The Carl Online

Nonrequired Reading: Faculty Members’ Favorite Books by carlmagazine
October 17, 2010, 12:31 pm
Filed under: Literature | Tags: , , , ,

By Marika Cristofides


Roy Elveton, Philosophy

Quite honestly the things I go back to with some regularity are Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Tomas Beckett’s Molloy/Malone Dies/the Un-nameable. The Wolf novel is just incredibly beautiful, thoughtful prose — eminently readable. She’s a master of the English language. For the Beckett, it’s just some of the most thought provoking writing I’ve ever read. Also, Heigell’s Phenomenology of Spirit. It’s bizarre and obscure but immensely suggestive. I don’t know that I understand it.

Pierre Hecker, English

Can we just presume all of Shakespeare and Austen? Books sometimes come to you at the right moment. I was a teenager when I read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man for the first time, and its depiction of how dehumanizing we can be to one another made a powerful impression. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, which I also first read in my late teens, struck me not only as scathingly funny but strangely comforting. It confirmed my suspicions that Scheisskopf was in charge. You think you’re alone in seeing the world a certain way and then books like these — even if they’re about a black man in a New York basement in the 1930s, or a bombardier over Italy in the Second World War, make you realize you’re not.

Angela Curran, Philosophy

Umberto Ecco’s The Name of the Rose. I’m a huge mystery fan; I gobble up all different sorts of mystery stuff. It’s an intellectual’s DaVinci Code. He gives an elaborate set of clues that you have to figure out. It’s a whodunit murder mystery in this 12th century abbey, and William of Baskerville is a sort of stand-in for Sherlock Holmes. It’s a book about different ways of looking at the world; the coexistence of religion, philosophy, and science. The guy solves the mystery using science and philosophy and feels that this is not incompatible with his religion. It’s a lot of interesting intellectual history. It’s about the birth of modern philosophy out of medieval philosophy. There’s a great film version of the book with Sean Connery and Christian Slater. I like the Harry Potter books too.

John Weiss, Astronomy

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I’ve heard rumors that Pratchett wrote 90% and Gaiman wrote 90%. It’s sort of this weird hybrid of both of them. Terry Pratchett, he has this way of twisting the English language around his little finger; he takes these common English sayings and makes them interesting. When I was writing my thesis I couldn’t fall asleep at night, thinking about the job market. I read an article that said you should read something funny when you couldn’t sleep. I would read Pratchett for a while and be out. Gaiman is also very good at language, but it’s more the stories. He tells wonderful stories.

Raka Mitra, Biology

My favorite book ever is the Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. My family is from India — from Calcutta. That’s where Jhumpa Lahiri is from. She writes about second-generation kids. There are so many little idiosyncrasies in the book that are specific to how I grew up. The food that they mention is like what my mom made. The main character had a formal name and was called by his nickname; I have a formal name, but Raka is my nickname. I also really like Life of Pi by Yann Martel, the Red Tent by Anita Diamant, and the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Connie Walker, English

All of Austen, but especially Persuasion, because it is the most emotionally thrilling of her books. And Cloud Atlas, which is a new book by David Mitchell. It’s technically brilliant – a wonderfully told story, and deeply interesting.

Bill North, History

I think the book that sort of made the biggest impact on me and that I’ve gone back to a couple of times is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I like it both for the ideas, and how it talks about teaching and different ways of teaching — how we see or don’t see the world around us. The main character teaches rhetoric. He tells his students to describe a building in Bozeman, Montana. One particular student can’t seem to do it. There’s nothing to write about. “I don’t know how to write,” she says. He tells the student to choose a more specific topic. She says, “I still can’t figure out what to write.” “Write about this one specific brick.” She has too much to write. It was sort of my first encounter with philosophy of science. How do they choose the hypotheses they make? I liked the way it was exploring that choices are made.  Also at that time the idea of a motorcycle trip across the country appealed to me.

