Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson {audiobook}

TitleAutobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
Author: James Weldon Johns
Narrator: Richard Allen
Length: 6 hours
Published in: 1912
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9781624061912
Source: public library
Reason for Reading: Title and cover intrigued me
Rating: 4/5

SUMMARY (Goodreads):

James Weldon Johnson’s emotionally gripping novel is a landmark in black literary history and, more than eighty years after its original anonymous publication, a classic of American fiction. The first fictional memoir ever written by a black, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man influenced a generation of writers during the Harlem Renaissance and served as eloquent inspiration for Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright. In the 1920s and since, it has also given white readers a startling new perspective on their own culture, revealing to many the double standard of racial identity imposed on black Americans.
Narrated by a mulatto man whose light skin allows him to “pass” for white, the novel describes a pilgrimage through America’s color lines at the turn of the century–from a black college in Jacksonville to an elite New York nightclub, from the rural South to the white suburbs of the Northeast. This is a powerful, unsentimental examination of race in America, a hymn to the anguish of forging an identity in a nation obsessed with color. And, as Arna Bontemps pointed out decades ago, “the problems of the artist [as presented here] seem as contemporary as if the book had been written this year.”

My Thoughts: As a history-lover, I really found this story intriguing. The time of the story–early 1900s–is a really complex time in America and to read such a one-of-a-kind narrative, however fictional it may be, only piqued my interest all the more.

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

Title: Castle Rackrent
Author: Maria Edgeworth
Length: 85 pages
Published in: 1800
Genre: fiction (satire)
ISBN: 9780486440927
Source: 
personal collection
Reason for Reading:
Years of Books Goal, to fill the year 1800
Rating: 1/5

Summary (from back of book):

An Irish writer who lived most of her life on her father’s estate, Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) brought humor, realism, and a freshness of style to her works. Castle Rackrent, published anonymously in 1800, was the first of her popular novels on country life. A delightful satire on Anglo-Irish landlords, the work is purportedly the Rackrent family’s memoirs, written by Thady Quirk, a long-time family servant.
“Honest” Thady’s vivd–but questionably accurate–narrative of life on the decaying Rackrent estate details the lives of family members whom he has long served. The result is a stylishly entertaining exploration of relations between England and Ireland in a time of historical crisis.
My Thoughts: I didn’t have much to think about this book because it is a satire about a time and place that I don’t have much background with. I’m sure more of the satirical nature would have meant more to me had I learned about tensions between England and Ireland at the turn of the 19th century. But my history education, having grown up in the US, focuses more on the Revolutionary War than England and Ireland at that particular time of history. Regardless of the satire, I didn’t think much of the story. The characters weren’t to my liking. The most interesting thing I found about this book were some of the character’s names. Never would I have thought that Judy and Jason were names from over 200 years ago–they sound much more contemporary (Jason, especially).

Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo, Julia Denos

TitleJust Being Audrey
Author: Margaret Cardillo
Illustrator: Julia Denos
Genre: children’s non-fiction (biography)
ISBN: 9780061852831
Length: 28 pages
Published: 2011
Source: public library
Rating: 5/5
Challenges/Resolutions: none

Summary: I think the best summary is a trailer for the book that I found on YouTube.

My Thoughts: You may already know that I love Audrey Hepburn. I can’t really remember where I came across this children’s biography, I know it was somewhere on the internet, possibly Pinterest. Regardless, I’ve read lots of biographies about Audrey, but never anything addressed to an audience of children.

Truth be told, I wasn’t very thrilled about the content. It was hard to place a specific reading age to the book. It seemed too general for an older elementary age, where one might do a little research to write a paper on Audrey. But it had some words that were too complex for younger elementary age. What saved the book, in my opinion, were the illustrations. There are so many photos of Audrey floating around now because she’s become a big icon to today’s young woman–I’m proud to say that I’ve been inspired by her for 15 years, not just the past few 🙂 Anyways…I do get bored seeing the same images of Audrey over and OVER again. These illustrations were simply amazing–you can see them in the trailer. Denos didn’t just copy the same exact image, but took popular outfits of Audrey and posed them slightly different, to make brand new pictures. One weird thing about the illustrations were Audrey’s eyes. She was famous for her big, brown, doe eyes. Yet, in the book 15 of 25 pictures of Audrey were drawn with her eyes closed. But, I guess, I’d rather have lots of lovely pictures with her eyes closed than to have poorly-drawn doe eyes in every picture.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley {audiobook}

TitleBrave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Genre: fiction (dystopic)
ISBN: 9780792752257
Length: 8.5 hours
Published: 1932
Source: public library
Rating: 5/5
Challenges/Resolutions: Years of Books Resolution (2012); Years of Books Goal (lifetime)

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Community, Identity, Stability” is the motto of Aldous Huxley’s utopian World State. Here everyone consumes daily grams of soma, to fight depression, babies are born in laboratories, and the most popular form of entertainment is a “Feelie,” a movie that stimulates the senses of sight, hearing, and touch. Though there is no violence and everyone is provided for, Bernard Marx feels something is missing and senses his relationship with a young women has the potential to be much more than the confines of their existence allow. Huxley foreshadowed many of the practices and gadgets we take for granted today–let’s hope the sterility and absence of individuality he predicted aren’t yet to come.

