Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Worlds of Arthur by Guy Halsall

Worlds of Arthur:  Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages by Guy Halsall is a highly academic look at the history of England with an eye to determining the historicity of Arthur. Through the interpretive lens of archeological and even sociological wisdom, everything that could definitively prove the existence of a literal King Arthur is pulled apart.

The emphasis is on the Academic, capitalization implied. This book is an arid read, with often long-winded and detailed explanations of what seems to be minutiae that eventually get to the point of how this could possibly relate to Arthur and his world.

The average reader would lose interest long before the scholar and it is clear that his anticipated audience will only be an academic one because too often Halsall indulges himself by sounding arrogant and dismissive.  This is especially evident when he is addressing some of the pseudo-historic proof used to argue for the existence of Arthur.

In many ways it is as though he were preaching to the choir as he boldly says there's no point in wasting time proving an erroneous belief is wrong but then deigning to do so for the sake of thoroughness.  By doing so, any hope of converting the believers to disbelief is lost.  Why would anyone determined to believe in a historical King Arthur read pages of tedious details while also being belittled? 

I am neither a believer in a factual King Arthur nor am I a scholar.  I found the book interesting even when I occasionally felt as though I were going cross-eyed with boredom.  If I was put-off by the tone of arrogance is neither here nor there given that he could not possibly have hoped to appeal to a wider audience.  Yes, I wish he had been able to make the details of British history more engaging and I absolutely wish he had not chosen to make such explanations like an academic concession on his part.  He proves that there is still more faith than fact where King Arthur is concerned.  Unfortunately, the only ones who will bother to read his many valid points are the ones who already know that or who are not personally invested in believing.  What price intellectual humility?  Perhaps Halsall could write another book arguing for its existence or lack thereof.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Take What You Can Carry by Kevin C Pyle

Take What You CanCarry by Kevin C. Pyle is a graphic novel told in two parallel stories which inevitably and somewhat predictably converge. 

One story is told in images only, influenced by the sumi-e style of traditional Japanese artwork.  The story of Ken who is taken with his family to live in a relocation camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  This page out of American history seems to be less well-known than I expect because time and time again I find people saying they never knew that American citizens were removed from their homes with no due process, forced to live in sequestered and illegal circumstances, and eventually allowed to return to homes that were no longer available to them their families.

The second story is told in a more traditional graphic novel format with images and text.  In this story Kyle has recently moved to a new neighborhood with his family and is making new friends, friends who may not have his best interests at heart.  Kyle’s story begins in a moment of crisis before shifting into a back story. 

The two stories of Ken and Kyle are paralleled thematically in surprising ways, as each feels trapped by their circumstances, adrift and seeking stability.  That the two stories eventually merge does not come as a surprise but it is effective.  As are the wordless images that tell Ken’s story which I feel is the stronger of the two. 

This is a good graphic novel, one that will probably prove to be educational for some.  Pyle’s audience is surely the young adult reader and I would imagine it finding a well-deserved place in a school library if not in classroom itself.  A good story, well crafted, and quickly devoured.

Friday, March 1, 2013

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander is a collection of short stories rooted in Englander's own cultural awareness but not in the least limited by it.  Rather, he takes the unique experience of his characters and makes them feel universal.  Impossible though it may seem, what Englander accomplishes is masterful.

My voice is just going to be another in praised of this brilliant short story collection.  So here is a list of the stories with my feelings about each story, for better or worse.

The titular story, which introduces the collection, tells the story of a couple who have long been friends and are coping with their cultural identity and survivor's guilt in the best way they can.  The tension of their different choices is underscored by their shared awareness of who they are to one another, to themselves, and within a society that still feels fraught with danger and risk.

"Sister Hills" serves as an allegory for the political context in which the story, itself, is told.  What happens when superstition becomes so strong as to define and even determine law?  A frightening question to answer.

"How We Avenged the Blums" is a compelling bildungsroman, as haunting and relevant as it is powerful.  I felt I recognized each and every character in this story, understood their motivation without being told what each desired.

"Peep Show" reminded me of "Passing" by Lanston Hughes but lacked its emotional power.  This was more Freudian in many ways as well, which is probaby another reason I was not completely excited by it.  A good story but, for me, not a great one.

"Everything I Know About My Family on My Mother's Side" was one of those stories that touched a personal chord.  So much so that I was focusing on things other than the story itself to keep an emotional distance.  The story is told in numbered fragments and I found myself focusing on the multiples of eighteen for some deeper or more pivotal meaning.  As a result, I was not immersed and lost the opportunity to lose myself in the narrative.

"Camp Sundown" is the story I think will haunt and disturb me the most.  What is the cost of retribution?  What is the sacrifice demanded of bearing witness?  Haunting.

"The Reader" has an element of the grotesque, with a sort of nightmarish tone that any writer will recognize.  A curious story that I thoroughly enjoyed (and maybe even appreciated on a personal level).

"Free Fruit for Young Widows" is a perfect way to end this collection, book-ending so well with the first story and tying it all together, resonating thematically with many of the previous stories.

I love this collection of short stories.  I've already recommended it to my mother and plan on giving my copy to my son who I am sure will appreciate it nearly as much as I, if not more.  For anyone who likes short stories, be prepared to fall in love with this collection.
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