Tag Archives: book review

‘Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee’, by Casey Cep – review

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper LeeFurious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The theory of “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”might have been a rule of thumb in the Wild West, but that was anathema to Harper Lee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird, which has become an epoch-defining classic in the canon of American literature.With her restive independent spirit that knew no compromise with tampered artistic sensibilities, Lee labored and waited until she found satisfactorily truthful narratives on her own, no matter how much time it would take. This journalistic trait of authorship combined with intellectual conscience could have been a reason that Lee, despite criticism of being a one-hit wonder, chose not to chase successive fame and discontinued what might have been her next best oeuvre called The Reverend. Casey Cep discovers Lee’s unfinished work and brings it to life and offers an unbiased portrait of one of the greatest American writers in this ambitious Furious Hours.

Furious Hours is composed of three parts: Reverend Willie Maxwell, Attorney Tom Radney, and Harper Lee. Reverend Maxwell was a black provincial Baptist preacher accused of killing five of his family members allegedly by means of Voodoo magic for insurance money in the 1970s. Into this courtroom drama entered a clever and magnanimous Alabaman lawyer named Tom Radney, who helped the reverend to be acquitted of the murder charge, but later found himself defending the killer of his former client. It was an irony of Fate, tragedy and comedy of a drama called life. The trial of the murder of the reverend was also a reprisal of the courtroom drama of To Kill a Mockingbird, where a black dependent was represented by a liberal white attorney. This real-life scenario in her beloved native Alabama piqued Harper Lee’s curiosity, and she decided to write a book called “The Reverend” by attending the trial herself. Cep introduces the elements of the trial in the discourse of the backgrounds of the trial as though she traveled back to the time and witnessed it all like an intelligent, observant time traveler.

Although Furious Hours is primarily about the forgotten case of the Reverend that was something of an OJ trial of the day in the context of regarding a black defendant and white legal bureaucracy, its linchpin behind the facade of the drama is Harper Lee, who thrived at the expense of Nella Harper Lee, an ambitious intelligent writer who moved from a big house in Alabama to a rent-controlled apartment in the New York City to pursue a literary career. It seems to me that Lee was disillusioned with the glamor of the city literati scene that looked priggish and stuffy. Her peers dismissed her book as a one-hit wonder and criticized it for being a lesser of serious literature. Notwithstanding this asinine and supercilious criticism, Lee did not conform to public demand of the next bestseller by declaring she had “said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.” Lee was in fact a writer who wanted to write a book with universal themes of human life, not bound by a vocation of regional specialty of “Southern” cultural backgrounds littered with sinful racism. She was a writer struggling to live up to her literary principle and personal conviction that her contemporaries did not appreciate. Maybe that’s why Cep introduces Lee in the last of the three parts of the book in the sense that a fashion designer always walks the runaway last in a fashion show escorted and applauded by models, staff, and spectators.

Furious Hours is a fine act of literary ventriloquism fused with Lee’s story-telling voice in Cep’s own narrative, which results in this ingenious creative nonfiction. It is a wonderful collaboration of two writers, a predecessor and a successor, bound by the magic of literature, transcendent of time and space, just as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Grand Horse” was superbly completed by Nina Akamu centuries later. This book will have more admirers of Harper Lee’s literature and new admirers of Cep’s feat of narrative skills that grasp the attention of the reader cap-a-pie.

‘Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen,’ by Mary Norris – review

Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma QueenGreek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ancient Greeks knew what appealed to the senses. The cult of beauty was the caryatid pillars of the culture that sublimated the human body into a divine canvas of the mind. So much so that they codified the value of beauty in their belief system, ranging from mythology to philosophy, in pursuit of kalokagathia , the harmonious combination of physical beauty with spiritual goodness. The perennial upshot of this Greek admiration of kalokagathia is Mary Norris’s charming Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen, a wonderful cabinet of her infatuations with all things Greek, ranging from awesome Goddess Athena to dashing Sean Connery as Agamemnon, to the whimsical variations of Greek pronunciation, and to her exhilarating skinny-dipping in Aphrodite’s Beach. With her gift of scintillating narrative skills flavored with accessible erudition, Norris warmly invites the reader to her own delightful Greek festival of words, gods, romances, and delicacies.