My Thoughts: I think it is fair to say that this is one of my new favorite books. Yes, I tend to LOVE dystopic novels. But I hadn’t realized that people were writing such stories 80 years ago! But, this just goes to show you that dystopic stories are fairly timeless. As it’s always a look at a future world, writers can create any type of society they want and no one can say it won’t happen. So this book, written in the 1930s, reads practically like any other dystopic I’ve read.

There was only one part of the story that I thought dated it a little. And that element was actually a pretty major difference from most other dystopics I’ve read. There exists in this story a population of people from before the transition to “utopia”. Those people are called savages, because they haven’t been civilized or, especially, conditioned. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book like this where everyone wasn’t forced into the new order. It isn’t like some characters that have always lived in the “utopia” who just want to revert back to a better time and freer state of things–the savages weren’t ever changed. This dates the book because the savages are described as Native Americans. If this book was written today, the “savage” would be very different. (Another slightly dating element is the way time is related. It takes place in 632 AF, After Ford. That would be Henry Ford. I have a feeling if this book hadn’t been written so soon after Ford’s huge success in the auto industry, that it wouldn’t be the way to refer to the year.)

 

Around the World in 12 Books {#1 South Africa}

Tsotsi by Athol Fugard

TitleTsotsi
Author: Athol Fugard
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9780802142689
Length: 226 pages
Published: 1980
Source: public library
Rating: 3/5
Challenges/Resolutions: Around the World in 12 Books Challenge (2012); Years of Books Resolution (2012); Years of Books Goal (lifetime)

Summary (from Goodreads):

Set amid the sprawling Johannesburg township of Soweto, where survival is the primary objective, Tsotsi traces six days in the life of a ruthless young gang leader. When we meet Tsotsi, he is a man without a name (tsotsi is Afrikaans for hoodlum ) who has repressed his past and now exists only to stage and execute vicious crimes. When he inadvertently kidnaps a baby, Tsotsi is confronted with memories of his own painful childhood, and this angry young man begins to rediscover his own humanity, dignity, and capacity to love.

I haven’t ever really read a book quite like this. Firstly, the beginning of this book shocked me more than any other book beginning I’ve ever come across. There was a gruesome and ruthless murder of a quite innocent man by Tsotsi’s little gang. Secondly, the story was a little hard to follow at some points, as far as the flow of the story went. I have to be honest that reading this before bed was difficult because it’d put me to sleep. That’s not because it was boring or uninteresting. While I was interested in the overall story, the way it was written made me uninterested in actually reading it.

I read this book to complete the first month of Shannon at Giraffe Days’ Around the World in 12 Books Challengefor 2012 which was South Africa. To discuss the book a little more, here are some questions Shannon came up with for the challenge:

1) What did you learn about the country’s culture, history etc. from reading this book? Any new insights, any shifts in your perception, or did it align with what you knew/understood already?

2) How did land, geography, flora and fauna feature in the book? Did it have a distinct feel that helped you visualise and made you feel like you were there, or was the story more focused on plot?

3) Did the story make you want to visit/revisit the country, or explore it in a new way if you live there already; did it make you want to read more stories set in the country?

1) Unfortunately, I don’t think I really learned that much about South Africa, or even about Johannesburg. The setting of the story could have the book taking place in any larger city in a “poorer”, post-colonial country. The “white man’s money” alluded to a society of non-white people and “Native Administration” (as a governmental department) told me that it was a post-colonial society. (Why would they say “native” if there had never been a majority–or ruling class–of non-natives at one point?) But this doesn’t even mean the story would have to take place in Africa–it could easily be South America or Asia! Regardless, I was a little sad that there wasn’t much to the story that wasn’t at the surface, at least not from my reading. Maybe I would have found more complexities had I been familiar with the culture of South Africa. But, for the most part, all I saw was a story about a teenage thug who realized, in the end, he didn’t have to be a bad person.

2) This story was definitely more focused on plot than on description. This might have been part of the reason I didn’t feel the story flowed very well. The story is written in such a way that assumes the reader is familiar with the environment–I am not up on all that is to do with 1980 Johannesburg, sadly. There was mention of some slums and some ruins, factories, train stations, beggars, queues for water, and shebeens. But these seem to be basic elements of a “bad part” of a town.

