I started reading the hard copy of the Fagles translation. About a quarter of the way through I had to take a long car trip and picked up the audiobooI started reading the hard copy of the Fagles translation. About a quarter of the way through I had to take a long car trip and picked up the audiobook of a different, older (public domain) translation which took me through the rest of the epic.
That was a mistake.
Translation is always key in non-English works and Fagles was far superior to the Samuel Butler translation on my audiobook. ...more
**spoiler alert** How did I get roped into reading this? Worse, why did I rush through it only to realize at the end that it was terrible?
Meyer's Twi**spoiler alert** How did I get roped into reading this? Worse, why did I rush through it only to realize at the end that it was terrible?
Meyer's Twilight is a bit like cotton candy at a carnival. Brightly colored and all around, you just can't resist picking it up. And boy is it sweet and quick to disappear. But then you remember that your huge cloud of sugary-goodness was mostly empty, sweet, but artificial and ultimately bad for you.
Bella is a terrible protagonist. She's a pathetic and dependent 'damsel in distress' who the author tries to pass off as sympathetic. Edward is perfect. (I know this because I'm told he's perfect on every page, sometimes two or three times.) He's also over a hundred years old and infatuated with a seventeen year old. The relationship between the two is based completely on his being 'dreamy' and her smelling good.
The plot is full of holes. It's also numbingly slow in the middle of the book before becoming fast-paced but predictable at the end. The characters are flat. This Being 'Young Adult' lit, we have to suffer through endless pages of 'He's a dangerous vampire but I want to be with him anyway' standing in for any sort of sexual tension. The towns-people are rubes. The pre-positioned tie-ins for the rest of the series are blatantly obvious. The writing is uninspired.
Having already read Gregory Maguire's Wicked I was something less than thrilled when I got roped into reading Confessions of a*Two and a Half Stars*
Having already read Gregory Maguire's Wicked I was something less than thrilled when I got roped into reading Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister for a decidedly informal book discussion group. It wasn't that I found Wicked a bad read, I actually rather enjoyed it, but the blurb on the back of "Confessions" lead me to think that Mr. Maguire had essentially repeated the same formula with a different fairy tale. (Actually, 'Wicked' was written after 'Confessions' but I read 'Wicked first...) Deconstructing a fairy tale and retelling it from the point of view of a traditionally unsympathetic character looses its novelty quickly.
Anybody who has read Wicked will instantly feel right at home. Mr. Maguire provides interesting characters and plots that keep a reader interested. That said, I found the writing itself in Wicked to be more polished than the writing in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. The retelling of 'Cinderella' felt less developed and the world of "Confessions," 17th Century Holland, seems less vivid than Maguire's reimagining of Oz.
With the novelty of retooled fairy tales gone, "Confessions'" ended up being a bit underwhelming. While the opening scenes were engrossing, the middle of the book was merely ok and the climactic scene, Cinderella at the ball, ended up feeling slow and flat. The post script seems like an afterthought.
Mr. Maguire has turned his shtick into a cottage industry, which is fine. It's a decent shtick. But unless you're interested in going through a post-modern reinvention of every single one of Grimm's Fairy Tales, read Wicked. The concept is the same and the writing and the plot are better....more
The translation was never so bad that it prevented easy understanding but the book was full of small incidents where a character's thoughts or words didn't seem authentic. Larsson also has a habit of dropping completely unnecessary technical details on the reader. There are times when knowing the exact model of motorcycle or computer adds to a reader's feel for a character but there are times in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when Larsson drops in the specific model of cell phone and it interrupts the flow of the novel.
Translation and nit-picky writing issues aside, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a pretty good mystery novel. The characters aren't necessarily any deeper than those you would find in a Nelson DeMille novel and the plot is equally improbable. It does manage to intertwine shady financial power brokers, serial killers, family power squabbles, hackers, outcasts and the publishing industry into an engrossing whole.
Michael Chabon, undisputed master of making genre novels into very-good-and-almost-great pieces of writing produced "Gentlemen of the Road" as a seriaMichael Chabon, undisputed master of making genre novels into very-good-and-almost-great pieces of writing produced "Gentlemen of the Road" as a serialized adventure, published incrementally by the New York Times Sunday Magazine.
