Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dressed in Fiction


Starting with a discussion of the centrality of fashion in dress to human behavior, independent scholar Clair Hughes takes a look at the employment of dress in select English fiction in her book Dressed in Fiction (Berg Publishers, Oxford-New York, 2006). Clair’s work is a confluence of literary criticism and critical description of scenes of dress in a group of English fictional texts written over a period of about 200 years, from early eighteenth to the late twentieth century.

As the author admits beforehand, most of her discussion in the book is of fashionable, middle or upper class clothes; the reason being that dress of the underclass varies little until the advent of the mass market. The novels chosen for the bulk of the discussion range from Daniel Defoe’s Roxana to Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, and the author sums up the topic in a quick glance at fiction from Samuel Richardson’s Pamela to Anita Brookner’s Hotel Du Lac.

While Clair Hughes makes women’s dress the core of her consideration, she does not fail to relate the ideas of gender, color of the dress, technical terms for costumes, and the excess or absence of dress references. Thus an interest in history and society is at once sated through the medium of clothing. Literary criticism shows in the author’s ingenious foray of the exploration of how fiction authors’ employment of dress and its accessories can illuminate the structure of that text. Ultimately, human values of the specific social world that existed at the time of the text’s creation are researched.

Supplementing the book’s discussion are paintings or engravings of nearly the same date as the text in view, imparting a general image of the period and its particular style of dress. This is a merit of the book that counts.

Dressed in Fiction has its shortcomings. Devoting an appreciable amount of space to history and stories of the fictional works, it fails at places to relate strongly the employment of dress with the main frame of the novel’s plot. An intrinsic connection of situations taken up for explanation with the dress described does not always seem valid.

Endnotes, a bibliography, and an index at the end of the book give an academically professional touch to it.

In its entirety, Dressed in Fiction is an experimental work following the lines of Gillian Beer’s 1989 book Arguing with the Past. It opens up a topic for critical discussion to be fathomed by future studies.

ISBN: 1845201728

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Feel the Fear Guide to Lasting Love


The subject of a successful love relationship has been tried to banality in innumerable publications. While most of them might be out in the print for making bucks, Susan Jeffers’ latest book The Feel the Fear Guide to Lasting Love (Jeffers Press, California, 2005) is one winning endeavor of showing the path to a lasting love life. Jeffers, who has been titled with ‘the Queen of Self-Help’, presents secret lessons of love that make one’s person lovable rather than tiring oneself out in finding an ideal mate. It teaches how to be the ideal mate.

The conversational style of Susan Jeffers befriends the reader since the first page. Her openness inspires when she confesses that her meaningful knowledge of love did not come from her university degrees but from her personal experience of marriage, divorce, dating, and remarrying. Thus she discovered the higher purpose of love, becoming a more loving person, and she generously shares it with her readers.

Jeffers makes the important distinction between ‘selfish love’ and ‘real love’. She peeps into the politics of relationships and redefines power as control over one’s own actions and reactions and not as controlling others. Revealing the vitality of communication to the happiness of a relationship, Jeffers speaks about maintaining a happy sex life well into the advance age. Impact of problems related to children and in-laws, money, and betrayal of trust are taken up and cogently resolved in the light of self-purification.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Susan Jeffers’ book is her advice on seeing beyond the stereotyped concept of ideal love that permanently blocks our way to happiness. For example the picture of love as carved in the traditional way of thought by characters of long-adored fairy tales and literature of romance. Hence the humbug of love at first sight and other clich├ęs. Shaking us out of the inertia of stereotyped gender roles, the author stresses nurturing essential human qualities of strength, assertiveness, rationality, protection, and so on. Her question ‘Find one reason not to end the war between the sexes’ stuns the rational mind.

Redundancy does show in the book. There is repetition. Nevertheless, The Feel the Fear Guide to Lasting Love does not bore and as a whole remains enjoyable. Words of wisdom from great brains give each chapter a lovely start. No denying that Jeffers’ book is valid in all relationships and not restricted to romance or sexual life. It creates an openness that leads straight to the diseased root of unhealthy relationships. Its audience encircles all who have anything to do with any sort of human relationship.

