Roughing it in the Bush is one of those books that is undeniably important (within its own limited sphere of influence). But it is also way more impor...moreRoughing it in the Bush is one of those books that is undeniably important (within its own limited sphere of influence). But it is also way more important than it is readable.
As an icon of Canadian Literature, Susanna Moodie has particular importance for Feminist Canadian writers. Her work has directly inspired many Canadian memoirs by women, and Margaret Atwood, one of Canada's most honoured writers, found inspiration in it for her poetry cycle, The Journals of Susanna Moodie.
But Moodie's memoir, Roughing it in the Bush, is an excruciating read. Moodie was a bourgeois English woman who immigrated to Upper Canada when her military husband retired after the Napoleonic Wars. Roughing it in the Bush details the "immigrant experience" as Moodie sees it, and one is unlikely to find a more bitter, whiny, unsavory expression of an immigrant's tribulations anywhere else in literature.
Moodie complains about everything. She hates the weather, she hates the work, she hates the lack of culture, and she hates life. And all I could think when I read her whining, and all I can still think, is "Waaaah, waaaah, f*cking waaaah! Suck it up!" Moodie was a spoiled, miserable woman -- at least during the period she covers in Roughing it in the Bush -- and I, for one, found it almost impossible to sympathize with her.
Add to that the fact that Moodie's writing style, very much of her time and place in the world, was painfully boring, and you can imagine the joy this book can bring to anyone who reads it from cover to cover.
I really need to see the movie An Education. Nick Hornby was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, and the critics thought he did a pretty...moreI really need to see the movie An Education. Nick Hornby was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, and the critics thought he did a pretty fine job. I also heard that his YA novel, Slam was fine. I'd like to see Hornby doing a fine job because I've pretty much given up on him.
I loved Fever Pitch; it is part of my personal mythology (I am an Arsenal fan, and it is very nearly a bible to Gooners). I also loved High Fidelity: slacker, music loving greatness. But since that brace of excellence, Hornby has been on a poor run of form.
His lowest point, for me, is How to Be Good. I am not usually one to be too critical of derivative works, believing as I do that the bulk of writing is derivative of something, but what I can't stand is an author who derives material from himself. Everything he does here is something he's done better somewhere else.
He did the miserable bastard and music appreciation better in High Fidelity, where he also did relationships better. He did middle aged, male redemption better, though not much better, in About a Boy. And he wrote much, much better in Fever Pitch even if it was his first book.
For a man who loves to joke with plenty of bitterness that he'll never win the Booker Prize, he sure produces plenty of drivel (come to think of it, maybe he'll win the Booker Prize anyway. Drivel seems to work).
I'm probably not being fair, but I've really loved Hornby's work, and I want to love it again. It's sorta like being an Arsenal fan right now. I love Wenger and what he brought to the club, but another transfer window has past and we've still got Almunia in net and Wenger's talking up the same old crap: "youth," "belief," "patience."
Fuck all that. I want a trophy this season. And I want Nick Hornby to get back to "being good" himself, not just writing about some wanker and his experiment with the homeless. (less)
This review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it wa...moreThis review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it was written in. I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago (although square brackets indicate some additional information for the sake of readability). It is one of my lost reviews.
I always avoided this book because I thought it would not be for me, and it might hurt my viewing of Spielberg's film version if I ever got around to watching it. I am so pleased I finally picked it up.
I was surprised by The Color Purple many times. The epistolary form was the first shock, and it was a shock I loved; indeed, that was the way with all of the shocks -- I was impressed by them all. I was shocked to discover that it was set pre-WWII [I'd been expecting a much earlier setting]; I was shocked by the casting genius of Spielberg; I was shocked by the terrible things Celie dealt with; I was shocked by the thoguht processes and alienation -- being no part of the U.S. and no longer a part of Africa -- and I was surprised most by Celie's homosexuality, coming as it did as a seeming retreat from her sexual abuse and her idolizing of Shug.
It's a wonderful book. Brilliant.