But as always, Chabon makes a convincing argument that we should overlook what we would normally think of as a failing. The adventures of a pair of Jewish con-men/mercenaries in 10th-century Khazaria feels like a very good mini-series on a channel like A&E or The BBC. Rousing action, battles and barfights, love and deceptions, politics and revolution packaged intelligently with quality actors and wrapped in Chabon's wonderful prose. While the chapters are at times disjointed, "Gentlemen of the Road" makes for an entertaining whole.
The depth and seriousness of "Kavalier & Clay" and "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is replaced with swashbuckling heroes and the dust and mist of history, allowing the reader to relax and enjoy following Zelikman and Amram, a classic pair of bickering opposites, in their trip across an ancient and little known landscape....more
I would have been far too young to read Neuromancer when it was first published. My entire life has included, if not revolved around, the emerging tecI would have been far too young to read Neuromancer when it was first published. My entire life has included, if not revolved around, the emerging technologies that inspired Mr. Gibson. This perspective profoundly shifts my understanding of 'Neuromancer.'
'Neuromancer,' winner of the three major prizes for Sci-Fi, gets great (and deserved) credit for originating the 'Cyber-punk' sub-genre. As someone who reads and enjoys Sci-Fi from time to time, this is really less important to me than how 'Neuromancer' reads now. To figure that out, we must look at 'Neuromancer' as what it is - a work of Science Fiction.
Like all (or at least most) Science Fiction, the characters and plot of 'Neuromancer' are merely vehicles that allow the author to provide a vision of the future, critiquing the present society from which the author extrapolated his vision. Mr. Gibson's present (when he wrote 'Neuromacer') is far different from the one that readers now inhabit. Paying attention to the divergences was by far the most interesting part of the novel.
Mr. Gibson's future must have dazzled readers in 1984. The Cold War got hot, then ended - perhaps not in the way that readers may have wanted. Technology has infected every part life, including the brain. Cyberspace, virtual reality, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, orbiting resort 'islands' and bionic enhancement were wild flights of fancy.
But here I am, sitting at my 'deck,' jacked into the matrix. Hackers want to steal your identity, not do an end-run around Soviet defenses. Purely man-made genomes are in the news and Lasik eye surgery ads run on the radio. Heck, Amazon even knows what kinds of books I like.
Gibson's future is also a purely wired world. Our orbiting space resort doesn't have wireless. Nobody has cell phones.
So a few of Gibson's projections veered slightly from the path that reality has taken. Others haven't. 'Neuromancer' gives us a world of violent terrorists, unchecked multi-national companies running government, and the a world of weakened superpowers.
The plot is classic Noir in cyber punk clothes. As with most Sci-Fi, the characters are rather flat. The writing paints a vivid picture of the future, which is the whole point of the book, so the thinness of the plot and character seems less of a problem.
As long as you remember that the 'future world' of Mr. Gibson's novel is both the star and the point of the work, you will find 'Neuromancer' a fun read....more
"Winner" is a book that suffers from bad advertising. I was promised a black comedy. "Riotous. Hugely funny..." and "The funniest novel I have read, p"Winner" is a book that suffers from bad advertising. I was promised a black comedy. "Riotous. Hugely funny..." and "The funniest novel I have read, possibly ever" appear right there on the cover.
The book was certainly sarcastic. It was caustic and biting but there was very little in the book that I could laugh at in good conscience. (And honestly, during reading, I wasn't inclined to do so.) In many ways, it was more like a car wreck on the highway - horrific but engrossing - than anything else.
Ms. Willett's main characters, twins Dorcas and Abigail, area a fascinating pair. Each completely embody the part of the human condition that the other lacks. "Winner" is the story of their interactions with each other and the members of a New England literary circle made up arch-typical characters.
Through my entire reading, I was off balance. I kept expecting 'funny' to show up and it never did. That said, "Winner" had other redeeming qualities which kept me reading. Ms. Willet gives Dorcas, the bookish narrator, wonderful recollections and descriptions of the joy of reading. The relationships between the people in a group and between the sisters were exaggerated for effect, but still intriguing.
Other parts of "Winner" were less successful. There were bits of extraneous metaphor and occasional clunky bits. Occasionally certain characters verged on caricatures.
I understand what Ms. Willett was attempting to skewer but in the end, "Winner" falls a bit short. If I had come at "Winner" with different expectations I might have found it more enjoyable, but I never shook the feeling of being a bit cheated by a novel that failed to deliver on its promises....more
Ah, summer! The traditional season for road trips. For me, that also makes summer the season of books on tape.
