Say! I love Green Eggs and Ham. I do! I love it Seuss-I-am.
So I will read it with Miloš Or he will read it cause he's precoš. And I will read it with...moreSay! I love Green Eggs and Ham. I do! I love it Seuss-I-am.
So I will read it with Miloš Or he will read it cause he's precoš. And I will read it with my Të And we will read it night and day. And I will read it to my Scout And she will love it, I have no doubt. And I will read it in the rain. And I will read it on the train. And I will read it in my socks. And I will read it with a fox. And I will read it in the shower. And I will read it every hour. And I will read it doing dishes. And I will read it with the fishes. I will read it here or there. Say! I will read it ANYWHERE!
there is no better way to kick off a semester of literature than a modest proposal. one smart ass student always tries to derail the conversation with...morethere is no better way to kick off a semester of literature than a modest proposal. one smart ass student always tries to derail the conversation with an early declaration of the proposal’s satire, but no one listens, and within moments i have a class of fifty - sixty students angry, frustrated, and sometimes rabid as i take swift’s ironic side and ask the students, with all the seriousness i can muster (which is quite a bit), if we shouldn’t give it a try? i follow that up with “why not?” after “why not?” then smack them upside the head with their universal humanist superiority complex, and force them to think. it’s so new to them they leave hating me or loving me. but they do leave thinking. poor bastards. except that one mormon in the front row. he never leaves thinking anything other than how superior he is. and what a dipshit i am.(less)
The art is beautiful, GIRLS can be Pirates (how's that for crazy?!), the writing is perfectly suited to oral delivery, and there is NO violence. The closest we come is a big, bad Pirate Master threatening to sic his Mom on those who take his treasure.
It is wonderful. Read it to your kids, then have them read it to you. I guarantee (figuratively) that you will love it. (less)
I have seen it twelve times in the theatre. It was the first VHS tape I owned, and I wore that tape out in my big clunky old VCR within five years. I worked as a night video store clerk for another five years and played it at least once during every shift. When I can't sleep at night, I watch the movie in my head. I know every line. I know every beat of music. When I am sad or need a pick up, I throw it in my DVD player and let it soothe me. I've used it in Composition classes to illustrate the potential for analyzing even the most unlikely texts.
Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay is a marvelous piece of screenwriting. Every line, every action, every single element is there to further the story. Kasdan makes potentially clunky exposition soar, implies the flaws of Indiana Jones (making him a truly complex hero, at least in this one installment) without beating us over the head, gives us a snazzy champagne villain in the mould of Claude Rains and seamlessly includes all the set pieces that tickled the fancy of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg without compromising quality.
It is a masterwork of screenwriting. And it is THE masterwork of action screenwriting.
My favourite line:
Belloq: I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light.
So true, Belloq. So true.
If you are at all interested in giving a screenplay a chance, this is the place to start. (less)
I've read this book every year since 1991, and it is never the same book. Like so many things in this world, The Sun Also Rises improves with age and...moreI've read this book every year since 1991, and it is never the same book. Like so many things in this world, The Sun Also Rises improves with age and attention.
Some readings I find myself in love with Lady Brett Ashley. Then I am firmly in Jake Barnes' camp, feeling his pain and wondering how he stays sane with all that happens around him. Another time I can't help but feel that Robert Cohn is getting a shitty deal and find his behavior not only understandable but restrained. Or I am with Mike and Bill and Romero on the periphery where the hurricane made by Brett and Jake and Robert destroys spirits or fun or nothing (which is decidedly something).
And then I am against them all as though they were my sworn enemies or my family. No matter what I feel while reading The Sun Also Rises, it is Hemingway's richest novel for me.
I feel it was written for me. And sometimes feel it was written by me (I surely wish it was).
Hemingway's language, his characterizations, his love for all the people he writes about (no matter how unsavory they may be), his love of women and men, his empathy with the pain people feel in life and love, his touch with locale, his integration of sport as metaphor and setting, his getting everything just right with nothing out of place and nothing superfluous, all of this makes The Sun Also Rises his most important novel.
