1957 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner

The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward, narrated by Jonathan Davis

Originally published 1942, translation done in 1989

Albert Camus (pronounced “Alber Camu”)was born on November 7, 1913 in Mondavi, French Algeria. He grew up poor with his mother in Algiers after his father died during World War I. He attended the University of Algiers and studied philosophy, which is what he got his undergraduate and graduate degrees in. It was during his college years that he joined the Communist party and later the French Anarchist movement. It was during WWII, in his work with the French Resistance, that he met Jean Paul Satre, who also wrote political commentary on the war. According to Biography.com, “In 1945, he was one of the few Allied journalists to condemn the American use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. He was also an outspoken critic of communist theory, eventually leading to a rift with Sartre.” Camus’s work was rife with absurdism, aka the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe. He preferred not to call it existentialism, as that is what he felt Sartre dealt with instead. Camus was married and divorced twice, and seemed to dislike marriage as a whole. He died January 4, 1960 in Burgundy, France.

The actual story is about a young Algerian man named Mersault who is ambivalent about everything. His mother dies in the very beginning of the book and he goes to the funeral but is bored by it. When he returns home the next day, he continues with his life by starting an affair with a woman named Marie from his office and they go to see a comedy. She asks him later on if he loves her and he responds “Probably not,” but they still agree to get married. He becomes friends with Raymond, an upstairs neighbor and even vouches for the man as a witness with the police he abuses his girlfriend for cheating on him. In a way, hanging out with Raymond leads to his downfall. Raymond’s now ex-girlfriend’s Arab brother and the brother’s friends have started fights with Raymond, one of which Mersault was involved with. He and Raymond are at the beach that day, and later on as he is walking down the beach and the sun is beating down on him, Mersault sees the Arab brother and shoots him five times killing him. He is of course arrested and a trial ensues. The prosecution manages to convey that he is a heartless individual based on the way he handled his mother’s funeral and his subsequent actions. He is sentenced to death by guillotine. Recommended for ages 15+, 3 stars.

I was not sure at all how to review this book as I wasn’t 100% sure that I understood the complexities that Camus was trying to convey with this seemingly simple short book. At first glance it seems to be talking about the absurdity of life and humans in general, and how we’re all going to die anyways so we might as well be happy, but I’m sure people have read/taught it many times probably think it is way more. As this reviewer has said: “Digesting the content will certainly take much longer [than the afternoon it takes to read it] as this little novel raises serious questions about morality, society, justice, religion, and individuality.” The one part I did enjoy about the book was at the very end as he is awaiting his execution and has the encounter with the priest. As this article says, “His only advantage, if any, is that he knows that he does not know anything except the succession of events that was his life. This certainty he cannot betray. That is why he revolts so violently against the priest who comes to console him. Consolation would mean substituting something else for the bare truth.” “

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1954 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner

Hemingway-photo-1937

These are books for my Nobel Prize Challenge. My first review was Toni Morrison’s Sulaand now my current review will be on Ernest Hemingway and his 1937 book To Have and Have Not and his 1952 novella The Old Man and the Sea. 

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, 1944

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, 1944

I honestly picked To Have and Have Not because of the 1944 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I haven’t seen all of it, but the scenes I have seen between them were smoking, so I figured why not give it a try as it sounded pretty good. Only problem is the film is set during World War II and is about getting away from Nazis, whereas the book is set in Depression era Key West and is about early Cuban revolutionaries. Hemingway originally wrote the book as a 2 short stories and a novella, and really only came about because of a contractual agreement with his publisher. I always thought of Hemingway as a man’s man, because he is almost always pictured shooting large game on a safari or bullfighting, and he worked as a foreign war correspondant for a newspaper before he became a writer. He was married four times, suffered from depression in later life and eventually committed suicide.

