Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cleopatra is in the house!

A coin with the image of Cleopatra
As the keeper of the blog, I may be getting poor marks this year.  This post will cover the last two books and I have a call out to the ladies to help me find the book I know I'm missing.  My guess it is one that I didn't actually read and that is why I can't remember it.

Our discussion last night was over the book Cleopatra, a Life by Stacy Schiff.   We skipped over the book group part where we all catch up and immediately jumped into the book.  At first we were marveling over the significance of Cleopatra and her story.  For those of us who were uninformed it was an eye opening read to learn how integral she was in the Caesar / Mark Anthony era.  My image of her was similar to Helen of Troy, someone you hear about but don't really know any details. 

We were impressed that at the time of her reign her gender was a non-issue and the fact that she had children by multiple fathers also didn't seem to bother her people.  She taxed the heck out of everyone and yet was liked. 

We agreed with (a missing Melinda) that at times it felt like the Cleopatra story line was secondary to the drama unfolding in the Roman Empire. We attributed that a bit to the availability of historical reference material.  The "doings" in the RE are well documented while the historical artifacts from Alexandria were largely lost and thus many things are speculation.  The author did not take liberties and describe scenes, moods and conversations that she could not be privy too.  Thank you!

In discussing the tone of the book we wondered what an author like Doris Kerns Goodwin could do with the same subject matter.  We agreed that Ms. Goowin's historical offerings tend to "put you in the room" with the action more than Ms. Schiff's book.  However, we do acknowledge that it would be a lot easier to write about Theodore Roosevelt or the Kennedy's because of the availability of their schedules, writings, and the documents that others who were in the room provided.

We felt that the second half of the book flowed better and was far more intriguing.  The first half read like a college history book.  In fact, one of our members had to spend the day with her daughter in the car on an unexpected road trip, so she downloaded the audio book and the daughters response was that mom was reading a history book.  We enjoyed the book, but personally I think it is great torture for the teen to have to endure mom's book.

Our understanding of the era has increased and individuals whom we knew little about have become clearer.  Herod - bad guy.  Mark Anthony - love sick warrior.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Light of the Evening, Edna Obrien

This is the tale of Dilly an Irish woman and her relationships, primarily that of the one between her and her daughter. 

Dilly is dying and in the hospital and is recalling her life - her move to America where she endures a horrific journey to arrive basically alone without  a plan.  A distant cousin sets her up as a domestic servant until that falls apart.  She ends up back in Ireland where she marries and has children.  Suddenly she is old and recalling her daughters story and wishing the daughter would come to visit.   These transitions are not done very well and it isn't clear if it is bad story telling or if Dilly is only giving us information as it comes to her.

At the end of the novel, the story shifts from a narrative to letters and they reveal different nuances of the story.  Mostly this story is about mothers and daughters and communication.  Even when Dilly gets her wish it is unsatisfying.

This is a nice story that doesn't quite work. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

What can I tell you... I don't respond well to short stories.  I stopped reading after the first few and I wondered if they were all going to be dark and pointless.

I was assured that not all Ms. Davis' stories had that tone and some were actually quite funny. 

This reader didn't finish enough of the book to write a fair review, so instead I will provide a picture of the author.