It is the Hemingway short story writ large. It is the book he should be remembered for but isn't. I often wonder why that is, and the conclusion I come to is this: The Sun Also Rises is too real, too true, too painful for the average reader to stomach. And many who can are predisposed to hate Hemingway.
A terrible shame that so many miss something so achingly beautiful.(less)
I remember hearing a radio version of this when I was young, long before I eve...moreTo Build a Fire is one of the stories that made me want to be a writer.
I remember hearing a radio version of this when I was young, long before I ever read it. My Dad and I were on a camping trip in one of the provincial parks, and he'd brought along a little transistor radio. In the dark of our tent we picked up a radio station that played old radio shows, and that night the story was To Build a Fire. It was wonderful to listen to it in that setting. The old crackly radio hummed, the static mixed with the Yukon wind sound effects, the dog barked, the man talked to himself while he tried to get his fire lit, and all the while our canvas tent creaked in the warm night. It was a full immersion into London's story of Nature humbling man.
A while later, in school, I had to read To Build a Fire in a reading period; I was thrilled to be remembering the story as the words unfolded in front of me. I wanted to go to the Yukon (which I am finally doing this summer). I wanted to face Nature in a way that was smart. I wanted to do what the man failed to do. I wanted to avoid arrogance, swallow my natural hubris, and experience the cold and danger of a Yukon winter just so that I could show the man that he should have listened to the old man's advice and paid attention to his dog's uneasiness.
Now that I teach, I bring out To Build a Fire in any class that calls for short stories. It is one of the greatest short stories ever written, and it always leads to a lively discussion, especially today when so many students are concerned with the environment.
Some students find themselves cheering for the Yukon, some find themselves cheering for the dog, and a few find themselves cheering for the way the man never gives up. Then there are those who scoff at the man for his stupidity, for his lack of imagination, for his arrogance in the face of such raw, frigid power.
I find that, these days, my reaction to To Build a Fire depends on my mood. I can see every side; I can empathize with every perspective, which I am sure has everything to do with the brilliance of London's craftsmanship. This last time I found myself connecting most with the story of the dog. When I reach the Yukon this summer (boy am I glad that it won't be winter), I'm going to read it again. I think it's a pretty good bet who I'll side with in that reading. But one never knows. (less)
Comedy is tough to do well, even by those who create it, but it is even tougher to go back and restage past comedies for modern audiences. The easy ex...moreComedy is tough to do well, even by those who create it, but it is even tougher to go back and restage past comedies for modern audiences. The easy explanation is that humour is such a product of its time that audiences are simply not capable of getting the jokes -- not truly. There may be something to that, but I think the real problem is more complex, and I think it can be remedied.
Most comedies, particularly those that hold up and become memorable classics, tell their jokes to make a point. Great comedies are generally political, either explicitly or implicitly, and the laughs spring out of the message(s) being delivered. On the surface, again, the time distance between a comedy's creation and restaging could be blamed for any problems. Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, for instance, satirizes the Victorian era in which it was written, so modern audiences simply don't have inherent access to the shared experiences that would have made The Importance of Being Earnest easily accessible to its audiences.
Yet I don't consider these problems of time insurmountable. The real problem arises in the way directors and actors approach classic comedies. It is not so much their or the audience's understanding of the setting as it is what they choose to emphasize in their restaging. Restagings of comedies invariably focus on the humour, and in doing so they deliver the humour humourously. Everything is an attempt to be funny, so the restaging becomes about buffoonery, slapstick, the obviously funny, and the subtleties of great comedies are drowned out by the vuvuzuela cacophony of silliness.
The most recent screen adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest is a prime example. Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, Francis O'Connor and even Dame Judi Dench -- under the misguided direction of Oliver Parker -- do everything they can for cheap laughs, making their characters a pack of blithering, over-the-top idiots rather than the trivially serious idiots Wilde intended them to be (the play is subtitled, after all, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People).