Or in this case, books on CD.
Choosing boAh, summer! The traditional season for road trips. For me, that also makes summer the season of books on tape.
Or in this case, books on CD.
Choosing books to listen to (as opposed to read) is a tricky proposition, especially if you're going to be listening to it while covering endless miles of blacktop. Road books are meant to be diversionary. Rather than making a reader think or feel, they are simply to keep a reader entertained. For that, Richard North Patterson's The Race works.
Heavy on deus ex machina and unremarkable in its plot, Patterson manages to hold an audience with a quick pace and (for Democrats) a thoroughly satisfying tarring of current Republican politics. One does not need a doctorate in Literary Criticism to figure out which real life person for which the fictional characters are meant to be stand-ins - and none of them come out looking good.
Politics aside, this is standard 'beach' fare. Engaging while mindless, exciting but instantly forgotten, and easily read (or listened to) within the course of a vacation. In fact, the seven CDs of the audio book undoubtedly took longer to get through than the paper and glue version would have.
The ending was lame, certain descriptions and turns of phrase appear regularly, the characters are flat, and the movie is certainly in the offing, but for what it's meant to be, The Race will leave the reader satisfied....more
'Jeeves & The Tie That Binds' was assigned reading for a 'Humor in Lit' class I took in college. As usual, I managed to fake my way through the cl'Jeeves & The Tie That Binds' was assigned reading for a 'Humor in Lit' class I took in college. As usual, I managed to fake my way through the class without doing the assigned reading.
What a mistake!
A week ago I happened to pick 'Jeeves & The Tie That Binds' up off of my bookshelf. I rarely so much as chuckle when reading, but P.G. Wodehouse's bumbling Bertie Wooster and his arch-English Butler Jeeves had me laughing out loud.
The story is a whirling cacophony that includes Bertie's friend Ginger Winship standing for Parliament, money troubles, the Junior Ganymede club book (and it's dangerous contents), engagements, disengagements, theft, and every other manner of absurdity. Not that the plot really matters. P.G. Wodehouse's comic genius is in his wordplay and comic timing.
If you really wanted to delve into Wodehouse, you would find the ever present English obsession with class - but you'd also be ruining a wonderfully light hearted piece of writing through over-examination. At only 208 pages, it's the perfect book for an airplane flight or a train ride....more
The Enchantress is an old-fashioned adventure. Weaving together romance and action, intrigue and the cinematic grandeur, Rushdie draws his readers into a vivid world of exotic empires and historic wonders where the rules that apply to mere mortals become fluid. The power of great men and women to create by sheer force of will and the power of a story to change a listener drive the novel.
Rushdie's prose is, as always, a pleasure to read. He works his favorite milieu, the intersection of East and West, to drive home the point that it is not man's differences that cause conflict, but his sameness. 'East and West' is enriched by a study of rulers and the ruled but the most thought provoking aspect of the novel is the examinations of men and women and how each gender achieves power.
Despite an abundance of parallel story lines, the narrative is easily followed. The tiny amount of confusion and fuzziness that cling to the edges of the story only add to the mystical feel of the novel.
Having lived in Italy for a time, I found the portions of the novel set in Florence to be especially vivid. I walked the streets that the character walked. I knew the history around which Rushdie wrapped his story. This, I think, really brought that portion of The Enchantress to life. While certainly not a book that requires an encyclopedia to get through, a basic grasp of the period helps the reader see many of the more subtle points Rushdie is making. I feel that I undoubtedly missed some of Rushdie's observations when the action moved to Akbar's court.
In the end, The Enchantress' greatest asset is the deep richness of the world that Rushdie's novel inhabits. It has all great aspects of old studio blockbusters - sweeping scope, fantastic settings, stunning vistas, exotic locals - and a wonderful interior story, beautiful language, and fascinating characters....more
The Great Derangement is something of a mongrel. As a writer for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi covers a wide variety of subjects. At times 'Derangement The Great Derangement is something of a mongrel. As a writer for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi covers a wide variety of subjects. At times 'Derangement' felt as if Mr. Taibbi had stacks of notes on three different subjects, each set too large for an article but too short for a book on its own, and his solution was to combine them all in one book and claim that the combination was in an effort to compare and contrast. At that he is only marginally successful.