There are flashes of brilliance in the writing, but it is overshadowed by the tangintial storyline with rambles on and on. The whole book seems really disjointed because it starts out with Harry Morgan’s story, which was kind of fascinating, but then kept jumping into secondary stories like Richard Gordon, his wife, and the Professor who broke up their marriage. As Andrew Blackman said in his review of the book, “The main problem with the book is that it is schizophrenic. It’s a cross between an adolescent high-seas adventure story and a social analysis of the effects of the Great Depression. The writing style, too, is schizophrenic, lurching from first person to third person, from one character’s point of view to another’s.” Ok, I realize that this book was written in 1937 and being racist back in the day was considered socially acceptable, but it is kind of hard to read in the 21st century. Literally for the first five minutes of the audiobook, all the narrator said was the N-word. There are other racist episodes, which include more uses of the “N-word” and derogatory terms for Chinese and Cubans. Hemingway is also generally sexist towards women as well in the text, regarding them as frivilous and stupid.

To Have and Have Not

On to the actual storyline of To Have and Have Not. Harry Morgan is a down-on-his-luck fisherman who takes rich folks deep sea fishing off the Florida Keys. After his last pickup broke one his fishing poles and then skipped out on paying for it, and seeing as he has a wife and three daughters to support at home, he decides to take some illegal work, including ferrying Chinese workers to Cuba, smuggling liquor, and providing a getaway for Cuban gangsters who have stolen money from Key West to fund the revolution in Cuba. It becomes pretty obvious, early on, that Harry and his “rummy” (alcoholic) crew-members are part of the “have-not” crowd who have to struggle to survive, while the rich white men he takes out fishing or that stay in their yachts in the harbor are the “haves”.  The book is pretty dismal and sad, although I was never quite sure if I should root for Harry or not, as most of the trouble he got into was his own fault. One thing I did really like about the book is the relationship between Harry and his wife. Though obviously not a looker, Marie Morgan tries her best and keeps her bleached blonde look up for her husband. They seem to have a tender loving relationship, despite his prickly exterior and attitude to everything else. She is completely devastated at the end of the book when Harry’s actions ultimately lead to his death. 2-1/2 stars.

Old man and the sea

I decided that maybe I should read something a bit better from Hemingway, as he seems to actually be a good writer, but I may have picked his worst book. So I decided to read Old Man and the Sea to get a different perspective on Hemingway as a writer. Ok, I will admit that after reading the book, I am still not a Hemingway fan. I just couldn’t get into it. The story is about a decrepit old man who has been a fisherman all his life. He used to have a little boy who helped him but since his luck has run out, the boy is working for someone else. The old man has not caught any fish for eighty-four days (equals out to about 2-1/2 months, which if fishing is your livelihood, is a bloody long time). The boy trys to take care of him and make sure he is fed. The old man goes out in the morning, determined to get a fish today and he ends up battling the father of all swordfish for about 3 days before he finally manages to skewer it. Only problem is that because it is bleeding, this attracts three sharks that eat it before he can make it to land. By the time he does, only the head and skeleton are attached to the old man’s boat. You want the old man to succeed because he has had such a hard time of it and battling this enormous fish for three days, and also slowly going a bit crazy. But at the same time, you know he is doomed to failure. It was a depressing and sad book. Recommended for ages 14+, 2-1/2 stars.

Kids Cafe Lectures: Ancient Egyptian History

I took a class on Ancient Near Eastern History (which included Egypt and Mesopotamia) during my undergraduate years and loved it, plus I had originally intended on using Egyptian art history (at least the museum pieces) as my first Masters’ thesis, so when trying to come up with ideas for Kids Cafe, I immediately jumped at the chance to talk about Ancient Egyptian History! Plus most kids love Egyptian things like mummies and pyramids, so I figured it was a safe bet. I divided the lecture into two parts, the first was History and the second Art. Obviously there is a bit of overlap when talking about these, but that’s gonna happen. I had a little more interaction with the kids as I tried to ask some questions while I was doing the presentation. The outline comes out a bit funny-looking (format-wise) on here, but it does the job of explaining what I did.  The cartouches came out pretty good too, as an activity.

