Showing 241 - 250 of 3158 annotations

Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This essay concerns a very unusual man, Washington Woodward, whom Donald Hall met as a young boy during his summers in New Hampshire and came to know even more from the tales he heard from his grandfather. Abandoned at age 6, Washington grew up on the author’s grandparents’ farm until age 12 when his “lazy and mean” father reclaimed him. Running away 4 years later, Washington began the highly eccentric life limned in this poetic mini-biography.

“Eccentric” probably does not do justice to Washington’s style, habits, skills, and foibles. He was entirely self-sufficient, from his clothes to his food - much of which he hunted or grew - to his handmade machines, including a complicated boulder-moving contraption designed to clear the way for cows, not humans. Washington could repair almost anything, from an outhouse to a baseball bat to a mowing machine.

The range of his skills is impressive by anyone’s standards, not just a 21st century reader: “I knew him to shoe a horse, install plumbing, dig a well, make a gun, build a road, lay a dry stone wall, do the foundation and frame of a house, invent a new kind of trap for beavers, manufacture his own shotgun shells, grind knives, and turn a baseball bat on a lathe” (page 23), reminding this reader of a similar passage about Nate Shaw in Theodore Rosengarten’s All God’s Dangers. Living the life of a hermit most of the time on Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire, Washington spent a great deal of his life with his beloved animals: Phoebe the pet Holstein and Old Duke the ox, whom he taught to shake hands and roll over.

The nails? Washington would gather stray nails he found in boards or discovered on walks, and take them back to his hut where he would straighten them and store them. Why? “He saved the nails because it was a sin to allow good material to go to waste.” (page 26)

He died in a state nursing home, a month after a visit by the author and his grandfather.


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Epileptic

B., David

Last Updated: Nov-10-2013
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

First published in France as a six-volume series from 1996-2003, this narrative is often referred to as an autobiographical graphic novel, but it is more accurately described as a graphic memoir. The author, born Pierre-François Beauchard, tells and draws the story of his family's life with the author's older brother, Jean-Christophe, whom we meet on the first page, in the year 1994: "It takes a moment for me to recognize the guy who just walked in. It's my brother . . . The back of his head is bald, from all the times he's fallen. He's enormously bloated from medication and lack of exercise." Flashback to 1964 when the author is five years old and his seven-year-old brother begins to have frequent grand mal epilepsy seizures. There follows the parents' mostly fruitless search for treatment to control the seizures, including: possible brain surgery which Jean-Christophe refuses in favor of an attempt at zen macrobiotics (this seems to work for six-months), consultation with a psychic, Swedenborgian spiritualism, magnetism, alchemy, exorcism by a priest, psychiatry (a different form of exorcism!).

Jean-Christophe's illness transforms family life as other children mock and fear the boy, the family moves to an isolated area, joins communes, and attempts to cope with Jean-Christophe's increasingly disturbed and disturbing behavior that alternates between passivity and physical aggression. The author has vivid visions and dreams and changes his name to David ("a symbolic act. I've won the war [against the threat of acquiring epilepsy" (164)]; his sister Florence suffers from constant anxiety; his mother grieves for many months after her father dies. As an adolescent and young man Jean-Christophe spends time in several institutions for handicapped individuals as well as at home, where he lives a desultory existence that is interspersed with violence toward the author and his father.

David escapes to Paris, living in a studio apartment paid for by his father, reading, writing stories, drawing, and attending classes at the Duperre School of Applied Arts. "I had to draw and write constantly. I had to fill my time in order to prevent my brother's disease from reaching me" (276). He is lonely but avoids people, feels guilty for neglecting his brother and ‘picking on' him yet is fearful that he too will be taken over by epilepsy, or death. Equally upsetting is when David discovers writings by Jean-Christophe: "He speaks of his despair and loneliness and the words might as well have come from my pen" (316). On and off, in moving displays of empathy, the author attempts to understand what happens to his brother during the seizures -- is he conscious, where does he go, does he die temporarily?