The key to The Importance of Being Earnest, as with so many comedies from the past, is to play it straight. The comedy is in the writing rather than the performance. Algernon and Jack are written to believe the inane things they say, they are also written to believe the brilliant things they say, and it is their belief in who they are, silly as that may be, that makes them genuinely funny. It is the genius of Wilde: to make us believe that his characters believe in themselves. But when the people restaging Wilde don't believe that his characters believe, when they don't believe in the characters themselves, they wind up being too silly by far. (e.g. they have Algernon prance around in plate mail armor while wooing Cecily).
Yep, playing comedy for laughs is a mistake. Comedy is a serious business, and when it is performed seriously it is vastly funnier than comedy performed foolishly. The laughs will come, they don't need to be shopped for.
So if you ever have a chance to see The Importance of Being Earnest onstage, I hope that you find a group of performers who are playing it seriously, delivering the jokes with the conviction that Jack and Algy should have rather than delivering the jokes as jokes. If you do the time it was written, the distance between now and then won't matter one wit. You'll see a comedy as fresh and relevant and genuinely funny as anything being written today -- and The Importance of Being Earnest will forever be one of your favourites. I promise.(less)
I was very near to finishing Mr. Midshipman Hornblower when we were on our way to the hospital the other night, and I knew I was going to need somethi...moreI was very near to finishing Mr. Midshipman Hornblower when we were on our way to the hospital the other night, and I knew I was going to need something else at some point over the next few days. I was passing by the computer on the way to the door, and I decided to grab The Old Man and the Sea. I'd been using it as a mouse pad because the Scribner trade paperback edition is a perfect size with a slick, matte-laminated cover that the mouse glides across with no fuss. So the book was handy, I needed something, and I've been meaning to read it again for months.
I've read The Old Man and the Sea numerous times, and I've always loved it, but this time through it became much more than it has ever been before. This time I read it out loud, and it is a completely different book.
I have heard complaints about Hemingway's lack of commas, his sparce punctuation, and his repetition in The Old Man and the Sea, but let me assure all detractors that this is intentional and to a purpose. Hemingway wants us to read this book out loud, and the way he's structured the punctuation (so too his use of repetition) dictates the voice we are meant to use while we're reading. We are not meant to inject the story with emotional ejaculations; we are meant to read this in a low monotone, embracing the steady, quiet, imperturbable voice of Santiago, the titular Old Man, while he struggles against the marlin, the sharks, the sea and himself.
And when we embrace Santiago's voice and breathe it into the world, The Old Man and the Sea undergoes a startling change. I think it is a beautiful novel even lying dormant on the page, but spoken, it is a lush, sensuous, poetic masterpiece.
Read this one out loud if you can. To yourself or to someone you love, even if that someone is a naked, two day old baby sleeping on your chest. You'll be glad you did. (less)
It is an exemplar of what I call cinematic writing: novel length prose that the author ultimately intends for the screen.
The characters are skill-based and maleable (sometimes even interchangeable), the chase -- either figurative or literal -- is all important, and the skeletal structure of the plot is all about the goal. As long as the goal remains the same, the pieces that get the writer/filmmaker there can alter to suit mood, economics, aesthetics or any other pragmatic concern without harming the spirit of the tale.
I used The Great Train Robbery in my thesis because it was the one book that Michael Crichton directed himself. He wrote the novel, wrote the screenplay, cast the main characters, and made all the alterations that moved his story from one medium to another. The novels that followed The Great Train Robbery continued to embrace the cinema in their conception, but The Great Train Robbery was the finest expression of Crichton's love for the screen because even he, the author, had to make changes to take his novel to the screen.
For anyone who loves cinema and novels, for anyone who loves screenwriting, for anyone who loves screen adaptation, both manifestations of The Great Train Robbery are essential texts. And how can you beat the teaming of Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland And how can you beat the teaming of Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland? You can't (not even with Harrison Ford or Elliot Gould).