KC Ancient Egyptian History – Feb 13

Upper and Lower Egypt map

  • Brief History of Egypt
    • 3100 BCE – King Narmer unites Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom
    • NarmPalette1
    • The Narmer Palette, which shows on the left side, King Narmer defeating his enemies
    • 2650 BCE – 1st Pyramid(a Step Pyramid) is built
      • Step Pyramid of Djoser
        • The Pyramids were built using huge stones. Each stone weighed as much as two and a half elephants! The finished pyramids had a white coating to protect the stones underneath.
        • The pyramids were built as burial places and monuments to the Pharaohs. As part of their religion, the Egyptians believed that the Pharaoh needed certain things to succeed in the afterlife. Deep inside the pyramid the Pharaoh would be buried with all sorts of items and treasure that he may need to survive in the afterlife.
        • There are around 138 Egyptian pyramids.The largest is the Pyramid of Khufu, also called the Great Pyramid of Giza. Scientists estimate it took at least 20,000 workers over 23 years to build the Great Pyramid of Giza.
    • 2250 BCE – Egyptians introduce gods into all areas of their lives
    • Egyptian gods
        • Some gods include Anubis, Thoth, Amun-Ra, Bastet, Horus and Hathor
    • Pharoahs
        • Rulers of Ancient Egypt were called pharaohs. The word ‘pharaoh’ means great house. The pharaoh was the most powerful person in Egypt and some people considered him a god.
        • One of the most famous pharaohs was Ramses II (aka Ramses the Great). He ruled Egypt for over 60 years. In that time he fathered 156 children! He was a brave soldier and a great builder.
          • Ramesses_II_on_chariotRamses II in his chariot
          • Ramses II reconstruction Ramses II mummy
          • Ramses II reconstruction                             Ramses II’s mummy
        • Another famous pharaoh was King Tutankhamun [below is his mummy and reconstruction]
        • King Tut Reconstruction
        • King Tut Sarcophagus
        • King Tut’s Sarcophagus
  • Hieroglyphics
    • Ancient Egyptians used a system of picture writing called hieroglyphics. Each hieroglyph represented an object or letter. There were about 700 different hieroglyphs.
    • There were no vowel sounds, only consonants. Also, there was no punctuation.
    • They wrote on tablets, walls or papyrus paper (a reed-like plant)
    • Sometimes scribes used a faster short form of hieroglyphics on papyrus called hieratic.
  • The Rosetta Stone
    • In 1799 a French soldier found a special stone in the city of Rosetta. This stone had the same message written in both hieroglyphics and Greek.
    • This was important because it helped to translate what the hieroglyphics said and could be used to help translate other hieroglyphics as well.
    • Top section is in Egyptian Hieroglyphics (language of the scribes/priests); 2nd section is in Egyptian Demotic (common language); 3rd section is in Greek
    • Rosetta Stone  rosettastone-detail
  • Cartouches
    • An oval frame which is surrounded by a protective rope. This rope is said to possess a magical power to protect the name within it from evil spirits in present life and afterlife. Cartouches were primarily used to house the names of Pharaoh’s, Royals or Egyptian gods only.
    • Cleopatra CartoucheCleopatra’s Cartouche
    • ??????

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  • Activity: Creating our own Cartouche
    • Cartouche: An oval frame which is surrounded by a protective rope. This rope is said to possess a magical power to protect the name within it from evil spirits in present life and afterlife. Cartouches were primarily used to house the names of Pharaoh’s, Royals or Egyptian gods only.
    • Supplies: blank cartouche and examples of hieroglyphics that the kids can trace over/color/add to their own cartouches
    • I traced the hieroglyphs of my first name by placing the cartouche over the alphabet letters.

Print

My name in Hieroglyphics

June 2015 Book Reviews

I’ve been reading a lot of really long books lately, and so haven’t read as much as I usually do. In fact, according to Goodreads, I’m constantly about 9 books behind schedule for the year. I apologize in advance for all the book titles in bold, I’m having a bit of a formatting issue on this post and this was the only way to really make them show up. I am currently reading Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon, which was a little slow in the beginning but is finally starting to pick up a bit. I have really been enjoying that particular author’s books, but the first one was the shortest at over 550 pages and I think this one is 1000.  I started going to a book club last month which a work colleague originally started a few months before and enjoyed it, so I look forward to reading more books for it. I am listening to Albert Camus’s The Stranger on audiobook, which is really odd so far.

I also have restarted my Nobel Prize Challenge, which I started back in Sept 2014. Basically it just means that I have to choose one book/poem/play written by a Nobel Prize for Literature winner, read it and write a review of it. I had previously read only 5 books from  111 winners, plus 1 poem from another winner, so I have a lot to read. I decided to do it as I didn’t know most of the winners and I thought it would be fascinating. This will take me a long time, but I’m okay with that. This month I have managed to get through two more, and working on a third.