Where 'Derangement' is more successful is in actually reporting from inside of each of the three 'worlds' he covers.
The infiltration of Pastor Hagee's megachurch in Texas is where Mr. Taibbi shines most. Although my personal religious leanings are very similar to the author's, I grew up in the church (if a much more 'main line' denomination) and I recognize the individuals that populate Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. He manages to differentiate between the zealots running the show, the crackpot 'yes-men' that form the middle management, and the actual believers in the pews who, while overly credulous, are really just looking for some answers, stability, and a sense of belonging in their life.
While Mr. Taibbi puts forward a more sympathetic portrait of megachurch parishioners, he has no problem allowing Hagee and his ilk to damn themselves. 'Derangement' is a record of Hagee's willingness to lie to his congregation to further his political ends and ingratiate himself with his Washington benefactors.
'The Great Derangement' attempts to provide 'balance' to his critique of Evangelicalism by comparing it to the '9/11 Truth' movement, something that Mr. Taibbi characterizes as 'left-wing' though I find that claim a bit dubious.
I accept that each one is based on a similar sort of fact-free, take it on faith, 'I-want-to-believe' sort of movement. That said, the Truthers don't have a major political party beholden to them or hundreds if not thousands of adherents positioned within elected and non-elected government. People who think that the World Trade Center was dynamited may try to convince us to adopt their point of view but they're not trying to pass laws and/or change laws so that conform with their ideology. Also, Tiabbi fails to make any real connection between the 'Truthers' and any tenet of Liberalism. Conspiracy theories, and this one in particular, have very little to do with political ideologies.
The final set of notes that Mr. Taibbi used to fill out 'The Great Derangement' was on the combination of corruption and gridlock in Congress. While the Truthers come off as goofy and the Hageeites come off as unsettling, Mr. Taibbi's inside look at how ear marks work is just crushingly disheartening. The amount of disfunction is staggering. One is left wondering how anything ever gets done.
In the end, Mr. Taibbi's strongest point, one that I don't remember him stating directly, is that in today's America, a person can choose from a buffet of ideas and ideologies and there will always be somebody willing to spout reality optional 'facts' that support that position. ...more
Shakespeare, Russian gangsters, cyphers, antique books, sex and the English Civil War - what's not to like?
Well, nothing really. Of course there wasn'Shakespeare, Russian gangsters, cyphers, antique books, sex and the English Civil War - what's not to like?
Well, nothing really. Of course there wasn't much that I found that I actually liked either. Actually that's a bit unfair to The Book of Air and Shadows. It's not as if I was bored by the book, it just sat on my bedside table for two months, half finished and ignored in favor of other books. I always intended to finish it. I was never so disgusted that I put it down with the intention of never picking it up again. It just languished there while other books seemed to demand my attention. I finally realized that after two months I probably wasn't going to finish it.
The premise was interesting and though the plot (at least as much of it as I read) was unremarkable, it was dressed up in interesting 'clothes.' The way that Michael Gruber switches between three very different voices and points of view is actually rather engaging. It regulates the pace of the novel and provides some variety. Bracegirdle's letters, central to the plot of the novel, are presented as separate chapters throughout the novel and provide a great side story that compliments the main plot. Mr. Gruber's writing never thrills but also never grates or feels clumsy or awkward.
All in all, The Book of Air and Shadows was a good light read. My review actually reminds me that I did enjoy the book while reading it and if I were looking forward to some time at the beach, I wouldn't hesitate to bring the book along.
I always feel guilty reviewing a book I didn't finish but I think that the book's inability to 'hook' me is both the books only real failing and the most valuable review I could give. ...more
A great novel is one that you can read multiple times and get something new from each new reading. Dune certainly qualifies.
This is, I think, my thirA great novel is one that you can read multiple times and get something new from each new reading. Dune certainly qualifies.
This is, I think, my third reading since I first read Dune as a freshman in college. My first reading had been a year before 9/11 and my second reading about a year after. In many ways, my second time through Dune was like like reading an entirely different novel. My awe at the vastness of Herbert's vision gave way to Herbert's ruminations on the intersection of government, religion, and violence. The differences I found in my third reading were more subtle. I came out of this reading thinking about the power of both fear and promises of redemption.
