Thursday, February 25, 2010

What I'm Reading Now-The Handmaid's Tale

Before I delve into this, I just want to thank everyone who stopped by to offer condolences on Buster's passing. I sincerely appreciate everyone's kind words of support. I know it's not always easy to find the right words, so I'm truly touched that so many people that I (mostly) don't even know took the time to find them. Of course, I appreciate those of you that I do know stopping by too! It's been a rough couple of weeks, but life does go on, so: On to the business of living.

The Handmaid's Tale (Critical Insights)The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood-This is a look at a dystopian society in which the caucasian population has plummeted and a new societal order has been implemented whereby women are all essentially relegated to those who can bear children and those who cannot.  The latter are sent to toxic cleanup sites or, if they are privileged enough, they are assigned a Handmaid, a woman of proven fertility who's job it is to bear children for these acceptable women of society who cannot.

While seemingly far-fetched, there are a lot of elements in this book that hit a little too close to home for my comfort.  I don't think we are more than a few short steps away from a world like this and it seems like we're getting closer all the time.

This is one of those books that I've heard a lot about and knew I had to read...someday.  So, I was excited when Heather J. said she was considering doing a read-a-long and asked if anyone would be interested.  Read-a-long buddies!  What good motivation!  Anna and I jumped on board, and came up with some questions for each other to answer.  Below are the questions I came up with and the answers that Heather and Anna provided.  You can visit Heather's and Anna's posts to see the questions they asked and the answers they received.  Heather had the good idea of separating these into "Spoiler" and "Non-spoiler" questions, so I have done the same.  I hope you enjoy this departure from my normal review format!

Q: What did you find most frightening or disturbing about the story?

Heather: This is an easy one. For me the creepiest part of the book is that I can understand how the society got to be the way it is, and in a twisted way it completely makes sense. *shudder*

Anna: Atwood makes the story sound plausible to a certain extent. We’ve seen evidence of how cruel humans can be to one another in the pursuit of "perfection" and how fear can be used to control (the Holocaust and the Third Reich come to mind). What is frightening is that society never learns. And as a mother, trying to put myself in Offred’s shoes, realizing her daughter is being raised by another family and likely will not remember her, was heartbreaking.

Q: The end Historical Notes give a sense that society is looking back on the Gilead era as a dark spot in history, much like we look back on the Salem witch trials or slavery. Did you find this hopeful-we will eventually work our way through all our dark times-or depressing-no matter how much we learn, we will always go through more dark times.  Or did you see it completely differently?

Anna: Honestly, I don’t think we’ve fully learned lessons from dark days past. As long as there are people hungry for power, the world will continue to move in and out of dark times. While on the surface, the historical note gives a sense of hope in that the days of Gilead are over, we are given so little information about what is going on at that moment, it’s hard to tell whether things really have changed for the better.

Heather: It was very hopeful for me. It reminded me that no matter how bad things are now, they can always get better down the road.  That is my outlook on life in general, and the epilogue really appealed to be because of that.

Dreamybee: I had to jump in on this one!  Although my outlook on life in general is similar to Heather's, I felt much the same as Anna on this point.  Offred puts it well:  "When power is scarce a little of it is tempting."  (p. 308)  It seems like no matter how good things get, they always come back to somebody feeling the need to oppress someone else.  How do we always end up here?

Q: Aunt Lydia tells the girls that there is more than one kind of freedom, "freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.  Don't underrate it." (p.24) Do you agree?  Do you need the two to be in balance or is one more important than the other? Is one more dangerous or more freeing than the other?

Anna: Balance is key. Pre-Gilead, society may have seemed immoral to some, but there was still choice. After the new government took over, it was conform or die. Technically, people still had a choice – you could live or die – but where is the freedom in that? Life as you knew it was over either way.

Heather: This passage struck me as well, because I think that it is very true. “Freedom from” is just as important as “freedom to”, and we shouldn’t underrate it. But the opposite is true as well. For me, there needs to be a balance between the two.