On to the book reviews. I rate books from 1-5 stars, 1 being the lowest. I will include illustrations from the children’s books I enjoyed.

Children

Freddie & Gingersnap Find a Cloud to Keep written and illustrated by Vincent X. Hirsch

Freddie and Gingersnap Find a Cloud to Keep

This was a bit of an unusual book but I enjoyed it and so did my son. Freddie is a dinosaur and Gingersnap is a dragon, and they are both flying looking for a cloud for Freddie. Gingersnap keeps explaining that it is impossible. They happen upon two children, a boy and girl in a hot air zepplin who are singing about home. They’ve never seen a dragon and a dinosaur before and so have a billion questions. The kids decide to show them a little magic and suddenly they are all in a lightning storm. They sing until the storm disappears and they find their way back to their homes. Freddie sings their song after they go. The words/lyrics/music are written by the author and included in the back of the book. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Today I Will Fly! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Piggie is determined to fly, even though Gerald doesn’t believe she can do it. She starts by getting a dog to chase her, but only succeeds in jumping really high (as pointed out by Gerald of course). But it was a very high jump. After Gerald leaves, Piggie decides she needs help and enlists a bird (I’m guessing a pelican) to help her. Soon floating underneath the bird, tied to a string and Gerald is convinced she is flying. Now he wants to try it himself. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Watch Me Throw the Ball! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Watch Me Throw the Ball

Gerald is way too serious about learning to throw the ball, whereas Piggie is just there to have fun. She throws the ball and it ends up going behind her and she thinks she is the greatest thrower ever and keeps making up all these things like calling herself “Super Pig” and making up little chants. It is up to Gerald to break the news to her gently.But she doesn’t care, she had a lot of fun doing it. Gerald me think of adults and how we tend to take things too seriously. Then of course, Gerald wants to have a little fun himself. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Big Plans written by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith

I discovered this book on a website while trying to come up with some new books to check out in the children’s area. Honestly most of the appeal for me where the Lane Smith illustrations. I thought it was pretty cute, but it does go on for way too long. It’s all about this little boy who is always getting in trouble. While in his latest punishment in the classroom, he declares that he “has plans, big plans I say!” and that continues to be his mantra for the rest of the book. He means business, and puts on his dad’s shiniest tie and pointiest shoes for emphasis. He recruits a mynah bird to join him in his endeavors. He takes over a corporate board meeting and all the big-wigs listen to him because he speaks with such authority. He takes their helicopter, driven by the mynah bird, and heads over to the local football game to help the team beat the out-of-towners. Then he flies to the moon and puts his mantra there for the whole world to see when he flies back. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Chu’s Day at the Beach written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex Chus-Day-at-the-Beach-internal-shot-2

I love the Chu books, although this one didn’t have as much pizzazz as the other two books in the series. However, the illustrations by Adam Rex were still awesome, cute and hilarious. Chu and his parents are going to the beach, and everything is going alright until the inevitable happens and he sneezes. He does it so hard that he literally breaks the ocean, parting it in two and the fish and other marine life (including merpandas!) are trapped on both sides unable to get through. The beach goers need to make him sneeze again so that everything can be put right, but for the first time ever, Chu can’t seem to sneeze. It’s not until Tiny the snail suggests that the bright sunlight might help him, and Chu takes off his sunglasses and immediately sneezes. Everything is relatively back to normal, or as normal as it can be with the hurricane force sneeze that flips everything around (my favorite is his parents who have actually switched bathing suits). Chu still has the best day ever. My son loved this book. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Rules of Summer written and illustrated by Shaun Tan

I had seen this book on the Guardian’s children books readers had read for April or May 2015, and hoped that we had a copy at our library. We did, so I grabbed it for me to read to my son. I love Shaun Tan’s work usually, but this one just didn’t grab me the way he others have in the past. The book gave rules that two boys learned during one summer, and shows an event and the the effect of that event. For example, they boys go to catch some shooting stars and one of the boys drops his jar, and the text says “Never drop your jar”. The pictures got darker the further the story went. I think my son enjoyed it more than me. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars

I Am Albert Einstein (Ordinary People Change the World) written by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos I Am Albert Einstein

I also found this book while browsing children’s review websites. I fell in love with the illustrations before I even read it, but they were even more adorable once you got into the story especially as they showed Einstein as a baby with white hair and a mustache. I loved that the first major thing he says is “My hair is awesome!” and other people mention it throughout the book. It was a basic biography of the scientist, but a nice introduction for children who may have not heard of him and what he did to change the world. Einstein thought in pictures instead of words (which made him take a very long time to speak his mind) and his fascination with a compass his father gave him plus music kept his curiosity alive throughout his life and wanting to keep asking questions. I loved the Einstein quote at the end of the book. Recommended for ages 6-10, 5 stars.

Children and Young Adult

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Young Adult

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Adult

The Bones of You by Debbie Howells

The Book of Speculation written and illustrated by Erika Swyler

Yes Please! by Amy Poehler

This book was the first book I read for the new all-female book club I recently joined with a colleague from work. It wasn’t so much of a memoir as a stream-of-consciousness glimpse into Ms. Poehler’s life and career as a comedienne. Plus a lot of name-dropping. I honestly knew next to nothing about her other than she was on SNL and also that show Parks and Recreation, which I didn’t find all that funny. The only things I could latch onto with this book was a quote she made early in the book on page 20, about being a plain girl and learning to accept that, and her sentiments regarding her kids and being a mom. 2 stars.

The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel (Outlander #1.5) written by Diana Gabaldon, illustrated by Hoang Nguyen DG_exile_spread

This was supposed to be Outlander from Jamie’s perspective instead of Claire’s, but it ended up basically just being that book in graphic novel form. That in and of itself is interesting, but I privately call it the “big boobs” graphic novel as that is pretty much all you get out of Claire (you can see what I mean in the pic above). It was touted as 1.5 in the series, in-between Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, and that would’ve actually been more intriguing as book 2 was rather long and way too slow until the end. 2-1/2 stars.

Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon

Voyager takes place twenty years after Claire went through the stones, pregnant with Jamie’s daughter Brianna. She gives birth to her back in the 1940s and stays married to Frank, who doesn’t believe her story, but wants to take care of Brianna. So they live together for twenty years until he dies and she goes to Scotland with her daughter to try to tell her the truth about her real father. While there, she enlists the help of Roger Wakefield, Reverend Wakefield’s adopted son (who was a small boy in Outlander) and is now a full-grown Oxford historian taking care of the Reverend’s personal effects after his death. He falls hard for Brianna and agrees to help them. They find out that Jamie survived and decides to go through the stones to find him in Edinburgh, where he has set himself up as a printer/smuggler. After a smuggling operation goes bad and his nephew Ian is abducted by pirates, Jamie and Claire set off in one of his cousin Jared’s boats from France to the West Indies to find Ian. Will they be able to live together after so long a separation? Will they be able to find Ian? To find out, read this amazing third book in the series.

Ok yeah, I was pretty pissed off when I thought the author killed off Jamie at the end of the second book, and she was vindicated when it turns out that he survived after Culloden. I actually liked this book slightly better than Outlander because Claire was less whiny (despite the crazy situations her and Jamie always seem to get into, and there are a lot) and a bit less sure of herself as it has been so long since they’ve seen each other. But they fell right back into trouble and had no problem with the long separation. For some reason, older Jamie seems so much more appealing than younger Jamie. I’m sure he’s hotter, although I’m not sure how that’s possible. Geillis Duncan made a very surprising appearance at the end of the book and I’m still not 100% sure if she is actually dead, although I’m sure she’ll pop up in the story again at some point. I found the meeting between Lord John Grey and Claire fascinating, and I’m sure he’ll pop up in the next book as his feelings for Jamie were definitely evident in books 2 and 3. I adored the pledge that Jamie makes at the end of the book to always be with Claire, le sigh. The only thing I did think was a little weird was that she was able to bring back items from the future into the past, other than her clothes, i.e. photos and medicine.