[Yet over a decade later, unlike many of the other books in these lost reviews, I can't remember it at all. I took a star off for that].(less)
As a semi-retired actor, there are many literary characters I'd love to play, and for all kinds of reasons. Cardinal Richelieu and D'Artagnan spring i...moreAs a semi-retired actor, there are many literary characters I'd love to play, and for all kinds of reasons. Cardinal Richelieu and D'Artagnan spring immediately to mind, but there are countless others: Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin (Perdido Street Station), Oedipus, Holmes or Watson (I'd take either), Captain Jack Aubrey (I'd rather Stephen, but I look like Jack), Heathcliff, Lady Macbeth (yep, I meant her), Manfred, Indiana Jones. But none of them are people who I would actually like to be.
That I reserve for Shevek.
Ursula K. LeGuin's Odonian-Anarchist physicist is what I would aspire to be in the deepest places of myself -- flaws and all.
The reason is simple and profound. Shevek constantly strives for change inside and outside himself, for an embracing of true freedom with the knowledge that freedom requires change, that change is dangerous, and that the danger of true freedom trumps safety.
No matter what pressures are brought to bear, Shevek is his own man.
I could go on about him, but I am loathe to diminish the strength of what I have written.
When I was in grade seven I had a Language Arts teacher named Mr. Hore (you can imagine the fun we had with that in junior high school). He noticed th...moreWhen I was in grade seven I had a Language Arts teacher named Mr. Hore (you can imagine the fun we had with that in junior high school). He noticed that I was a voracious reader, and that I was devouring fantasy books at the time, so he nudged me in the direction of his favourites: Ursula K LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey.
The nudging began in class with a LeGuin short story. I remember sterile white homes that were pre-fab pods, I remember odd, sci-fi-ish flora and a girl as the protagonist. I also remember not liking it, but I was a 12 year old boy. I don't remember the name or anything else, but it instantly had me not taking Mr. Hore's recommendations seriously.
Then he got me reading Dragonflight, and I was even less impressed Although I recently gave it another try and quite enjoyed the experience, back then I hated the idea, I hated the characters, I hated everything about the book, and I was thoroughly inoculated to the effects of McCaffrey and LeGuin for years to come.
In my late twenties, however, I rediscovered Ursula LeGuin with The Left Hand of Darkness and was blown away by her unparalleled mind, and her conception of the androgynous/hermaphroditic Gethens. The Lathe of Heaven was prophetic and fascinating, but The Dispossessed was something more. It is one of the finest political sci-fi books ever written, a peer of Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World (and I humbly submit that on the back of that book alone, LeGuin deserves to win the Nobel Prize for literature). Despite my rediscovery of LeGuin, though, I shied away from her fantasy literature. The damage done by Mr. Hore still hadn't healed.
A Wizard of Earthsea is one of the finest pieces of fantasy literature ever written. The story of Sparrowhawk's journey from being a smithy's son to the most powerful wizard of Earthsea is a parable of equilibrium. In Ged's pride and youthful anger he conjures the dead -- a power within his grasp, but a power he cannot control -- and with it comes a gebbeth, a shadow creature that will hunt Ged until it possesses him and turns his power against the world.
Heavily scarred by his folly, both emotionally and physically, Ged is shielded from the gebbeth by his Masters, and he completes his training in humility. He eventually returns to the world, leaving behind the protection of Roke, and seeks an end to the chase between himself and his gebbeth -- a return to equilibrium: "only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky."
In typical LeGuin fashion, Ged's struggle for equilibrium isn't our simplistic conception of a struggle between good and evil. There is no attempt for good to sublimate evil, as we see in so many works of fantasy. Nor is it a breezy assertion that both need to exist in the world; it is a recognition that if both exist at all they exist in everything, including us. The parable of Ged tells us not only to see equilibrium in everything but to consciously strive for equilibrium in ourselves.
A Wizard of Earthsea is more than its message, however. It is a story to be read aloud. It is a tale for around a campfire. It is a myth for the child in all of us, and for our children. There is a formality about LeGuin's third person omniscience that has the ring of a bard passing on an important history. But there is poetry in her formal prose, too, and I found myself slowing my reading the closer I came to the end just to make my time with LeGuin's narrative voice last longer.
I am sad to see that so many on goodreads don't feel the way I do about LeGuin's fantasy masterpiece, but for once I am confident that I don't need to search my reaction to the book more deeply, to make sure that I am seeing the work clearly. This time I know I am right. A Wizard of Earthsea is one of the greatest fantasy novels (or novellas) ever written. Period.