It is said that when you love, you want to know. An erotic impulse charged from the imposing physical presence of Sean Connery as Agamemnon became a stimuli that galvanized a shy celibate Catholic bluestocking into her never-ending solo odyssey in pursuit of a mystical ambrosia, the food of the Greek gods, for the sensuous delight of the arcane Eleusinean Mysteries. Part memoir, part travelogue, and part reference book, Greek to me is a lovely treatise on Norris’s lasting affairs of the heart with words and adventures in the land of the capricious Olympians, olive trees, and phonetic alphabets with infinite varieties. The scholarly subjects of mythology and language of Greece are never dealt with academic superciliousness or elitist snobbishness that separates them (and the author) from a general reader. Contrariwise, Norris is an intelligently gorgeous writer who wears her erudition lightly and writes in plain language felicitously topped with her artless witticism that makes her a winsome literary troubadour. If Edith Hamilton, author of Mythology and The Greek Way, has an aura of dour-faced platonic conservative teacher of the ancient Greek mythology and the culture, Mary Norris is of a coterie of amiable Socrates, sharing her knowledge with the public – literate, illiterate.

In the exhilarating sensation of naked freedom astride the gushing foams of wild waves in Aphrodite’s Beach, the reader feels connected to the author’s paroxysm of pleasure and transformed into a votary of the goddess of love. Norris’s solipsistic adventure becomes a tour of coterie, traveling beyond the territorial borders into the mythological world of gods and goddesses in search of the Golden Fleece fit to one’s appropriate need. Although the chapters devoted to the lexicons of the Greek language can be taxing to comprehend to whom it all looks Greek, most of the book is invested with the vicarious Eureka pleasure of going there, being there, and seeing there, all made possible by Norris’s goddess Athena-like literary prowess. Besides, if the reader happens to be a quiet solo Catholic woman graduating from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ (more specifically, all-women Douglass College therein), secretly desirous of solitary skinny-dipping in Aphrodite’s Beaches basking in freedom from insecurity, this book will feel like a new friend.

‘let me in’, by john ajvide lindqvist – review

Let Me InLet Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Most of the time, a book made into a film does not fall from the grace of its original literary merit and retains its sovereignty as a textual master over the cinematic adaptation. At least, that’s what I think. It’s really a win-win situation in which both a book and a novel have their own charms with the appropriate bells and whistles. Alas, that’s not the case of Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Not an Iota. The book betrayed my anticipation of passing over to the minds of the characters for empathy and disappointed me with its bleak and dreary narrative. It’s like meeting your hero and ending up with a cold, contemptuous shoulder that cut off the thinnest and the highest note of the mind’s strings.

The textual version of the Boy and the Vampire named Oskar and Eli, respectively, were hardly pathetic, not to mention likable, roaming the dark alleys of Scandinavian Dystopia plastered with pornography in all sorts of perversion. IT’s there, it’s here, it’s all over everywhere on the pages like pits pull of filth. The matter-of-fact accounts of child molestation defenestrated my mental equilibrium into catatonia, and I recoiled in diabolic horror in the course of wading through the chapters so as just to get them over with in a heartbeat. Any such disgrace of the subject matter could have been reconciled with a felicity of expressions and literary craftsmanship that would have at least rendered it bearable to read and excusable to merit its genre. Yet, the book continued to go against the grain to grant my wish for even teeny tiny weeny bit of pleasure of reading it – to the end. It all seemed to me that the catastrophe was due to the English translation of the original Swedish version of the book by an anonymous translator trying either too hard or too little to articulate the sentiments that could only be rendered accessible in the author’s mother tongue. The result was an ineffective simulation of a style of writing supposedly associated with Stephen King.

Maybe it’s just me having a difficulty in appreciating the mind of the Swedish writer whom Stephen King generously hailed as one of the top writers of the horror fiction genre. Maybe my adultescent anticipation for the book was precipitately induced by the visual sensation from its film version, which is far better than its textual master in terms of the portrayal of the characters and the interpretation of their minds, capturing the subdued but powerful moments of revelation intelligently played out by Director Matt Reeves, who seems to understand the gist of the book as though it were written by him. Be that as it may, the book was not meant for someone whose heartstrings were prone to be broken if they were to be pulled out perforce. For the book still rings hollow in the valley of bleakness and shrieks in the alley of darkness and nothing more.