Serafina and the Black Cloak

Serafina and the Black Cloak

Seraphina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

To be published: July 14, 2015

Twelve-year old Serafina and her father live in anonymity the basement of the Biltmore Estate, in Asheville, North Carolina in 1899. Her pa has warned her never to leave the estate and venture into the woods, and she has never done so, although she has always been curious about the woods. Serafina is an unusual girl who can see in the dark and her father has labeled her CRC or Chief Rat Catcher. She has always been happy living alone with her father, although this is disrupted a bit after she learns the truth about her birth. She has caught glimpses of the upstairs folks, but never talked to them until the disappearances start happening. She witnesses a girl named Clara being swallowed into man with a great black cloak, but her father doesn’t believe her. She decides to put her trust in Braeden Vanderbilt, the orphaned nephew of George and Edith Vanderbilt, the house’s owners. The two quickly become friends after the carriage Braeden and Serafina are in is attacked by the man in the black cloak, and he sees firsthand what the man can do. As more and more children start disappearing, Serafina is forced to go into the woods to stop the mysterious man and find out why he is kidnapping all the children. Will she be able to save Braeden and the other children before the man in the black cloak strikes again? Recommended for ages 10-13, 3-1/2 stars.

I really liked Serafina as a character, especially because she wasn’t like the other people in the story. I liked that her and Braeden found each other as they were both alone and in need of a good friend. I’ll admit that I didn’t realize the book would be so creepy/scary, but it was just enough to make it interesting but not enough to make it over the top. I have never been to Biltmore but it has been on my must-see list for awhile, so it was interesting to hear about all the different parts of the house and grounds through the story. The author lives in Asheville and has obviously researched the book very well to know all the little details about the house and its history. Plus he wrote the book for his three daughters, which is pretty awesome. I would be interested in more stories about Serafina, if he chose to write more. My biggest gripe was the ending, as it seemed a bit too abrupt and if you were paying attention, you could figure it out pretty early on (at least who the man in the black cloak was) and I would’ve liked more info about the mother and her family. I didn’t understand the truth about her mother until the very end, so the author was good at leaving his audience in suspense in that regard.

Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher Disney Book Group in exchange for my honest review.

1962 Nobel Prize for Literature winner

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, 1942 – audiobook version narrated by Gary Sinise

I had first read Steinbeck when I was about 11 or 12. We had to read The Pearl (1947) in middle school, and I remember enjoying it. So when I found out he had won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, I jumped at the chance to read another one of his books. I had heard from many people that Of Mice and Men was one of his best works, so I decided to give it a chance. I know most American teenagers probably read it in high school. According to the National Steinbeck Center, “Despite its long-term popularity, Of Mice and Men was banned in many schools and libraries for vulgarity and what some consider offensive and racist language. The novella appears on the American Library Association’s Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century.” It is also interesting to note that 90% of teenagers in Britain have to read it as well because it is “Short, comprising only six chapters, and its themes continue to be considered relevant to 21st Century society.” I’m beginning to think it is a conspiracy that the Nobel committee only chooses authors who write depressing books, or at least that is what I feel like so far in this reading challenge. Maybe it is just from the subject matter they pick to write about, and yes I know it is based off their own person experiences as well. I will make an exception for Pablo Neruda, who while he does have some sad poems, most of his poems are joyous.

US novelist John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968).   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

US novelist John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

John Steinbeck seemed to have a relatively comfortable childhood around Salinas, California (where at least four of his books are based) and had some of a college education. After publishing his first seven or so books, Steinbeck, like Ernest Hemmingway, was also a war correspondant. Steinbeck during World War II and Hemingway with WWI and the Spanish-American War. It is interesting to note that he wrote the screenplay for the movie Lifeboat in 1944, for director Alfred Hitchcock, only to have it drastically changed after he finished it. He tried unsuccessfully to remove his name from the credits. He also wrote the screenplay for Viva Zapata in 1952, about the life of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, which starred Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn. He wrote the book East of Eden, one of his most famous works, which was later turned into the film that starred a young James Dean.

