The Poisonwood Bible

Last summer I read Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, and ever since then I have been dying to read another Kingsolver book. There is something about Barbara Kingsolver and the way she writes that makes summer the perfect time to read one of her books. She is always very in tune with nature and her surroundings in a way that can be appreciated outdoors in the summertime.

photoSo I chose The Poisonwood Bible as my next Kingsolver book. The Poisonwood Bible follows the Price family, a family of missionaries who travels to the Belgian Congo in the 1960’s. The story, much like Prodigal Summer, is told from the view point of the mother and the four daughters. Each narrator has their own voice, personality, and opinion on what is happening around them which adds a complexity to the story that would not be there otherwise. The family is in the Congo when it gains its independence, and what they are in for will change their life forever.

There is no doubt that The Poisonwood Bible is a heavier and more serious read than The Prodigal Summer, but despite the serious subject matter Kingsolver still uses the same beautiful prose that she is known for. As I said in my previous Kingsolver review, she can see beauty in the most mundane events, and brings that beauty out in her writing with ease. The way she writes makes me feel like the rest of us must be missing what’s really going on around us.

Kingsolver herself spent part of her childhood in the Congo before it was renamed Zaire. She drew on this experience when writing the novel. For example, in an essay she explains that her day to day life wasn’t too exciting (did mulitplication tables and schoolwork etc.). The same is true of the story. The Prices are leading as calm a life as they can. Kingsolver does talk about the politics that are happening in the Congo at the time, but it all seems somewhat distant compared to the everyday life of the characters. This is much like Kingsolver’s experiences in Africa. In her essay she writes,

[I read] of how The Congo became independent for some fifty remarkable days and then lost itself – diamonds, cobault, soul, and all – to indentured servitude to foreign businesses, mostly in the United States. I read this…in a trance thinking: “I was there…I had no idea.” Few of us did, at the time…

And that is what Kingsolver has done. She has told this story to those of us who glob onto fiction rather than read foreign affair reports. She has painted the scenes from history in her book. I wouldn’t say that The Poisonwood Bible is a fast paced read, but the characters are each so unique and interesting that I kept reading to find out what happens to them and to see how they change.

It was very interesting to read this book from a Christian persecutive. Nathan Price, the father of the narrators, is a Baptist minister who is the one leading the family on their missions trip. In many ways he is the antagonist of the story, but Kingsolver does not use this book as an opportunity to bash religion. Instead, she focuses on the misunderstandings between culture, especially between Americans and foreign cultures, and used religion as a literary tool to show this misunderstanding. As Kingsolver constructed the novel she explains,

The story I’m entitled to tell, the one I needed to tell, was an American one – what we’ve carried into the world, what we believed, and what we might still learn

and,

It aroused ire in a few people who…presume that a Christian missionary character who behaves badly in a novel is…proof of the author’s anti-Christian sentiments.

Upon reading the book I did not find anti-Christian sentiments, but rather anti-American-superialism sentiments. Nathan is not the antagonist because he is trying to spread the Gospel, rather he is the antagonist because of his closed mindedness and failure to see the Congolese culture and lifestyle for what it is. It is not the message itself, but rather the way that Nathan delivers the message that makes him an antagonist.

The Poisonwood Bible is one of those books that could became a whole other story upon a second reading, and I would love to return to it at some point in the future to see what changes for me within the story then.

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Step Into My Office

One of my favorite things about freelancing, besides the actual work that I do which I absolutely love, is how transportable it is. All I really need to have with me is my computer, which means I can work pretty much everywhere. And I have really been taking advantage of this fact and have worked in Starbucks, various cafes around the city, and Barnes and Nobles. And as the warmer weather came around I sometimes found myself working in parks around the city.

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For the past few weeks I have been spending a lot of time out in Long Island. I have found that my ideal work space there is in our screened in porch. It is surrounded by greenery which provides a good view, and allows for fresh air to circulate without me having to worry about the sun’s reflection off the computer, or getting a “computer tan” on my lap (It’s happened with books before).  Plus the chairs are very comfortable.

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Today, however, what with the rain and the colder weather, I have opted for a warmer office space on the couch in the living room (which is also very comfortable). I have also been toying with the idea of getting a lap desk, but I’ll have to think about it.