But subtle difference in my reaction aside, Dune is a novel I can return to again and again because Frank Herbert creates something close to the perfect science fiction novel. Herbert's universe is fantastic and intricately detailed. Societies, economies, and ecologies are all carefully crafted. Each one is entirely alien in some way but the way that Herbert's characters interact with these 'great forces' of civilization are instantly recognizable as human.
Dune, despite its purposeful depictions of human society, sweeps the reader through a story rife with betrayal, political intrigue, violence, and human struggle. Unlike other pieces of science-heavy SciFi, Dune never bogs down.
Herbert's masterpiece, almost half a century after its first publication, certainly still has something to show us about humanity, especially about the relationship between power and society and power and the individual. But there are bits of the novel that feel dated. While not as blatantly as other SciFi works at the time, Herbert's female characters lack some of the verve of the male characters.
Don't let that dissuade you. Dune is a giant in the world of SciFi for good reason. It's well worth the time of any reader with even the smallest disposition towards Science Fiction.
All praise for 'Dune' aside, Herbert, and later his son, followed Dune with a string of sequels. I read them all of Frank Herbert's sequels and one of Brian Herbert's after my first reading of Dune. They are all dreck. Don't even bother. But whatever you do, don't miss Dune....more
My first reading of Dr. Zhivago was in high school. At 15, the book was a chore. Impenetrable and numerous Russian names (often for the same characterMy first reading of Dr. Zhivago was in high school. At 15, the book was a chore. Impenetrable and numerous Russian names (often for the same character) and endless description of the Russian landscape left me exhausted and unimpressed. After re-reading and enjoying other high school assignments, I came across Dr. Zhivago on my bookshelf and wondered if I would find more appreciation for Mr. Pasternak's novel ten years later.
Yes, I did. And no, I didn't.
With ten more years of life, a wife and a job I found a connection with the characters. I understood the way outside forces can pull a person in strange directions and the way life can drop a person into unexpected and unwanted situations. I understood that sometimes people are swept into and out of the place they want to be - and why they stay where things are bad and leave where things are good. Dr. Zhivago is at its heart a love story. No 15 year old understands the kind of love Pasternak puts in his character's hearts. Ten years on, I understand Yuri far better than I did in High School. I also had a far greater appreciation for Pasternak's obviously loving descriptions of his homeland.
That said, the things that drove my dislike of Dr. Zhivago the first time were still still there. The sprawling story and unending task of keeping the characters straight was still a detraction. I don't know if my problem with character names springs from the fact that, being Russian names, they are unfamiliar to my mind or if Pasternak simply failed to rein in his cast of thousands. Unresolved plot lines rarely bother me but, when combined with extensive background on what ending up being minor characters, Dr. Zhivago felt a bit as if Pasternak let the narrative get away from him. Maybe that was the point. Sometimes life just gets away from you. After all, he's the one with a Nobel Prize. Who am I to criticize?
While I actually liked the novel this time, I feel as if I should have liked Dr. Zhivago more than I did. Maybe it's that I can't escape my first impression.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is in many ways more a piece of historical fiction than it is a 'Harry Potter' or 'Lord of the Rings' style fantasyJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is in many ways more a piece of historical fiction than it is a 'Harry Potter' or 'Lord of the Rings' style fantasy. There is no wand waving. There are no lightning and fireball battles between wizards. There is no epic 'good versus evil' battle at the end. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a character driven story about jealousy, ambition, and loss. The magic is almost incidental.
Ms. Clarke crafts an alternative version of England at the beginning of the 19th century - the twist being that magic has returned to England - that is so wonderfully immersive that you can nearly smell the damp earth and musty libraries.
Ms. Clarke has structured the book as a sort of post-action record compiled for posterity. This structure gives Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell it's most remarkable feature - its footnotes. These glorious footnotes explain bits and pieces of magical history to help us, the reader, understand references made by Strange, Norrel, and others. Each one is a jewel of compressed storytelling, a tiny window into the wider magical world beyond the confines of this book.
You get the feeling Ms. Clarke could write he own version of The Silmarillion, filling out a complete history of the world she's created.
Though the book starts off slowly, the writing is rich enough and the characters intriguing enough to get the reader into the meat of this book. Once there, read slowly to savor the world Ms. Clarke created. The end of the book comes much quicker than one would expect from an 800-odd page novel.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell masterfully mixes action, drama and comedy into a attention-consuming whole that left me with a wonderfully satisfied feeling....more