25 Women to Read Before You Die

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Bonnie Palmer has commented on (8) products.

People of the Book: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks
People of the Book: A Novel

Bonnie Palmer, May 2, 2008

I would recommend this novel to the stout-hearted reader who is interested in the critical role books can play in the history of a people and in the darker side of European history. What I enjoyed most about "People of the Book" is its clever duel narrative structure: the framing story relates how the novel’s protagonist, a book conservator, attempts to piece together the history of a famous Jewish manuscript called the Sarajevo Haggadah, as well as telling her own story of the personal and professional crises that plague her as she works on the book’s conservation; meanwhile, a second set of chapters moves backward in time from the recovery in 1996 of the haggadah through it’s endurance over five centuries of religious strife to it’s unlikely inception as illuminations of the Passover story. It is this second narrative that really makes the work haunting because author Geraldine Brooks’ invented history for the manuscript is absolutely heartbreaking. The people who create and care for the book face imprisonment, torture, exile and ignominious death to insure its survival, taking the reader with them into the Nazi annexation of the Austrian Empire, the African diaspora and the Inquisitions of early modern Venice and Spain. Her descriptions of medieval waterboarding are particularly shocking and poignant today. The novelist’s point in guiding the reader on this grueling tour of European atrocities is to demonstrate that this unique illuminated haggadah was the product of moments in history that ever-so-briefly permitted the cultural coexistence of Jews, Muslims and Christians, periods which inexorably give way to repeated repressive regimes. As a student of early modern European history, I found this work gritty, thorough-going and challenging. If I have a complaint of this novel, it is that the author only hints at rather than depicts the craft of bookmaking in the various periods of history she explores. Overall I cannot say I loved this novel as much as I felt drawn into the narrator’s sometimes disturbing literary pursuits. The well-plotted tale of the haggadah becomes enthralling as the reader plunges further into its murky past, while the heroine’s story likewise becomes more compelling as the novel progresses and she must confront not just the challenges of an extraordinary book restoration, but must also come to terms with flaws in her own carefully-crafted identity as a conservator and an individual.
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(7 of 11 readers found this comment helpful)

Treasure Island (Modern Library Classics) by Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island (Modern Library Classics)

Bonnie Palmer, April 18, 2008

This was my first favorite book as a kid. When I began to re-read this childhood classic as a middle-aged woman, I wondered what attracted a younger me to what definitely seems today like a boy’s book. As I finished the book, I knew exactly what the attraction was: a ripping good yarn, with a mercurial villain, set in an exotic location and punctuated with salty seafarers’ jargon – what’s not to love – or as Long John would put it, “Shiver me timbers!”
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(15 of 27 readers found this comment helpful)

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (Vintage) by Maureen Corrigan
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (Vintage)

Bonnie Palmer, March 28, 2008

Maureen Corrigan’s careful readings of whatever books she has been able to get her hands on throughout her life have obviously stimulated her own writing and critiquing abilities, making her an excellent author of her own story as well as a terrific book critic. But what really comes through in this memoir is how reading is a skill that can be practiced and honed, just as learning a musical instrument or playing a sport can, and that Corrigan is a master at it. Though I am fairly literate and have a master’s degree in history, I feel like a novice reader compared to Corrigan; but she also inspires me to want to read more, read better, and eventually scale my own reading versions of Mount Everest, whatever they may be.
This was an highly enjoyable book from which I gleaned many recommendations for future reading. I particularly liked the section on detective fiction that analyzed its value as literature about work, which Corrigan wishes there were more of – and I agree!
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(5 of 12 readers found this comment helpful)

A Philosophy of Boredom by Lars Svensen
A Philosophy of Boredom

Bonnie Palmer, March 17, 2008

I liked this intellectually challenging book because it was also an entertaining and fairly accessible academic work. I think savvy readers might enjoy it (yes, actually enjoy a scholarly book about boredom) because it examines a common modern dilemma that everyone in the Western world has at some point understood first hand. Whether you only occasionally experience situational boredom, or regularly struggle with deeper, more profound existential boredom, Lars Svendsen’s ruminations on the topic – from its Romantic underpinnings to its twentieth century philosophical treatments to its depiction in literature and pop culture – are far from dull. Most of the book traces boredom’s history as an idea in the West, including many philosophers’ and artists’ attempts to analyze, solve or even banish boredom. But Svendsen posits that boredom is a conundrum that cannot simply be eliminated; rather boredom must be lived through, and even embraced, in order to understand its impact both as a personal difficulty and as a phenomenon in the Western modernity. In the end, Svendsen insists, only half jokingly, that “It is our duty to lead a life that torments us.” As I read this book over the course of a couple of weeks, my boyfriend kept taunting me, “How’s your boring book?” And I repeatedly, honestly answered him, “It’s fascinating!” Now he is reading it too.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)

Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton
Endymion Spring

Bonnie Palmer, December 13, 2007

Do you remember That One Book from your youth? You know the one I mean: the one that did more than just narrate an adventure story about virtuous characters vanquishing dastardly villains; the one that actually taught you that reading could be a miraculous adventure in and of itself; the one that almost single-handedly made you into the ardent reader you are today. In his debut novel, Matthew Skelton presents a children’s book with the faintly familiar storyline of a quest by a modern boy for an ancient object that will yield a significant historical secret--a powerful object which must of course be kept from those who would use its secret for evil purposes. But Endymion Spring’s real charm is as an homage to That One Book that made a reader of you, and to the delightful world of books that followed. This novel deftly weaves together the history of printing, the value of libraries as repositories of the written word, and the obsessive acquisitiveness that drives the book collector in his hunt for elusive quarry. It is also a fine kids’ book that tackles a child’s fears of family disintegration, sibling rivalry with a favored child, and the indescribable joy of finding That One Book that awakens one’s interest in the pleasures and the possibilities of the literary. Buy it for a young person who is teetering at the edge of the literary cosmos, or for yourself to relive falling into that marvelous universe.
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(8 of 14 readers found this comment helpful)

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