*Spoiler question*

Q: We find out that the handmaid who was the previous Offred, the one who wrote the mysterious Nolite te bastardes carborundorum (Don't let the bastards grind you down) in her closet, killed herself.  At various timess Offred has thought of this phrase as a prayer or on order.  Once she finds out what happened to the scribe, her reaction is, "Fat lot of good it did her."  (p.225).  Do you agree?  Did the previous Offred drive her point home or make it absurd by taking her own life?

Heather: I felt like this phrase was the previous Offred’s motto but that in the end it failed her.  However that is because I see suicide as a cop-out rather than as a legitimate choice.  When faced with the repercussions of her actions (not that she had any choice in the matter) she DID let them grind her down, in spirit at least; she gave up the will to live.

Anna: It’s hard to say whether someone is braver for enduring the hardship or letting her captives know that her life and its end is in her own hands. I guess whether or not she drove the point home depends on the reason for her suicide. Was she afraid of being punished, or was it an act of rebellion? Personally, I think there might have been more effective ways of standing up to the “bastards,” and death seems like an easy way out.

*End Spoiler Question*

Heather listened to this as an audio book, and this was a re-read for Anna, so I can't wait to visit their blogs and see what they thought!  If you would like to add anything or if you have any thoughts on the questions above, please leave a comment.

Here are some other reviews for you to check out:
Ann at Books on the Nightstand revisited this old favorite of hers. Review starts around 13:15 of the podcast.
Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays talks about it an interview with Anna!
Thomas at My Porch read this on a recent vacation.

I know there are other reviews out there...I just can't ever find them.  So, if you've reviewed this book, leave me a comment, and I'll add a link to your review.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Saying Goodbye

Some of you know that Buster's been on a downhill slide lately, and we finally had to put him down on Tuesday night.  He's only been gone a day, but I miss him so much.  He's been a part of my life for 13 years, and I can't believe that he's not here anymore.  I know we did the right thing-it was time-but that doesn't make the house any less empty.  I've been trying to keep busy all day, but then the distraction ends, and the memories come, and I know I'll never look out to see him rummaging around in the flower beds or rearranging my rock garden-his aesthetic never did quite line up with mine-or curled up in a ball, sleeping soundly, happy to be anywhere his people were.

Albuquerque-1998/99(?)-In his favorite spot: the couch.

Colorado Springs-1997/98/99(?)-His other favorite spot:  a lap. Nobody ever said anything about a weight limit.  

Omaha-1999-Hello, Warden?

Hawaii-2004-Walk tall and carry a big stick.

Hawaii-2005-Really?  What'd we go and get a dog for? I didn't agree to this.

Hawaii-2005-Helping me with a birthday message on the beach.

Hawaii-2006-You're starting to show your age, but you're still a handsome boy.

Hawaii-2006-Seriously.  I did not agree to this.

Hawaii-2008-Riding in the car.

Hawaii-2008-Hanging out in the front yard.

Hawaii-2008-Action shot!

Hawaii-2008-Examining the new plants.


Hawaii-2009-Action shot at the beach.

Hawaii-2010-Final days.  "Walking" around the neighborhood with his nose. 

I love you so much, buddy.  Thank you for the love and the joy you brought into our lives.  I will always miss you and love you.

This has been a rough month in the blogosphere.  Florinda and Nymeth also lost pets recently-ladies, my heart goes out to you.  I'm so sorry for your losses-it doesn't seem to get any easier with time and practice, does it?  For those of you who still have them, hold your pets tight and let them know you love them.          

Monday, February 8, 2010

Wanna see a big spider?

I love Hawaii, but, for crying out loud, someone has got to warn me when the cane spiders are going to make an appearance.

I know it's kind of hard to see in this picture, but look for the glowing eyes above the closet door.

Here it is moving across the ceiling, presumably because that will make it easier to jump on my head. 

I would have gotten some better pictures, but that would have required actually standing in the room, and I did not want to challenge the authority of the spider.  Any spider that is big enough that you can see its eyes glowing in a picture wins.  It can have the room.