Within the narrative are intercalated multigenerational family histories that include two world wars, and European philosophical and cultural movements that influenced his parents and their search for treatments. The final section of Epileptic relates in words and images the author's adult life as he becomes a commercial artist; struggles through several relationships with women; his own infertility; his ever-present confusion, anger, and misery about his brother's illness; and his founding with five colleagues of the independent publishing house, L'Association: "It's the creation of L'Association that saves me" (327).

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A Diary Without Dates

Bagnold, Enid

Last Updated: Oct-24-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

"A Diary Without Dates" is Enid Bagnold's World War I memoir of her experiences over roughly a year and a half as a member of the V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment), or what we would today call a nurse's aide. Assisting the Sisters (both lay and religious nurses), the author attended to the day-to-day (mostly non-clinical) needs of wounded soldiers (almost entirely British) recovering from often horrific wounds in the Royal Herbert Hospital in Woolwich, 8 miles southeast of London. These poor men often stayed in the Royal Herbert for many months. It is a slim volume which the author wrote at the age of 28 and published in 1918. Divided into three arbitrary divisions ("Outside the Glass Doors", "Inside the Glass Doors", "'The Boys ...'") of roughly equal content (the last devotes, on the whole, more detail to individual "Tommies", referred to as "The Boys"), the book recounts the author's observations and fairly critical views of the relationships between nurses, physicians, V.A.D's, and visitors. Apparently the book was not well received by war authorities, leading to Bagnold's dismissal from her position.

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A Sunburned Prayer

Talbert, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-10-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Eloy’s grandmother—his abuela—is dying of cancer.  She has been his faithful companion, teacher and refuge in a home where his parents often fight and his older brother seems to have lost interest in him.  He believes the only thing that will save her now is for him to make the annual pilgrimage on foot to the chapel at Chimayo, 17 miles from their New Mexico home, but his parents, both of who work full time, can’t go with him and won’t hear of his going alone.  Desperate for a miracle, and believing she can be saved by the blessed soil distributed at the chapel where many seem to have experienced miracles of healing, he sets out in secret early in the morning.  On the way a friendly dog begins to follow him and, despite Eloy’s efforts to get rid of him, travels the entire 17 miles with him, sharing the water Eloy reluctantly offers him from the canteen that once belonged to his grandfather.  Much of the story follows Eloy’s thoughts as he travels, and the small difficulties and surprises along the way.  As he finally sees the chapel in the distance, he hears his brother driving by slowly in his low-rider with tinted windows.  Angry at the brother who has given him no support so far and seems to be mocking him, Eloy flips him the finger.  Later, as he stands in line for the sacred soil, his brother enters the chapel with their abuela on his arm.  She explains to Eloy that she is indeed going to die, and that God has other ways of answering prayers.  She sees that Eloy has been sent a companion, and encourages him to bring the dog, whom he has now named, home with him.  His parents, who have steadily refused to let him have a dog, accept him, and Eloy comes to new terms with his grandmother’s approaching death.

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Dead Birds Singing

Talbert, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-07-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Matt leaves a swim meet, happy with his performance, to drive home on a snowy road with his mother and sister.  On the way their car is hit by a drunk driver who swerves out of his lane.  His mother is killed instantly, his sister badly injured.  When he has received treatment in the hospital for an injured shoulder, his best friend’s family comes to pick him up.  He isn’t allowed to see his sister for days, and when he finally does, she looks lifeless and unfamiliar, tubed up in the ICU.  At home with his friend Jamie, he remembers a time when he and his sister rescued a robin, only to see it die.  The story traces the days and weeks following Matt’s loss—his mother’s funeral, his friend’s family’s decision to adopt him, and eventually his sister’s death.  Despite his struggle with grief, anger, and bewilderment, Matt also has times of hope and pleasure in his new relationship to a family he already loved.  Readjusting to school is one of the many challenges he faces.  When he does return to school, he finds himself and his perspective changed, and realizes loss has grown him up in unexpected ways.