Ross Elfline, Art History

My favorite book is Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I have a nasty habit of changing my favorite book depending on what book I’ve read most recently. His prose is so flat and clunky — not flowery, and I love that. It harkens back to this sort of noir-ish style. I love the completely bizarre quality of the writing. There’s this deep engagement with the trauma of World War II in Japan that I find amazing. Another book that used to be number one for me is Possession by A. S. Byatt. It’s now a really shitty movie. Possession I like because it’s a book by a nerd about all of her nerdish passions. It’s an interweaving, or a sort of archival of things.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review by carlmagazine
September 30, 2010, 9:40 am
Filed under: Literature

By Marika Cristofides

You may have seen the book’s glossy, acidic cover on the best-sellers table at Barnes and Noble this summer. You may have seen your culturally-hipper-than-thou grandmother reading the book, as I did. You may have bought the book in a futile attempt to out-hip your grandmother.  You may even have read the book.

Written by recently deceased Swedish political activist, journalist, and avid science-fiction fan Stieg Larsson as part of his “Millenium Trilogy,” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a page-turning crime-thriller that follows the investigative efforts of two unlikely partners; passionate financial journalist Michael Blomqvist and pint-sized tough girl Lisbeth Salander. The two spend the majority of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo investigating the disappearance of wealthy heiress Harriett Vanger off of an island in a sort of Miss Marple locked room situation. Larsson died in 2004, missing his own rise to second best-selling author in the world in 2008. Published in Sweden in 2005, by March 2010 his trilogy had sold 27 million copies in more than 40 countries.

In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blomqvist describes a book saying that it was “…uneven stylistically, and in places the writing was actually rather poor – there had been no time for any fine polishing – but the book was animated by a fury that no reader could help but notice.” Although Larsson’s own book entertains, the writing is nothing special. The first couple of chapters are filled with finance and political jargon, which gives the plot a lumbering start. Blomqvist, who improbably beds many of the book’s women, seems like a male wish-fulfillment fantasy. As my grandmother argued, certain scenes can be disturbingly violent to the point of pulp. And the sheer volume of open-faced sandwiches the two main characters consume while sleuthing is improbable at best.

Fortunately for Larsson, Lisbeth Salander provides the “fury that no reader could help but notice.” Based partly on the Swedish children’s book character Pippi Longstocking, Lisbeth follows a personal code of ethics that leads her on revenge missions that are both cringe-inducing and enjoyable. The capability with which she conducts her affairs – hacking computers and using kickboxing techniques to fend off villains, is supremely satisfying. This tough quality mixed with the vulnerability that she shows in her unorthodox relationships makes her an extremely compelling character. You want to be her friend, but you also think she might kick you in the head. And she completely steals the show from Mikael Blomqvist. So if you don’t like politics, journalism, slow-burning mysteries, or sandwiches you should read the book for Lisbeth Salander – a fresh face in crime-fiction.

Book Review: Tales of Beedle the Bard by Alex Sciuto
December 13, 2008, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Literature | Tags: , , , , ,

Tales of Beedle the Bard

Tales of Beedle the Bard

J.K. Rowling’s seventy-page third supplement to the HP series took me an hour to read, and a good part of that hour included checking updates on my Google Reader. With shockingly large margins, even knowing the proceeds are going to some European charity, I still felt kind of ripped off at having to pay thirteen dollars for it (Alright, my dad, a true Harry Potter lover, actually bought it, but still).

If you can get over the physical lightness of the book, Rowling presents five short fairy tales followed by commentary by Albus Dumbledore. The stories are straight out of Aesop’s fables, and like in the rest of the series, magic instead of helping to solve problems only obfuscates and makes the solutions harder to come by. Dumbledore, whose end notes’ primary purpose is to make the morals even more obvious, often quotes his signature final speeches from multiple endings of the seven books. Love, sacrifice, and the concupiscence of the human spirit dominate his interpretations.

But if the lessons learned from the stories are neither surprising nor novel, the stories themselves have the stamp of Rowling’s imagination. From pots that have feet to Babbity Rabbity the wash-witch, each story is wonderfully imagined and concisely told. Remember the opening of the fourth book when Harry goes to the Quiditch World Cup and how interminably long her narrative is? She’s learned her lesson, or maybe just gotten lazy.

My favorite parts of the book are the rare new insights that we gain into both Dumbledore’s thinking months before his death and insights into the immediate myth of the Deathly Hallows and their relationship with the seventh book. While the stories themselves have no relation to the seven books, Rowling pretty deftly weaves the series’ events into Dumbledore’s analysis of the stories. There’s nothing essential in this short book, but the added information enriches the experience. While much of it is rehashing what we already learn from the books, I gained a little bit from the new retelling.

So, overall. A good waste of forty-five minutes.

-Alex Sciuto