The book Of Mice and Men is about two migrant farm workers named George Milton and Lenny Small in California during the Great Depression. They couldn’t be more different. George is short, quick-thinking, and in charge of the two. Lenny is a big gentle man who has the mentality of a small child. He cannnot fend for himself, and so must travel around California with his friend George. Both men dream of getting a small farm together where they can grow their own food, tend their own animals and “live off the fat of the land”. Lenny is particularly fixated on getting to tend the rabbits. According to the National Steinbeck Center, “A strong desire for the stability and refuge of companionship motivates most of the action in the novella, and the break of the strong homosocial bond between George and Lennie constitutes the work’s closing tragedy. The close friendship between the two men and the simplicity and tenderness of their dream makes Of Mice and Men a compelling psychological glimpse into the lives of migrant field workers, setting the novella apart from Steinbeck’s later, far more encompassing work, The Grapes of Wrath.”

George and Lenny have to quickly leave their last job after a misunderstanding between Lenny and a little girl. They are heading towards a new job in Salinas, California where they will be harvesting grain. We soon meet the other men that work at the ranch. Slim, the foreman, is the leader of their work team and one that everyone respects. Candy is an old man with an even older dog who lost his hand in an accident and is constantly worrying that he will get fired because of his age. Carlson is one of the ranch hands that hates Candy’s dog because of its smell and volunteers to shoot it to put it out of its misery (which of course Candy resents him for). Curley is short, claims he is a prizefighter and is always trying to pick fights with the other men on the ranch because he thinks everyone is messing with his wife. He is the ranch owner’s son, and is married to a young girl who all the men call a tramp, but is really lonely and desires companionship. Crooks is the black stable hand who feels slighted by the other men because of the color of his skin. Candy asks George and Lenny if he can join them on their farm as he has money for a down payment and they agree to have him along to do odd jobs. Slim’s dog has a litter of puppies and Lenny begs for one, and later Slim has to send Lenny away from the barn for petting it too much. Curley takes a dislike to Lenny from the beginning because he is large and tries to pick a fight with him after failing to start one with Slim for hanging around his woman, which gets his hand accidentally crushed by Lenny. Slim tells Curley not to tell the boss about what Lenny did to him and try to get George or Lenny fired, or he will become the laughingstock of the entire ranch for getting his hand crushed by a simpleton. The next night all but Lenny, Candy and Crooks go to a brothel in town. Lenny wanders into Crooks’ room on the side of the barn and talks to him about his dream of living on the farm and tending rabbits, and Crooks foreshadows the end of the book by telling him that he’s heard many men over the years with the same dream who never make it. Candy comes in and convinces Crooks that what Lenny has told them is true. Crooks asks to join them, but they are interrupted by Curley’s wife. She leaves after learning that all the men have gone to the brothel. Alone in the barn the next day, George accidentally shakes his puppy to death after it bites him. He is a bit traumatized by it and frantic because he doesn’t want Lenny to not let him take care of the rabbits on their imagined farm. Curly’s wife walks in and tries to flirt with Lenny, who of course doesn’t really want to talk to her because of George’s previous warnings to stay away from her. He tells her he likes soft things and she offers her silky hair for him to touch. After a short time, she thinks he is messing up her curls and yells at him to stop. He panics, holds on tighter and then puts a hand over her mouth to quiet her down. In their struggle, he accidentally breaks her neck. He is again devastated at his actions because he fears George taking away his rabbit tending rights, and runs away to cover his tracks. George quickly finds out what he has done, and he tells Candy to tell the others. Once Curley finds out, he plots revenge and wants to shoot George in punishment. Lenny manages to get their first and does what he feels is right. Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars.

I liked George and Lenny’s relationship, which was definitely not the most traditional but it worked for them. Each of them needed companionship and the other filled that role. Lenny could not survive without George and despite George’s objections, I don’t think he wants to live without Lenny. I always feel drawn to characters like Lenny who have mental disabilities as I had a cousin that I was close to growing up that was the same way and I never saw her as different and always treated her the same as everyone else. I liked Slim, who seems to be the only one who has sense. There was a fair amount of cursing, but considering that nearly all of the characters were men and given their profession and lack of education, it is not surprising. Unlike Hemingway, whose book To Have and Have Not was written about the same time (four years earlier) and had similar terminology relating to racism and sexism, and set during the Great Depression, I thought the language was way better in this book. It was actually a joy to read, aside from the depressing storyline. I will admit that I teared up at the end of the book, sitting in my car in the dark to finish it up before I came inside my house last night. I look forward to reading more Steinbeck in the future, and it’s looking like I might try to read East of Eden as two people have recommended it to me.