And now LeGuin has two claims to the Nobel Prize. What a shame she'll never even be considered. (less)
There's some serious jingoism going on here -- which is to be expected from Stephen E. Ambrose's histories (but I am okay with that because I know tha...moreThere's some serious jingoism going on here -- which is to be expected from Stephen E. Ambrose's histories (but I am okay with that because I know that is who he is before going into any of his books. Besides, he is an historian who can actually write) -- but a recognition of that jingoism doesn't take away from the sheer mind-blowing impressiveness of what Easy Company accomplished in WWII -- and their too good to be true, Hollywood style amazingness is best summed up in the career of Major Richard "Dick" Winters.
First off, Easy Company suffered 150% casualties. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY PERCENT. They invaded Normandy on D-Day, the Netherlands in Market Garden, fought in Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge, liberated a Concentration Camp, and were one of the first to the Eagle's Nest, Berchtesgaden. There was no safe path for Easy Company.
And through this madness moved Dick Winters.
There are countless interesting tales throughout the history of Easy Company, from Nixon's nearly mythic alcoholism to the Sobel mutiny to Spears' mad charge, but nothing is quite so impressive as the story of Dick Winters.
Shortly after his drop on D-Day, Winters led thirteen men against a Nazi artillery battery that numbered around fifty. He destroyed all four guns and won the Bronze Star. Later, at a crossroads in Holland, Winters led the 1st Platoon against a 300 strong encampment of Wehrmacht and won the engagement. He then took part in the Battle of the Bulge, in which the 101st Airbourne was instrumental to the allied effort.
More impressive than all these successes, however, was the way Winters' men respected him. To listen to these men talk in the episode introductions to the HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers, is to hear them talk about a man of epically heroic proportions. The men of Easy Company believed in their leadership, and that leadership was embodied by Major Richard Winters. They speak of him always leading the way; they wonder aloud how he could possibly have lived through the war; he is a real life Captain America (in all of Cap's conflicted and Constitutionally idealistic glory), but he's also a human being who was renowned for the way he cared, which is what a leader should do, and it is the way a leader should be. And that is what Dick Winters was -- a leader. The best the Airbourne has ever seen.
I love Major Richard Winters, but there is much in his story that could lead an impressionable youth into believing that old lie "Dulce Et Decorum Est, Pro Patria Mori" that I long for a personal reserve between my admiration and the reality of war. I don't know if I can give it, though. He is truly THAT impressive. (less)
I love this story; I love the whole series and the follow up series, but I really can't stand Tanis Half-Elven, which is a bit strange since he is sor...moreI love this story; I love the whole series and the follow up series, but I really can't stand Tanis Half-Elven, which is a bit strange since he is sort of the default hero of the Chronicles, and certainly the main character in book one.
Dragons of Autumn Twilight opens with Tanis coming home to Solace after five years away in a fruitless search for evidence of the old gods. It doesn't take long for us to get our first dose of Tanis' incessant doubt and self-pity, which are the basis of my Tanis hate. But I must admit that find my disdain for Tanis a little confusing.
Usually I love conflicted characters. I love men and women who struggle with their own failings, find themselves in a constant state of moral dilemma, or are generally not as heroic as they or those around them may believe. Hence, I should love Tanis. He is all of these things.
But Tanis' behaviours go too far for me. His discomfort with leadership becomes unbearable when the group is so full of capable leaders. The adoration of his followers constantly confounds me (I just get so frustrated that Sturm and Caramon and Riverwind can follow him so blindly). His confusion over Kitiara and Laurana would be okay if he didn't feel so bloody guilty about it all the time. And he is a superstar of whining. Around here we'd call him "Old Whinyard" (and sing our "Old Whinyard" song to the tune of Moon River) and tell him to "suck it up."
Tanis is realistic. All of his personality traits and foibles have a breeze of truth to them. Which means that I don't have to like Tanis to appreciate him as a character, and I can actively loathe him and still love the books.
There are, after all, a number of characters that I fully love -- Raistlin (and all his complexity), Sturm Brightblade (and his perfectly satisfying sacrifice), Kitiara (and her many lusts), and Tas (although he loses his attractiveness come Dragonlance Legends); they trump my annoyance with Tanis. And, thank the gods, when we reach Dragons of Winter Night, I barely have to worry about Tanis because the focus of the Chronicles shifts to those characters I care more about.