Here's the thing about cane spiders:  They're too big to smash-I don't want to clean that up; they're freakin' fast, so it's hard to get close enough to smash them anyway; and they will jump at you, so even if you do get close enough to smash them, they will run at you and make you jump and scream like a little girl. Bug spray?  I've seen one of these take almost half a can before it finally lay down in a soaking ball on the floor only to jump up a few minutes later, shake it off and start moving again.  Granted, it was moving a little more slowly, but it was still moving.  Besides, I don't really want to kill them, I just don't want them hanging out anywhere where they can jump on my head.  So, when I see one, I move as far away from it as possible and then I just stare at it in horror for a while trying to think of some way to get rid of it and then I give up and start taking pictures or video of it.  Because what else is there to do besides document the situation and then use the pictures to freak other people out?  

Friday, February 5, 2010

What I'm Reading Now-The Monster of Florence

The Monster of FlorenceThe Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston with Mario Spetzi-This book was overdue and I couldn't renew it, so I finished it and returned it without any notes or quotes.  As a result, this is just going to be my immediate thoughts upon finishing the book.  The Monster of Florence is the name given to a serial killer who terrorized Florence for almost 20 years, killing young lovers who were out "parking" at night.  He would then mutilate the female victims' bodies and take parts as souvenirs.

Preston is an author of several thrillers who moved to Italy and met Spezi, a journalist who had been covering The Monster story along with all its botched investigations for years.  As Spezi revealed more and more of the story, Preston became intrigued, and they decided to collaborate on an article for The New Yorker and later on a book.  (The article was not published due to the timing-the events of September 11, 2001 squashed any interest that the magazine had in publishing a story about a serial killer in Italy). The research that they did along the way shook up the police and got Preston kicked out of Italy and Spezi arrested, basically for publicly suggesting that the theory the police had was wrong.

The book is half serial-killer story and half Preston/Spezi saga, and what passes for law and justice in Italy is almost as shocking as the murders.  I was mostly just frustrated by this book, but that may have been the author's intent, at least partly.  Over the years, there were many suspects and thousands of leads and theories, and the police seemed intent on following the wildest, most unlikely theories while ignoring some of the most likely suspects and evidence.  At one point a suspicious rag with blood stains is found in a suspect's house, but it is not taken as evidence because the police don't believe that the killer would be stupid enough to keep something like that in the house if it were a key piece of evidence, so, clearly, it must not be a key piece of evidence, and, therefore, it is not worth taking into custody.  Glad these guys weren't in charge of Jeffrey Dahmer's investigation.  "Hey, uh, Bob, there's a human head in this guy's freezer.  Do you think we should collect this as evidence?"  "Naaaah.  You think he would be keeping it in there if it wasn't legit?  If he were trying to hide something, wouldn't he have hidden it better than that?"  Meanwhile, back in Italy, the police are bent on following a conspiracy theory advanced to them by a local psychic about a satanic cult involving many upper-class members of society.  I was ultimately frustrated with their treatment of the investigation and with the lack of conclusion to the The Monster case. If Preston's goal was to turn readers off from Italy and her people, he just might have succeeded.

This was an interesting story overall, but I'm not sure that there aren't more satisfying tellings of it out there.  Of course this one is unique because of Preston's and Spezi's involvement, and I do think Preston did an admirable job of weaving together all the characters and information, but at times I think he thought he was being more suspenseful than he really was; I was hollering out a suspect's name about a hundred pages before Preston came to his Oh-my-God-do-you-think-The-Monster-could-be-X?? moment.  If you do decide to read this I would recommend doing it in as few sittings as possible.  I suspect that trying to read this in short bits over a long period of time will leave you confused and doing a lot of flipping back and forth going, "Now, who is this guy again??"  So...if you're interested give it a go, but if not don't feel bad. Just don't ever bad-mouth the Italian police if you are ever in Italy.

Other reviews:

Lori at She Treads Softly did manage to get some quotes into her review.
Jessica at Both Eyes Book Blog clears up the difference between "Enchantress" and "Monster."
Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea listened to the audio version and gave us her thoughts.

Have you read The Monster of Florence?  What did you think?  Were you as frustrated as I was?  If you've reviewed the book on your blog, let me know and I will include a link to your review.