‘The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine’, by Lindsey Fitzharris – review

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian MedicineThe Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One thing that inspires me to utter “Thanks be to God” is to be born after the age of butchering, so to speak,  without the use of anesthesia during an operation or any invasive surgical procedure. And never forget a bottle of Listerine that has become a household name. In consideration of the aforesaid, the preeminent triumph of medical science in the west is arguably the invention of antiseptic methods that has saved thousands of lives. The linchpin of this epochal achievement in the history of medical science is Joseph Lister, an English Quaker surgeon whose dedication to the profession was wonderfully interacted with his altruistic character and diligent pursuit of knowledge in his profession. The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris enlightens the reader about the macabre world of nineteen-century surgery and its progress by advancement in antiseptics pioneered by Promethean Lister.

In this highly entertaining and informative book, Fitzharris guides the reader to Lister’s medical path with fittingly concomitant case history of surgery, hospital care, and germ-theory, all of which essentially contribute to his advocation of antiseptic methods in post-operative treatments. The author’s vivid illustration of the horrifying surgical procedures before the advent of anesthetics is not surely for the faint-hearted, but it is an axiomatically effective means to introduce the reader to the staging of a young medical student named Lister, who was solemnly determined to prevent a patient who endured such demonic pains from dying aftermath due to the persistent infection caused by putrefaction of germs in the operated area. Fitzharris’s employment of in-between vignettes about his contemporaries, family members, and others who influenced Lister both personally and professionally also intends to provide the reader with a variety of causes that led Lister to his dedication to the championing of antiseptics in the applicability for precluding unnecessary deaths of patients. She does it all with her consummate narrative skill that grabs the reader’s attention on every page.

Although this book is about Joseph Lister and his benevolent medical munificence to humanity, it is hard to strictly categorize it as biography because it does not purport to deify him with an Olympian laurel wreath. Rather, the book is focused on the magnificence of scientific triumph over human frailty, which is achieved by a collective effort to find the sine qua non thereof on the principle of betterment for humanness. Fitzharris does an excellent job of delineating this collegiate endeavor to make human life better by reconstructing Lister as a practical idealist with a vision to match in his revolutionary invention of antiseptic methods based upon a scientific theory and his zeal for continuous pursuit in learning of knowledge. Drawing on a wealth of research on the subject and her erudition, Fitzharris creates polyphony that intelligently interweaves multiple strands of her learning. This is a scintillating read that educates the reader on the history and science without a bore.

names do matter

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Some brand names have become unique nouns in days of our lives: a box of Ziplocs to carry leftovers from last night dinner for lunch, an iPhone that has become a safety blanket, a Kindle for all-around entertainment, and a box of Kleenex to wipe away make-ups or tears… Then there are the ubiquitous Starbucks stores for perk-me-up coffee or regular hangouts… The panoply of brand names is illustrated in the ordinary scenes of our daily life as a byproduct of endless human cultural and social enterprise. Hence, I think it worth noting the origin of some of the globally proverbial brand names of products that we are familiar with.

The first and foremost principle of naming a product is to make it as catchy and snappy as possible to effortlessly remember. In this regard, Nomitative determinism can be also linked to a name of a product because it can decide its longevity and popularity based upon the ingenuity of name that matches its purpose with brilliant ideas taken from literary inspirations, cultural influences, or historical artifices. Take Mazda, which is originated from Ahura Mazda, the ancient Persian God of light, wisdom, intelligence, and harmony, the highest supreme being in Zoroastrianism. It is also a symbol of eastern and western cultures. Nike is the winged goddess of victory with the resounding slogan of “Think Nike”. Starbucks comes from the chief mate in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick. It is also interesting to know that the name Starbucks belongs to the famous wealthy Quaker shipowner of Nantucket in Massachusetts as featured in Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, a nonfiction narrative of the tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. And there is Yahoo, which is a deformed savage in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Some brand-names are curious blending of words. Vodafone stands for Voice, Data, and Telefone. Here is a classic example of ASICS, a Japanese sport goods company, whose cool name is derived from Latin, “Mans Sana in Corpore Sano,” meaning “Healthy mind dwells in healthy body.” Which is a motto of ancient Greek’s competitive spirit manifested in Olympiad. Then there is Volvo, meaning “I roll” in Latin, while Lego actually comes from Danish word for “play well”. And who else can ignore the presence of Amazon, the largest river in the world?

That which we call car, cellphone, or coffee by any other name would remain as functional and purposeful to make our life convenient and accommodate to our whims and desires. So why not give it a clever name to remember with a burst of pep? It’s all about the art of witty soul of brevity that penetrates the psychology of the mind in the world of adverts.

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