Monday, May 16, 2016

A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster

A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster

I sometimes find it easier to relate to pure fantasy or science-fiction novels than I do those set in the Victorian or Edwardian eras. People are very concerned with their status and appearances, and class warfare is subtle but real. Sexism is rampant, and as always, puzzling. "It was not that ladies were inferior to men, it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves." The plot here is largely driven by a young woman raised in this world, but awakening to modern modes of thought and behavior. She starts the novel on a well-chaperoned trip to Italy, but a chance encounter with a free-thinker starts her on a journey that leads to a tough decision: expression versus repression, ardor versus apathy, life versus lethargy. Not my favorite novel, but an illuminating look at an opaque world.

First Sentence:
"The signora had no business to do it," said Miss Bartlett, "no business at all."

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Mr. Hornaday's War, by Stefan Bechtel

Mr. Hornaday's War: How a Peculiar Victorian Zookeeper Waged a Lonely Crusade for Wildlife That Changed the World, by Stefan Bechtel

I had no idea who William Hornaday was before reading this book. Turns out not only did he found the National Zoo and run the Bronx Zoo, but he was basically the father of the modern conservation movement as well. Hornaday spent his early life traveling the world collecting (and hunting) animal specimens while becoming one of the leading taxidermists in the country. Taxidermy led him to realize that the American Bison had been virtually made extinct; this realization is what pushed him into the forefront of wildlife conservation. His tenacity in the face of hunters, the gun and feather lobbies, and the general apathy of the public led to the first strong national laws protecting animals being passed, and preventing the extinction of the bison and the fur seal.

The author is clearly sympathetic to the cause of wildlife preservation; the tone is one of condemnation towards those not firmly in favor of the conservation movement. He uses terms like "waking up" to describe joining the movement, and calls those not involved the enemy. Hornaday clearly held these opinions, but the same phrases and attitude pervade the narrative even when not quoting Hornaday directly. The biased writing didn't harm the story or make things any less interesting, but I did find it a bit jarring at times. Still, overall this was a well-researched biography about a very interesting man.

First Sentence:
On the fair spring morning of May 6, 1886, an intense-looking young gentleman with eyes that burned like meteors and a jet-black beard vaulted up the stairs of a Pennsylvania Railroad westbound train, which was steaming at the platform in Union Station, near downtown Washington, D.C.

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