Kids Cafe Art Lectures: Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinksy was my fifth art lecture for Kids Cafe. As I’ve said in this previous post, Kids Cafe is a program that the library does and partners with a local food bank, St. Mary’s and the USDA. It provides a snack or meal to local area kids who might not get one and adding an enrichment activity. The activity doesn’t have to be fancy, just vaguely educational. I have an undergraduate degree in Art History, so I like to do little art/history lectures and then a craft/activity afterwards. It can be quite challenging at times, trying to squeeze an entire artists life or a time period into 20 or less slides, and 10-15 minutes. I enjoy the challenge though. Most of the time I pick an artist based off the activity, or personal interest. Here is my first post on the Color Wheel and Pop Art, the second on Australian Aboriginal Art, the third on Shapes and Henri Matisse, and the fourth on Dale Chihuly.

Kandinsky was another artist I knew next to nothing about, so I was fascinated to know more. I usually don’t like modern art, but there are exceptions. I prefer Kandinsky’s early work before he went all abstract. I had a lot of fun doing the activity, and it was harder than it would seem to not repeat colors and find colors that you wouldn’t normally use with each other.

Kid’s Café: Wassily Kandinsky – Feb 6

  • Introduction: Welcome to Kid’s Café. My name is Miss Rachel and we’re going to learn a little about art. Today we’re going to be talking about painter Wassily Kandinsky (pronounced Va-SEE-lee Kan-din-skee)
  • Today we’re going to learn a little about the artist himself
    • Born in Russia 1866 – died in France 1944
    • Discovered he had the ability of see sounds and hearing colors. According to him, “Color is a power that directly influences the soul…Color is the keyboard…The artist is the hand that plays.”
    • Kandinsky took drawing and music lessons from an early age
    • He became a law professor in Germany and then decided he wanted to be an artist at age 30, after seeing an exhibit on Claude Monet, the French Impressionist painter
      • The Impressionists used color and light to show their subjects rather than painting in fine details.
    • He was also influenced by the Pointillism movment, which use small dots of color to make up the final artwork.
      • Examples of Impressionism and Pointillism
        • Impressionism: Monet – Haystacks at Giverny, in evening sun, 1888
        • Monet - Haystacks at Giverny, the evening sun - 1888
          • Pointillism: Luce – Morning Interior, 1890
          • Maximilien Luce - Morning Interior, 1890
      • Examples of his work during this time period
        • Colorful Life, 1907.
        • Colorful Life, 1907
        • Cemetary and Vicarage in Kochel, 1909
        • Cemetary and Vicarage in Kochel, 1909
      • The Blue Rider, 1903 – was one of the first of his paintings to use emotion to express color rather than going completely from nature
      • The Blue Rider, 1903
      • About 1909 Kandinsky began to think that painting didn’t need a particular subject, but that shapes and colors alone could be art. Over the next several years he would start to paint what would become known as Abstract Art; he became one of the founders of this art movement (aka Abstract Expressionism)
      • Kandinsky felt that he could express feelings and music through line, colors and geometric shapes in his paintings.
        • For example, he thought that yellow had the crisp sound of a brass trumpet and that certain colors placed together could harmonize like chords on a piano.
        • The shapes he was most interested in were the circle, triangle, and the square. He thought the triangle would cause aggressive feelings, the square calm feelings, and the circle spiritual feelings.
        • Example
          • Composition VII, 1913 – Many of his paintings used names as if they were songs or musical works like Composition and Improvisation – this was also so people didn’t read too much into the meaning of the titles. He named the paintings he considered the most accomplished “Composition”. He only named ten of his paintings this way.

Composition VII, 1913

  • Activities: Kandinsky Concentric Circles
    • Supplies: white/black construction paper folded into eighths, crayons/oil pastels – could also use rough cut paper circles in many different colors [I ended up folding a regular piece of white paper into fourths and using crayons to make the circles]
    • We will create our own versions of Kandinsky Concentric Circles – My version below

My Kandinsky Circles