Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Immense Journey by Loren Eiseley

This contemplative and sometimes dreamlike book, a combination of nature writing, spirituality, and science writing, was first published in 1946. It is the work of Loren Eiseley, an anthropologist with an extensive career. Eiseley did a great deal of fieldwork, as can be expected, and held several academic posts, including head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. I read the 1957 edition published by Random House.

Eiseley has a great ability of starting each chapter with a compelling statement. Here are three examples:

“I am middle-aged now, but in the autumn I always seek for it again hopefully” (p. 195).
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water” (p. 15).
“Today, as never before, the sky is menacing” (p. 143).

Several of the chapters kept me engaged from this first sentence, but I lost focus and interest in others. The language found here is definitely of an earlier period and will appeal greatly to some, but not all. Eiseley’s chapters on the human brain and evolution I found particularly difficult to wade through. I am happy for having read the book, however, because two chapters near the end are simply great. These chapters are “The Judgment of the Birds” and “The Bird and the Machine.”

In “The Bird and the Machine,” definitely my favorite, Eiseley describes capturing a sparrow hawk: “a fine young male in the prime of life” (p. 189). The hawk is one of a pair, but due to a violent struggle between Eiseley and the birds, he is not able to capture the female. Eiseley captures the bird for a zoo, a task he is charged with and explains as “one of those reciprocal matters in which science involves itself” (p. 186). The day following the capture, Eiseley decides to take a look at the bird in the box. He writes, “I could feel his heart pound under the feathers but he only looked beyond me and up” (p. 191).

Eiseley makes a decision, after noticing how the hawk is gazing into the sky, that he will release him. He does so and shortly after hears a commotion as the hawk joins his companion in cries of happiness. The female was likely waiting for her mate in the shadows of a tree throughout the night. The way this event is described is magical and was like a treasure after toughing it out in the middle of the book. It really makes you think about keeping birds in cages and pulling them out of their natural habitat for our pleasure and entertainment.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The World According to Garp by John Irving

Here is a popular book I missed until now. I picked it up on a whim when browsing at a bookstore. I was somewhat familiar with the plot before reading it, but realized early on that I did not really imagine this novel the way it truly is. I found it to be very humorous at times, but overall dark. The distance I experienced from the characters was also rather unnerving. Still, the layers to this novel are just incredible and waiting for discussion/interpretation.

Since many have read this book already and one can easily find a plot summary, I will avoid giving the basic details here. Some elements I found worthy of consideration include the violence against women, the issue of violence or threat of violence in general, and the meaning of the feminist nurse character. Beyond this, the Ellen Jamesians, women who have silenced themselves by cutting out their tongues in protest and communion of rape victim Ellen James (although Ellen James does not want their support), are intriguing and open to various interpretations. Just consider that there are all these women walking around in this novel who cannot talk, due to self-mutilation. Pretty dark, but thought-provoking as well.

I’ll end by saying that the character name Jillsy Sloper is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. How perfect and ridiculous is that name? I laughed all day about it.

I think I’ll watch the movie now.