3) Seeing as the story took place in an environment filled with robbery and thugs, I don’t particularly wish to visit there. I would not mind reading more about South Africa. And I suppose I think it’d be nice to say I wouldn’t want to read the obvious books that have a lot to do with apartheid. But, for some reason, I assume any contemporary fiction set in South Africa should have an element to do with apartheid. I know that’s wrong, but I guess–and I hate to admit it–that I feel I’d be uninterested if it didn’t have that as part of the story.

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About the Author

Harold Athol Lannigan Fugard (b. June 11, 1932, Middelburg, South Africa), better known as Athol Fugard, is a South African playwright, actor, and director. His wife, Sheila Fugard, and their daughter, Lisa Fugard, are also writers.

Working in the court environment and seeing how the Africans suffered under the past laws provided Fugard with a firsthand insight into the injustice and pain of apartheid. The political slant of his plays bought him into conflict with the government. In order to avoid prosecution, he started to take his plays overseas. After Blood Knot, was produced in England, his passport was withdrawn for four years. In 1962, he publicly supported an international boycott against segregated theatre audiences which led to further restrictions.

He is an adjunct professor of playwriting, acting, and directing in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of California, San Diego. For academic year 2000–2001, he was the IU Class of 1963 Wells Scholar Professor at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. The recipient of many awards, honors, and honorary degrees, including the 2005 Order of Ikhamanga in Silver “for his excellent contribution and achievements in the theatre” from the government of South Africa, he is also an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

(information about Fugard is copied, in parts, from Goodreads and Amazon.com)

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Here is the very simple story of how I came to choose this book for this challenge. Made of Honor is a really funny movie and in it there is a discussion about the name of Athol (which sounds a lot like “asshole” with a lisp). When I was looking up South African authors, my eye was caught by Athol Fugard and I immediately thought of this movie clip and determined to read one of his books. Simply because his name was Athol…

The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist

TitleThe Marquise of O
Author: Heinrich Von Kleist
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9780460879514
Length: 30 pages
Published: 1808
Source: public library
Rating: 3/5

Reason for Reading: Years of Books Goal

Summary:
Best summary of this story is the first sentence of the story.

“In M., an important town in northern Italy, the widowed Marquise of O., a lady of excellent reputation and the mother of two well-brought-up children, announced in the newspaper: that she had, without knowing it, become pregnant, and would the father of the child she was to bear kindly declare himself since she was resolved, out of consideration for her family, to marry him.”

My Thoughts:
I think the first sentence is really comical. It spells disaster. Basically, the widowed Marquise of O, after a battle at her father’s estate, finds herself pregnant. Fearing banishment, she resolves to find the man responsible and marry him, making an honest man of him. I think the thing that interested me most was the Marquise as a representation of women during Napoleonic Europe. I mean, she became pregnant, inevitable through rape, but it is her responsibility to find the man and mary him to save herself from society’s scorn. In today’s world, that is totally not how the situation would pan out.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

TitleTo Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Genre: fiction (American classic)
ISBN: 9780060888695
Length: 12 hours
Published: 1960
Source: public library
Rating: 2/5
Resolutions/Challenges: Years of Books Goal

Reason for Reading: I sort of felt like I should read this. For no particular reason, really. I wasn’t made to read this in 9th grade (about 10 years ago) because I was in an honors English course, so I got to read The Odyssey. For some reason, I felt that I was missing out on something.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel—a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with rich humor and unswerving honesty the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence, and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina and quiet heroism of one man’s struggle for justice—but the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

My Thoughts: Not a fan. I’m very glad I wasn’t required to read this in high school because I’m pretty sure that I would have disliked it immensely. As it turns out, I didn’t care for it at the age of 24–wouldn’t have liked it as a 15-year-old. (I wasn’t a very mature reader at that point in time.)

That being said, there wasn’t really any specific reason that I didn’t like it. I felt that the story was slow and not interesting. And I felt the climax(es) of the story came to early, at least considering how much uninteresting story was left after them. (Both climaxes having to do with Tom Robinson’s trial and outcome.)

Thoughts on Audiobook Format: I really enjoyed Sissy Spacek’s voice.
I had a problem with this audiobook, which has nothing to do with the audiobook itself, but with the previous library patron who borrowed it. Basically, said patron didn’t replace the CDs in the correct order, so I listened to a couple out of order. I even actually skipped the third disc, which I didn’t realize until after I’d finished disc 7. Regardless, in the future, I’ll make sure to pay more attention that the CDs are in the correct order!