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I’m telling you, productivity, creativity, and comfort are all inherently linked. It’s important to be comfortable and to have a good workspace. A workspace is essential for the work that is being done there. Buzzfeed put out an article about Famous Creatives and their Inspiring Workspaces, which I love. I must say I’m partial to Virginia Wolf’s space (#9), Susan Orlean’s cat on her treadmill desk (#35), Ruth Reichl’s view (#38), and George Bernard Shaw’s typewriter and wood paneling (#39).

Where do you find that you work best?

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A Trip to the Library: Why Children’s Books Matter

Hello all! I feel like I haven’t written in a while. Last week I was busy meeting a deadline, so I didn’t have a chance to write, but this week I have a couple of new projects on the horizon along with some free time so here I am.

A few months ago I wrote about why I like Children’s and Young Adult books, and why I keep returning to them as a reader. So, as you can imagine, I was excited to hear about a new exhibit at the New York Public Library called The ABC’s of It: Why Children’s Books Matter. I must say, I never really paid attention to library exhibits too much before, but over the past year, I have been pleasantly surprised by the things that I find there (examples 1 and 2).

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from the New York Times

The exhibit takes its viewer thematically through all the things that we have come to grow and love about children’s books, and covers everything from the history of children’s books and how they came about, to fairy tales and classics, to comic books and graphic novels, to books that have been banned in the past.

I was particularly interested in this exhibit, not only because of my love of children and YA/children’s books, but the exhibit also tied in with many of the classes that I took in college, such as Children’s Literature and Developmental Psychology. I also used much of the information from these classes to add to essays I was writing for other classes, so it was nice to revisit the topic and learn some new things about it. I wrote essays on the impact pictures have on childhood development, how the British Empire is depicted in British children’s books of the 20th century, and Harry Potter and its audiences.

The exhibit is set to run through next March, and I suggest to anyone who is thinking of going. It is aimed at both children and adults, and has many child friendly aspects to it, such as audio recordings to listen to, picture books placed throughout the exhibit, and various child-sized crawl spaces.

Probably my favorite quote from the exhibit was a quote from L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz books, on fairy tales, but I think it can be applied to many children’s books as a whole. It says,

To write fairy stories for children, [is] to amuse them, to divert restless children, sick children, to keep them out of mischief on rainy days…Few of the popular novels last the year out, responding as they do to a certain…characteristic of the time; whereas, a child’s book is, comparatively speaking, always the same, since children are always the same…with the same needs to be satisfied.

It is true – so many children’s books that are popular today have been around for a long time. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was the first novel length book for children, and was first published in the 1860’s. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak was first published in the 1980’s, and the ever classic Goodnight Moon was first published in 1947. Children’s books have a sense of longevity to them more so than many adult books of the same era. Of course there are classics and best sellers that last throughout time, but children’s books are always aimed at children, and childhood rarely ever changes.

Introducing Penguin Random House

Yesterday was a big day in the publishing industry as the Random House Penguin merger, which was first announced this past fall, became official. Together as one company Penguin Random House will be the biggest name in the publishing industry. In an interview Markus Dohle, former CEO of Random House, and now CEO of Penguin Random House said,

Today, Penguin and Random House officially unite to create the first truly global trade book publishing company…Together, we will give our authors unprecedented resources to help them reach global audiences—and we will provide readers with unparalleled diversity and choice for future reading. Connecting authors and readers is, and will be, at the heart of all we strive to accomplish together.

The focus of the merger, Dohle emphasized,  is to continue providing readers with good books, and Penguin Random House has the chance to be a brand new company while keeping the high quality reputations of both companies under their belt. The merger will also allow the company to compete more with Amazon, which introduced publishing capabilities to its users earlier this year.

It is hard to predict what will happen in the aftermath of this merger, as it is hard to predict anything in the publishing industry at the moment. As Penguin author, Harlan Coben told Forbes Magazine,

This business so constantly changes that whatever we’re talking about now will be nonsense a few years from now.

The people at Digital Book World  had some fun speculating on the new Penguin Random House Logo, but in the meantime we will have to keep an eye 0n Penguin Random House  – not Random Penguin, or Random Penguin House unfortunately – and see what happens.