This Sunday brings even MORE snow and ice to Lawrence, and with the exception of a brief sojourn to the Mexican restaurant just down the block (at which time I was able to eat my weight in chips, salsa, and chorizo-and-chicken fajitas, much like a squirrel bulking up for winter) I’ve been mostly snow-bound for most of the weekend. And while usually I would just dive wholeheartedly into one book, I’ve been feeling a little antsy these past few days, so I’ve used the time to lay foundations into a small number of books, instead.
For the Art History challenge, I’ve picked up The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, which is set in Florence right at the end of the Medici reign, when France invaded and the country was swept with a violent religious fervor. The book is told in the first person by Alessandra, a bold and intelligent girl who loves art and desires nothing more than to be given the chance to apprentice a painter to improve her skills. Her intelligence is such that it makes it hard for her to make a decent marital match, however she is eventually able to with the noble, refined, yet older Cristoforo who is busy hiding secrets of his own, secrets that could bring about his own death as well as hers if they were to be discovered in the newly religious country.
The writing style is addicting, full of the lush and vibrant beauty that one might expect about a book focused on the end of the Medici reign – a family known for its love of beauty, art, literature and decadence that spawned some of the most notable painters of the era – Botticelli, for one. The story is gripping and the chapters short enough that the book really has a lot of energy to it, and it’s hard to put it down. However, along the same lines, there are certain scenes that almost seem to get bogged down in the heavy language, especially some of the longer passages that seek to describe the art and artistic process in a great amount of detail. It’s beautiful, but like really awesome chocolate cake, it’s so rich that it can really only be handled in smaller doses. I’m excited to see what happens, especially as Alessandra is forced to deal with issues of not only her own intelligence, but also the secret that her husband possesses, which now has the potential to destroy Alessandra’s life as well.
On a completely different track, I’ve also gone ahead and gotten about 50 pages in to the Ayn Rand chunkster of a novel Atlas Shrugged. For anyone who doesn’t know the immortal first line “Who is John Galt”, the book is basically Rand’s 1,000+ page outlining of her philosophy of objectivism – in which all positive and negative aspects of humanity are due to the application (or lack thereof) of rationality, so that everything from justice to honesty to independence to integrity all stems from the use of rational thinking. The book also touches on certain tenants of Marxism and critiques the Christian religion, all while following the story of Dagny Taggert who watches the whole of society collapse around her while all of the highest ranked members of society, such as John Galt, slowly begin to disappear.
Needless to say, Ayn Rand isn’t exactly a light, frivolous read that you just pick up on a whim, but it seems like quite a bit of the reading I’ve been doing lately has been light and fun. There is nothing wrong with light and fun reading, but after a while even enough cotton candy can make you sick. Ayn Rand is like the steak of reading, and, as nerdy as it might sound, I’m really excited to get the chance to mentally dig in to the twisty philosophy that makes up Ayn Rand. I’ve read The Fountainhead before with fairly productive results, although Atlas Shrugged supposedly takes a much more philosophical stance, so I’m hoping that this reading goes well.
It’s a little odd to switch back and forth between the warm and rich world of 15th century Florence and the colder world of Ayn Rand’s psuedo-Communist block, the contrast between the two does keep them from getting too easily mixed up in my mind. I’ve also gotten about two pages into Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun, although I’ll hold off on talking about it until I’ve got a little bit more of something to talk about. All in all, a not-too-disappointing investment of reading time this wonderful wintry Sunday. Happy reading!