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g.donahue has commented on (15) products.

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Go Tell It on the Mountain

g.donahue, August 9, 2010

James Baldwin’s, Go Tell It On The Mountain, tells the story of two generations of an African-American family who began their migration from the south to the northern city of Harlem beginning in 1900. John, the 14-year old stepson of Gabriel Grimes, begins our journey as an up and coming preacher on his 14th birthday, March of 1935. Walking that night with his family to the storefront church in Harlem, the story jogs backward to the previous generation’s struggles migrating north to escape the oppressions both outside and inside the family--finding its way back to the storefront church to witness John’s cathartic awakening. Each family member has his or her own riveting story of the past, yet each is interdependent and leads back to young John’s awakening. John, a young black man in 1930’s Harlem must deal with a religious zealot of a step-father, a community of poverty and violence; yet he finds hope in this insular black community in America which preached the self-worth and intelligence of the black for the first time. Baldwin speaks through a style of veiled biblical references dotted with nuggets of prose that transcend any race and time. This recommended read will challenge and grab you at the same time.
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The Member of the Wedding by Carson Mccullers
The Member of the Wedding

g.donahue, July 18, 2010

This tiny book packs a psychological punch. Ostensibly about a 12-year old girl’s emotional hardships with growing and change, this fine-toned story relates to any age. Carson McCullers’s novella is rich with characters, all finely wrapped within beautiful prose. Frankie, the 12-year old protagonist, “… had become an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid.” What happens to Frankie? The author brilliantly captures our interest in Frankie’s achingly sweet journey to look for something missing in her life. She looks in the wrong places, wanting desperately to belong---to be a member of the wedding--a keenly sensitive metaphor for belonging. All of us feel like outsiders now and then, and Carson McCullers poetically embraces the essence of that feeling—no matter what age.
Set in a Faulkian town in the South--in the heat of August--during the 2nd World War, it is a time and place that witnesses death, racism, and disappointment. But for Frankie, it is her time for change.

Women authors from the 1930s and 40s should be (in this reviewer’s thinking) resurrected. Ms. McCullers is known for her psychological depth into the human condition, and this book is a testament to that; but her prose rivals the Faulkners, the Hemingways, and the Steinbecks of early 20th century America. Can be read in one day, but will not be forgotten.
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When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant
When I Lived in Modern Times

g.donahue, July 6, 2010

Linda Grant’s When I Lived in Modern Times is an informative, well-written, and engrossing narrative framed in 1946 Palestine. The narrator is a young woman, Evelyn Sert, who begins a journey that takes her to one of the most conflicted regions and time periods in modern history. Her story begins in London as the only Jewish child of a single mother. Evelyn witnesses the bombings of the London Blitz and the subsequent death of her mother. These events lead her to begin life anew in a new region of the world; in a new, burgeoning country. Thus, 20-year old Evelyn commences her exciting, suspenseful, and historically illuminating journey to Palestine in April of 1946. The analogy of her coming-of-age, modern, burgeoning life with that of Israel, is clear; but life for Evelyn who has “the soul of Zion, but the customs of the British”, can be daunting and disillusioning. Conflicts exist everywhere for Evelyn: the conflict of her Britishness with her loyalty to her Jewishness when she discovers the British are the oppressors in Palestine; Evelyn’s conflict with her own identity when she enters Palestine as a Christian tourist and poses as one to work as a hairdresser for British women; Evelyn’s conficts with the socialist ideals of the kibbutz experiment she is introduced to; and, finally, Evelyn’s conflict when she takes on a lover from the infamous Irgun terrorist organization fighting for the State of Israel. The narrative is told with verisimilitude and passion; the themes of modernity and youth underscore it all. This book won the Orange Prize for fiction and deserves it. I am surprised I haven’t heard more about this book written in 2002. An inspiring read for those historical fiction lovers, and a most recommended read for those who love a good story.
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American Gothic: The Biography of Grant Wood's American Masterpiece
American Gothic: The Biography of Grant Wood's American Masterpiece

