May 01, 2005

May's Featured Books

5/26 - Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi (o o o o o)

Dr. Azar Nafisi taught English Literature for nearly 20 years (from the time of the revolution in 1979 until her departure in 1997) in the intellectually restrictive climate of Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini and the almost equally strict regime which followed. During that time, she and her students studied the controversial works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, Jane Austen, and (of course) Vladimir Nabokov, first in a public university classroom, and later in the secret privacy of her own home. Part soul-searching autobiography, part historical exposť, and part witty and insightful literary criticism, this is an incredible story told by an equally incredible narrator about free thought in an atmosphere of unimaginable repression and fear.

5/16 - The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason (o o o o)

Billed as an "intellectual suspense" novel, this book follows a few days in the lives of four Princeton roommates as their senior year comes to an end. In the midst of all the usual end-of-semester madness two of them, Tom and Paul, are close to cracking a fiendishly difficult code and unlocking the startling secrets of a 15th Century Renaissance text called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a real-life work which has stumped literary types for centuries. But these two are not the only ones who are obsessed with solving the text, or enjoying the academic prestige it will bring, and events begin to spin out of control as Paul gets closer to the final answer.

The book largely does an excellent job of juggling discoveries in the Hypnerotomachia with outside complications and only rarely does it feel as though these intrusions are interfering with the important portion of the story. The extensive asides about the history and traditions of Princeton are almost as fascinating as the insights into Renaissance lore . . . all worked seamlessly into the plot. The book's gradual revelations of its secrets seemed almost perfectly paced, as well . . . coming out ever so slowly, but not too slowly, and serving to slowly develop the characters and their histories as well.

What set this book apart from the standard academic treasure hunting pot-boiler for me was the excellent writing (filled with vivid, engaging metaphors, profound philosophical ruminations, and literary allusions both obscure and well-known), and the deeply human element. The book spoke to me on a number of levels, and I identified very closely with the main character. He and his friends remind me of me and my friends at a time of the year when I'm beginning to miss them all.

I don't know for sure whether it is simply because I feel myself to be in his position in many ways, but the book's treatment of the serious college student's choice between dedicated academic pursuits versus career-and-family rang especially true. The meaningful way in which Tom works through the loss of his father by becoming involved with his father's peculiar lifelong obsession is also a large part of what makes this story worthwhile. Overall, the story and the writing have a great deal to offer even a casual reader, and, although the story flags at times, I would recommend it quite highly to anyone interested in literature and/or history, especially if they are within a stone's throw of their college years.


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Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi (o o o o o)

Dr. Azar Nafisi taught English Literature for nearly 20 years (from the time of the revolution in 1979 until her departure in 1997) in the intellectually restrictive climate of Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini and the almost equally strict regime which followed. During that time, she and her students studied the controversial works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, Jane Austen, and (of course) Vladimir Nabokov, first in a public university classroom, and later in the secret privacy of her own home. Part soul-searching autobiography, part historical exposť, and part witty and insightful literary criticism, this is an incredible story told by an equally incredible narrator about free thought in an atmosphere of unimaginable repression and fear. [Read More] Posted by Jared at May 1, 2005 12:00 AM | TrackBack