ISBN: 0974577693

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Author Website: www.susanjeffers.com/

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The 4 Realities of Success During and After College


Here is a self-help/how to book that tells college students about all the things they must take care of in order to be mate with success. Published by Authorhouse, (Indiana, 2005) Bob Roth’s The 4 Realities of Success During and After College is a guide for college students, recent graduates, and young adults, showing how to achieve success by a stepwise pursuit of the four realities of success. These are:

1. You can be more successful in college
2. It takes an effective job search to land the job you want
3. You can be more effective in your job search
4. Going out on your own shouldn’t be a rude awakening

Roth takes the pains to present his readers with 62 chapters, 7 appendices, a bibliography, and an index all that would leave no point practically counting in a successful career. The book offers advice on organizational skills as a student, intelligent job-hunting, fixing a stance in one’s first job, and living as an individual. There is enough information and advice on each point the author lists.

With all the advice and lists of innumerable things to care for, The 4 Realities of Success During and After College underwhelms as a book. A lot of repetition and redundancy is obtrusively thwarting the reader’s attempt to get along with it. Points are given patchy descriptions instead of full-fledged elaboration, resulting in a jumpy feeling. The reader is constantly stuffed with points and steps to follow and no passage is devoted to let him participate in the field being explored. A preachy tone is seen in which a voice constantly haunts you to do or avoid certain things. More importantly, three fourth of the book tells you ‘what to do or avoid’ but not ‘how to bring this about’. Part four (Going out on your own shouldn’t be a rude awakening) is more practicable and wisely construed than the other three realities where countless things are to be done without having any idea how to be motivated in their direction. In any case, the individual has to lose most (if not all) of his self if he follows half of what he is being led to. It’s like ‘be yourself or gain success.’

One thing, perhaps the only one that captures the interest and conveys wisdom is inclusion of quotes from really successful figures like R.W. Emerson, Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Franklin, Frank Tyger, and so on. One such from Albert Schweitzer reads ‘I do not believe that we can put into anyone ideas which are not in him already.’

ISBN: 1420844709

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Dark and Bloody Ground



Hailing from Jenkins in Southeastern Kentucky, Roberta Webb worked as a psychiatric nursing supervisor, continued her nursing at the University of Virginia, and worked for a short time on the first atomic bomb as a minute technician. Now, living in Texas, she has embarked on a writing career with her debut novel The Dark and Bloody Ground (TurnKey Press, Texas, 2006), a historical saga of a Kentucky family through its five generations.

The story starts with Morgan Collier’s irresistible fascination with the wild highs of Kentucky. As he settles there with his family, a full-fledged adventure lived in the open ensues with all the richness of natural vitalism. Adaptation to the wild, action against enemies both natural and human, and the harmony of love and force all constitute the history of life lived in and with the wild. Morgan’s progeny is fostered ahead in his daughter Sarah giving birth to Amy, she in turn becoming the mother of Ben Cantrell and the grandmother of Ben’s son Thomas. Zooming in on characters across generations, the author skillfully pilots an omniscient voice.

Webb’s experience of history contributes immensely to the realism of her novel’s story: the Bessemer’s Process for purifying steel, the Yamaha Pianos of the Japanese, details of mining and construction, and the craft of winemaking make an imagery of high appeal to evocation. Kentucky is slowly unmasked as the ‘dark and bloody ground’ where a wild innocence sheltered its inhabitants as early as 1840 until the arrival of investment for mining and Levi Cantrell’s obsession with making money and until after the Second World War. With the advent of capital and people, Levi’s lust for wealth drags him into bootlegging, and murder while the town is ravaged by competitiveness, theft, and worthlessness of man. The care for one’s family falls servile before satiating the masses’ craving for moonshine. The cracks widen and the Cantrell family is torn between losing their blood to war and keeping their faith in Mother Nature. A plot of its kind!

To involve the reader head over heels, Webb hooks the reader up on the supernatural trait of Ben Cantrell and his son Thomas. Both have got cat eyes, and in the words of Levi Cantrell ‘…cats have nine lives.’ Webb’s symbolism certainly conveys the power of nature in human life. To side with the wild is to survive in the eternally fierce world no matter what form wildness assumes. And hence we find Thomas Cantrell breathing his life while his peers enter their graves. Crueler is the case of Wesley Adams who is on a curse by Lettie Mullins, whose son he killed, that haunts her mind as he fears for the lives of his own sons.

The Dark and Bloody Ground is tout in its plot. It outstrips tautology except in the reminders that the old mountain people still looked healthy and beautiful despite their age. A couple of chapters are overly descriptive, exceeding plot and character, and zooming in on labor employed to urbanize Kentucky. But most of the 24 chapters are beautifully written. And at the end of the book you cannot help asking, with a sigh, Sarah Collier’s question, ‘How could a place so beautiful witness so many tragedies?’

ISBN: 1-933538-08-2

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