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Counting the Days

Donoghue, Emma

Last Updated: Sep-30-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In 1849, Jane Johnson is on a ship headed for Quebec City with her two children. She has had a relatively uneventful crossing – only one old man died and a child was stillborn. She cannot wait to be reunited with her husband Henry. Having left a year earlier, he is waiting for her eagerly. They both now think that they should not have separated. They each clutch the handful of barely literate letters. She has sternly told him that he must be at the ship to greet them. Fully intending to be there, he suddenly falls ill with uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea and is dragged to a hospital. It is cholera and he realizes that he will die without seeing his little family again. As the boat docks, she thinks she sees him in the crowd.

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The Doctor

Dubus, Andre

Last Updated: Sep-26-2013
Annotated by:
Terry, James

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The doctor in question is Art Castagnetto, an obstetrician out for a morning jog who encounters a terrible accident. A young neighborhood boy has been pinned underwater by a concrete slab. Art rushes to a nearby house to summon aid, then tries vainly to move the slab, knowing by feel that the boy is still alive and struggling. The fire department arrives too late. Devastated by this death, Art realizes two days later that he should have improvised a snorkel from a garden hose and saved the boy.

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Alison Lapper Pregnant

Quinn, Marc

Last Updated: Sep-26-2013
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Sculpture

Genre: Sculpture

Summary:

Alison Lapper is a friend of the sculptor, and a painter herself, who was born with phocomelia (defined in Stedman’s Medical Dictionary as a defective development of arms, legs or both, so that the hands and feet are attached close to the body, resembling the flippers of a seal). As suggested by the title, the 11 foot, 6 inch sculpture in Carrera Marble shows Lapper naked and pregnant, her severely shortened limbs apparent to all.

Her body, with her heavily pregnant belly, is exposed and elevated in milky marble, subject to the stares of passersby, as well as the elements and pigeons. Its formidable mass, the creamy marble, and the dignified composition support the contention that it celebrates a woman’s pregnancy, her health and her sexuality in the context of a society and a tradition that would rarely assign these values to someone so obviously "disabled".

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When She Hollers

Voight, Cynthia

Last Updated: Sep-21-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Tish brings a knife to the breakfast table and threatens to use it on her stepfather if he tries to come into her room again.  Her mother, working at the sink, does her best to ignore the conversation, in which the stepfather moves from mockery to threats.  Tish carries the knife in her boots to school.  When her gym teacher insists on her removing her boots she begins to scream uncontrollably, is sent to the principal, and, unable to tell her secret, runs away.  She finally makes her way to a friend's father, a lawyer, who listens to her story and assures her of legal protection, though as the story ends, Tish has a lot of decisions left to make, and a long way to go before she feels safe and healed.

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Madonna

Munch, Edvard

Last Updated: Sep-02-2013

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Lithograph

Summary:

A woman stands in the center of this work, her head tilted to one side and slightly back. Her eyes are closed and her black hair falls around her shoulders. She is nude, although no details of her bust are given; instead, she hovers as though a ghost, her pallid skin defined by the darkness engulfing her. Swarming around her form are bands of color--red, blue, and shades of gray--that add to the painting's eerie affect. Wrapped around the crown of her head, one red, swirling band alludes to the halo so often seen in traditional depictions of the Lady Madonna.

In the frame's bottom left corner, a small figure that is perhaps a fetus or newborn looks out at the viewer with huge eyes devoid of pupils. Its arms are crossed over its chest and its lower body trails off like a vapor. A slight downward turn of the figure's mouth adds to its pathos.

A red border full of squiggly lines evocative of sperm runs around almost the entire perimeter of the painting; only the bottom of the frame and the area around the small figure are unbounded. The sperm swim clockwise from the small figure around the top of the painting, down the right side, and into the bottom of the black background. Lines trespassing from the border into the Madonna's space suggest movement of the sperm into the nether regions of the Lady--i.e. her genitalia--and imply pregnancy.

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