Of the original Dragonlance trilogy, Dragons of Spring Dawning is not my favourite. Even so, it contains some excellent moments while serving as both...moreOf the original Dragonlance trilogy, Dragons of Spring Dawning is not my favourite. Even so, it contains some excellent moments while serving as both a pseudo ending to the War of the Lance and a fine introduction to the Legends series.
Perhaps it is Dragons of Spring Dawning's transitional position that makes it impossible for it to be the best of the three. There is a real sense in Dragons of Spring Dawning that we are not speeding towards a resolution of the War but a shift in hostilities from the vast and impersonal to the internal and personal. Which means that while the book is necessary in the greater arc of the series, it must fail to live up to the promise of its predecessors because it cannot, by its very nature, deliver a fitting end to all the threads of the story.
Dragons of Spring Dawning generates a feeling that Weis and Hickman reached a point where their huge cast of characters was too much to handle. Gilthanas and Silvara, Goldmoon and Riverwind, Alhana Starbreeze, Lord Ariakas, Astinus, Raistlin (although that is rectified by the Legend series), and even Fewmaster Toade get short shrift. Their stories could have been the basis for at least two more books in the series proper, which also would have allowed for a stronger telling of the stories that it does manage to tell.
Of course, many of these missing stories have been told by others in future installments of the Dragonlance universe, but one can't help wondering how much better these stories would have been if they'd been contextualized within the War itself and told by the originators of the series.
It was particularly nice to see Tanis Half-Elven through the eyes of my four year olds, whom I read the book to. I always hated Tanis. I found his whining insufferable; I always felt the "supposed" darkness of his soul was a bit of a joke; I thought his attack on Berem was too easily forgiven by his friends, and nothing in my latest oral reading of the book changed my mind on any of these points. But something did change for me, and I was finally able to see how Tanis' role as leader can gloss over his faults for an audience as easily as it seems to for his friends in the book. Tanis seems to have a genuine charisma. I don't get it personally, but now at least I recognize how it works.
The entire series is worth reading multiple times, and this is an important step along the way, but if you're anything like me don't expect to love this episode in the Dragonlance story. It is far from the best.(less)
I love this book despite the fact that about half of it is steeped in serious suckiness. The fact is, at least for me, that the excellent bits in Time...moreI love this book despite the fact that about half of it is steeped in serious suckiness. The fact is, at least for me, that the excellent bits in Time of the Twins are far more excellent than the excellent bits in the three Dragonlance books that preceded this one (and those books had some excellent bits), making Time of the Twins a favourite of mine.
Sucky Bits: Sucky -- This story hinges on the corruption of the Kingpriest of Istar. The Kingpriest arrogantly (and weakly) calls on the gods to come down as peers and help him wipe evil from Krynn (the World of Dragonlance for the uninitiated). This is a solid idea for fantasy fiction, and it allows Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman to express their idea about the need for equilibrium between good and evil. The problem is that we never see enough of the Kingpriest, his court, his "good/bad works" or anything else related to him to fully accept the Cataclysm he brings to Krynn.
The authors rely on our Dragonlance-fed understanding of Krynn's history to fill in the Kingpriest-gaps rather than giving us the time we need in Istar to damn the Kingpriest ourselves. We know he's arrogant and foolish because we're told he is, not because they make us believe it. And that is sucky.
Suckier -- Something similar happens with the other important characters in Time of the Twins. The gladiators, Kiiri and Pheragas, the priests, Quarath and Denubis, and the slavers, Raag and Arack, aren't given anywhere near the time they need to fulfill their potential as characters -- not even as supporting characters. Kiiri and Pheragas are supposed to be important to Caramon, but we're left to assume and accept their importance based on some barely developed camaraderie. Quarath, Arack and Raag are supposed to be the story's supporting villains, but they never movie beyond the Sneak, the pseudo-Mobster and the Muscle. Denubis (who returns later in the series) is the one true cleric left for Crysania to meet, and just as we are beginning to like him he disappears with an old, father-time style, Elven cleric. And all this is suckier.
