphor for the long and storm-tossed journey that lay ahead for the United Nations as it tried to narrow the choices for its permanent home".

History books can sometimes seem rather dry, even to the most die hard history buff, due to the sheer abundance of facts and information presented (and admittedly, prior to reading this book, I referred to the "report" I'd write about it, rather than the usual post).  Although this book has its share of facts, it's also lively and animated, and is enhanced by photos, drawings, and maps. The book is very well researched, with a thick and hefty appendix.  With the help of librarians and archivists, Charlene Mires skillfully pieced together the early history of the United Nations.  I enjoyed reading about the efforts of various cities to "win" the "Capital of the World", to try to convince others that their town was the one and only place for the United Nations.  Overall, I found Capital of the World to be quite captivating.  

Terrific news!  New York University Press, the publisher, is generously offering a copy of Capital of the World as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.
  • For an extra entry, leave a comment about a visit you've made to the United Nations.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, April 1.  A winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, April 2.  Good luck! 


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me Capital of the World.  For more reviews of this book, visit the other stops on TLC's book tour of Capital of the World.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

For St. Patrick's Day

"Irish writers tell stories differently..."
~Edna O'Brien

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, Open Road Integrated Media provided this gorgeous, short video, Authors on Ireland, which features several famous authors, Edna O'Brien, Joseph Caldwell, Ken Bruen, and T.J. English.  After viewing this, I'm ready to pack my bag for a trip to Ireland! 





Additionally, March is Irish-American Heritage Month, and Irish Short Story Month on Mel's blog, The Reading Life.  In the past, I've reviewed short stories by Irish writers for this event, such as A Journey by Edna O'Brien.  I hope to participate again this year.




St. Patrick,
St. Benin Church, Ireland,
courtesy of Wikipedia
A Short Irish Toast

May your mornings bring joy 
and your evenings bring peace 
May your troubles grow less 
as your blessings increase!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans

One of the perks of being a book blogger is getting to read brand new books, sometimes even before they're published. Such was the case with Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans by Joanne DeMaio, which was published just a couple of days ago.  Inspired by the pretty, painterly cover of this new novel, I brewed some coffee, kicked off my shoes, settled into a lounge chair, and began to read. I was eager to begin the second novel by Joanne DeMaio, as I'd savored her first one, Whole Latte Life.  Set at Stony Point beach in Connecticut, Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans is the story of denim designer Maris Carrington, who has flown to her childhood home in Connecticut from Chicago to wrap up the loose ends of her father's estate. With the help of her friend, Eva, she decides to stay at a beach cottage for an indefinite period of time that summer, to reconnect with friends she hasn't seen in many years, and to think about her past and her future.

Once again, Joanne DeMaio's writing is quite lovely and artistic.  In this book, she paints a portrait of a group of friends who reconvene at the beach after being apart for over a decade.  The beach is an idyllic setting in which to spend the summer, and like in her previous book, Whole Latte Life, the book refers to the pleasures of coffee numerous times.  But the seemingly light, casual, breezy nature of this book is limited to the setting.

"To cure pain, one has to feel it first. That's what acclimating is to for him, dealing with some sort of pain.  And that's what eats at him right now.  Either pain has to be felt, or escaped from."
~Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans, Joanne DeMaio

Maris' group of friends faces some particularly weighty adult problems, pertaining to life and death, the loss of a limb, job and marital problems, and other family issues.  In keeping with the serious tone of the book, I'm not sure that the cute title really fits the book. Maybe this book deserves a more pensive title, such as At Stony Point (or something more creative), although I like how the title refers to Maris' career and coffee.

This could be due to my limitations as a reader, but it took me a while to "get into" this book.  I needed to reread the first few chapters in order to make sense of what was happening and who the characters were.  For me, things did not "click" as quickly as I'd hoped they would.  I was a trifle confused as I tried to figure out the connections between all of the characters, to discover who was who. Truth be told, I felt there were too many characters for this sort of novel.  I liked Maris well enough, but I was left wanting to get to know her better.  Instead, I met many of her friends, Eva, Matt, Scott, Jason, Neil, Kyle, Lauren, and Vinny.  I'd have preferred fewer characters who I could get to know more deeply.



Overall, however, I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more work by Joanne DeMaio. Her writing is exquisite and evocative.

"Farther down the beach, a few boats are moored just beyond the swimming area, their cabins glowing with yellow light.  Beyond the boats, the lighthouse at Gull Island faintly beckons.  An occasional faraway call of a foghorn moves through the night."
~~Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans, Joanne DeMaio

She brought the setting to life, and I felt as if I, too, were at the shore, basking in the fresh beach air, taking a barefoot walk in the sand by the edge of the water.  More than just a beach read, though, this book is an interesting exploration of many things, including the importance of pursuing your chosen career and other dreams, and to connecting with friends and family.

Thanks to Mary for providing me with a complimentary copy of this novel.

Your comments are welcomed, as always.

Friday, March 8, 2013

For International Women's Day: No Ocean Here

As I read these poems, I became upset and angry, and I asked myself a single question.  Why?

March is National Women's History Month, and March 8 is International Women's Day, a day to honor the achievements of women globally.  I thought it would be a fitting time to feature No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, published in 2013, part of the World Voices series.  These powerful poems are stories in verse, heartbreaking, haunting, and often horrific accounts of women and girls in various parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.




Like a gypsy with no shoes,
I walk humbly through cultures,
documenting stories

for women without a voice.
~Sweta Srivastava Vikram, No Ocean Here

Most of the poems have a short preface, which sets up the particular situation featured in the poem. I've listed a couple of examples below.

It's been estimated that over 20,000 women in the Middle East and Asia, where Islam is practiced, are killed by their family members if the latter thinks the victim has brought disgrace to the family or community. ~Honor Killing  

In some parts of Gaza, mayit nar (acid) is thrown on women who don't cover their faces. ~Mayit Nar 

Every year, thousands of girls are trafficked from Nepal into India for commercial sex work.  Most of these girls come from poor families, so they are lured by the promise of employment or marriage. ~Brothel

There are numerous references to the ocean in this book, starting with the first poem, which has the same title as the book, and is an introductory poem about the general plight of women in these countries. 

I awaken in a cruel world--  

no ocean here 

Inspired by true stories and interviews, Sweta Srivastava Vikram's new work is a courageous, compelling, and compassionate collection, which gives these women a much needed voice against violence and oppression.  Over 40 poems depict the plights of women and girls in these developing countries, who've suffered too long in silence--and who desperately deserve to be heard. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mailbox Monday

Well, at least we get a month, right?

I was honored to receive a new collection of poetry, No Ocean Here, by award-winning poet, novelist, and blogger Sweta Srivastava Vikram, to review for Women's History Month (March) and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (May).  This book presents 43 poems, many of which are hauntingly heartbreaking narratives of women subjected to violence and opression in various parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.



Mailbox Monday is a terrific way to highlight new books and reading-related items.  Created by Marcia, who has set up several book blogs as well as a Mailbox Monday blog, this meme has been "on tour" for the past few years.  Caitlin from Chaotic Compendiums is hosting Mailbox Monday for the month of March.  What new goodies were in your mailbox recently?

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Some of the books reviewed here have been provided
to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents,
in exchange for my honest reviews.