g.donahue, June 20, 2010

A different kind of biography, Thomas Hoving opens the door to the general public in this enchanting synopsis of Grant Wood’s painting, American Gothic. He greets us with a question as though holding our hands on an intrepid journey. He encourages us to look and “….write down what comes to mind in the first thousandth of a second, the blink of an eye, when looking at the illustration of American Gothic…” We breath a sign of relief---we need only rely on our eyes. After all, greeted by the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City from 1967 to 1977, giving you a personal viewing of one painting can hasten the heart rate. But we are not expected to draw upon our miniscule understanding of an esoteric art form or offer up an historical analysis, but, rather, just use our eyes. “…to look at every millimeter of the work, front, back, and sides, and walk right inside the artist’s mind.” (page 15) Think of the author as a docent, asking you for your own gut feeling about the work, followed by a near-erudite analysis of the piece, then, once again, back to yourself, “after you have peeled American Gothic apart like an onion.” ( page 126)

The book moves on in this manner. We listen attentively without the over loaded jargon of an art historical analysis. This book is user-friendly which makes it so appealing. Only 122 pages of actual text, Hoving guides the reader on what to ask of a painting and what this painting has given to the American culture. Simple, down-to-earth language is in keeping with the style of this regionalist, countrified image.

Other than seeing this painting (at the Art Institute of Chicago) with a renewed eye, this little book is a pedagogical handbook on how to look at art written with the layperson in mind---“as connoisseurs….we’re going to be primarily---even obsessively---interested in the simple reality of the work itself and how good or bad it is.” Hoving covers everything; from the genesis of the painting, to the almost celebrity status of the artist, its short-lived demise, and finally to the renewed recognition as an icon of American Fine Art.

I love it for its brevity and its broad appeal, although I do wish the illustrations were a bit more extensive. Next time you are in Chicago, make sure you read this book before you go to the Art Institute.
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A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967 by Rachel Cohen
A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967

g.donahue, June 14, 2010

If you have even the slightest curiosity of the lives of famous American writers, poets, artists, or otherwise cultural icons—this book is for you. How would you like to visit Mathew Brady in his studio in New York City when he photographs Walt Whitman? How about walking alongside Mark Twain in Boston as he enters the publishing office of William Dean Howells to thank him for a great review? Or witness the intersection between the lives of writer Katherine Anne Porter and tragic poet Hart Crane in Mexico in the early 1930s. Each chapter introduces a meeting between two or three famous figures ranging in time from the Civil War Era to the Civil Rights Era, over a period of 100 years. Alfred Stieglitz pops up in three different “meetings” as a central figure of importance to the avant-garde at the turn of the century. I also enjoyed the chance meetings between younger figures and their older mentors such as Willa Cather and her mentor Sarah Orne Jewett, or Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. For humor, the story of the genesis of Marcel Duchamp’s urinal “the Fountain” was well worth it; or Zora Neale Hurston’s anthropological measuring of heads in New York City streets that made me chuckle. It turns icons into people and gives us a glimpse of what might have been. If you are looking for biography, this is not it; but you will end up a little richer in your who’s who in American culture list. Each ‘meeting’ is the spark which brings the ‘chance meeting’, then the author interweaves short histories of the characters involved, to return again to the original spark of the ‘chance meeting’ in the first place. Each visit or encounter has notes in the back of the book, which explain where the idea germinated. All of these chance meetings are backed up with a smorgasbord of evidence, even more to the reader’s delight to find an impressive and tantalizing bibliography for further reading.

Rachel Cohen researches and expands biographies to create 36 chapters, each depicting a hypothetical meeting among 30 well-known (at least to the student of American history) cultural icons. The author, Rachel Cohen, calls this “imaginative fiction.” I prefer to call it “imaginative nonfiction.” But, nevertheless, an interesting slant on biography for 30 American cultural icons. Grab a cup of tea and let your imagination soar.

American Literature’s repertoire can use books with unique perspectives like this. Historical works and biographies can be too limited, too large, and too pedantic as a sole reading source for the literature lover. So I applaud this new perspective and the work it took to bring it all together. As a teacher, I would like to see more of this for the secondary marketplace to reach the imagination of students.
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