Suckiest -- Tasslehoff Burrfoot. Tas is a favourite from the Dragonlance Chronicles. He is the lovable kender from who befriended a god and imbued the original stories with a sense of wonder. The authors lost their way with his character, though. He was designed to be a full-grown adult from a race cursed with insatiable curiousity and no fear. He is touched by the War of the Lance, and he learns how to fear for the lives of those he loves, which should make for a more mature character, a wiser more sober character. But Weis & Hickman blow it. They turn Tas into a little boy. He feels like an insufferable, annoying, spoiled four year old. And that is the suckiest of all.
Excellent Bits: Excellent -- All those sucky problems are offset by some cool stuff, though. One excellent element of Time of the Twins is Lady Crysania. She's second in commmand of the newly revived Order of Paladine -- cold, haughty, and utterly convinced of her natural superiority. But all that changes when she meets and is challenged by Raistlin, the dark wizard who has become the "Master of Past and Present." Her intellectual awakening at the hands of Raistlin is excellent.
Excellenter -- Caramon Majere, twin brother of Raislin, has his own struggle, but his is more a recovery than an awakening. He's a broken man when the story begins: broken by war, broken by being unnecessary when there's none left to kill, broken by his love for his brother. His story is the simplest, but also one of the most emotionally satisfying. Not a false note is struck in Caramon's rebirth, and there is even a promise of something more to come. This is even excellenter.
Excellentest -- Nothing compares to the opening chapter in Raistlin's journey to become a god, however. Time of the Twins is Raistlin's tale, and when he's onstage the story is better than any other thing Weis & Hickman have collaborated on. Raistlin does terrible things, it's true; he wears black robes (the mark of an evil wizard on Krynn), he murders people, he hungers for power, he manipulates and controls, he lies, and the god he wants to replace is Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness. He is a bad ass extraordinaire. But he also cares. He cares about dignity, he cares about the poor, he cares about the meek, he cares about his friends, he cares about his brother. He shows mercy, compassion and wisdom that no other character in all six of the core Dragonlance books possesses. He may be a badass, but he's also a hero, making him one of my all time favourite Fantasy characters. Raistlin's story is the excellentest part of Time of the Twins.
The biggest problem with Dragonlance Legends, then, and the main reason for the suckiness in Time of the Twins, is that each installment of the three part series needed three parts to be fully realized. This series should have stretched over nine volumes, only then could it have achieved its full potential. But that's okay. I love it anyway. Even with all its flaws (yeah...I know...it's probably a nostalgia thing).(less)
I will concede these points: 1. there is some pretty shabby writing in War of the Twins; 2. the more Tasslehoff Burrfoot, beloved Kender, becomes like...moreI will concede these points: 1. there is some pretty shabby writing in War of the Twins; 2. the more Tasslehoff Burrfoot, beloved Kender, becomes like a cliched high school girl, the more insufferable he becomes; 3. it's hard to swallow that Raistlin would make the mistakes he makes; 4. so much evil is done by the supposedly "good" characters without any recognition that their acts are evil that I am fairly certain that what I love about the book is not intended by the authors; 5. the authors have a silly conception of "Infinite Good" and "Infinite Evil"; 6. the portrayals of Kender, Gully Dwarves, Dewar and Gnomes are examples of conventional Fantasy racism and are hard for me to overlook.
So, yes, I concede that this isn't the best book in the world. But I love it anyway.
Somewhere, despite all of its many flaws, War of the Twins speaks to me. There is good in Raistlin, more than even the authors know, and his good is fundamental to the evil he consciously perpetrates. Raistlin does some bad things because he has seen and experienced terrible things in his life, and he never wants those things to happen to him or any of the oppressed again. So he will do what he believes he must for the good of the many (and if that means he will have power, so be it). This is contrasted (and, again, I doubt the authors' intended this) with people who believe they are good, who are appalled by Raistlin's actions, then carry out similar or worse actions through prejudice, ignorance or mere omission. Their evil is unconscious (and I am not convinced it is even recognized as evil by the authors), but if it is consciously undertaken they actively think of it as good.
Whether they meant to or not, Weis & Hickman offer a true representation of one of the muddy aspects of good and evil. We have the "evil" man doing what he does because he thinks it is right, and "good" folks doing evil without even realizing it or rationalizing their actions with ease.
Regardless of its flaws, War of the Twins is a personal fave for me simply because of the way it stumbles onto something meaningful in the good and evil debate, and because it offers me something that few other books can: license to love the "bad guy" Raistlin, who may not be so bad after all. (less)