Track down the movie, re-read the book, and appreciate them both for what Crichton was trying to do. (less)
The reasons are myriad: my mother hated Austen (a disd...moreFor a lover of books, I came to Pride and Prejudice (P&P from now on) very, very, very late.
The reasons are myriad: my mother hated Austen (a disdain she took to the grave without ever explaining), so she never recommended her to me; I was a boy in the '70s and a teen in the '80s and even though I loved Barbra Streisand, ABBA, Wham!, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran (and...yes...I still do) I wasn't about to let people know that, and since I carried whatever book I was reading with me wherever I went, I wasn't about to let myself get caught in possession of a literary chick flick; I played tons of D&D and there's no room for P&P when you're busy writing new spells and fragging Orcs with exploding eggs; and when I began studying literature in earnest, in my undergrad years, I was more taken with the Lost Generation than any other generation, so I spent most of my time steeped in the early-Twentieth Century.
I finally bumped into Ms. Austen in grad school. I took a course that covered all her novels, but even there I skipped over P&P. The reading list was her entire body of work, and the A&E P&P miniseries, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle -- which remains an excellent adaptation of P&P -- was big at the time; it saved me from having to read P&P along with S and S and E and P and NA and MP. I took part in the P&P discussions, albeit sparingly, and wrote my papers on E and P, eschewing P&P for the books I knew well.
But P&P wasn't about to let me off that easily. You see...my wife was a former stage manager turned accountant who wanted to get back into theatre, and one of the profs at school was putting on Love's Labour's Lost. There was a bit of an emergency, and she put out a call to the entire grad community for a stage manager, with any level of skill, to save the production. Enter my wife (who is an amazing stage manager). I gave her the heads up; she became the s.m.; two weeks later I found myself rushing to learn the lines and blocking for Nathaniel to save the show from a second emergency, and suddenly I was an actor.
I was actually pretty darn good (I have only recently bowed out of the craft), and I found myself cast as Mr. Darcy early the following year. Now I had to read P&P.
So I did. And I read Bridget Jones's Diary. And I watched every version of P&P I could get my hands on. And I grew out my mutton chops. And I learned how to dance. And I improved my posture. And I had the most miserable time I have ever had on stage anywhere. My Elizabeth and I grew to loathe one another (I have never worked with a more selfish actress). Our director cast herself in a fairly important role and lost track of actually directing, so the performances were terribly imbalanced. The play adaptation we were working from was butchered beyond recognition, which horrified the writer in me as the playwright was never consulted. And the rehearsals were utterly excruciating.
But that acting gig gave me some great things too. It gave me one of my finest moments on stage (I fell off the thrust in the middle of my first dance with Elizabeth, climbed back on stage and rejoined the dance, never missing a line or breaking character. Whew!) It gave me my first leading role and the confidence that comes along with that. It made me a better playwright (showing me what was actually doable); it made me a better director (teaching me what not to do when in charge of a show); it gave me some everlasting friendships; and, despite all the impediments thrown up by the play, it made me love P&P.
These days I teach P&P every semester or two, and it gets better every time I read it. My twins, now 6, recently watched the mini series for the first time, and they, too, have fallen in love with Darcy and Elizabeth. P&P looks to continue its popularity well beyond my lifetime, and there are few books that deserve such sustained readership as P&P.
Finished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and...moreFinished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and the intervening years have not been kind to our relationship. I've reread The Lord of the Rings in that time, and been both dazzled and repulsed by Peter Jackson's screen interpretation of them. I revised my intellectual response to Tolkien, if not my feelings, because of the racism inherent in the Trilogy, then I revised it again because of the sexism.
But the Hobbit comes out in the theatres this year, and my kids are HUGE fans of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman -- Sherlock and Watson on the BBC's Holmes update -- and since they just happen to be playing Smaug and Bilbo Baggins, respectively, I thought it was about time I revisited Middle Earth with my kids, setting aside my Tolkien grievances to awake some non-Potter magic in their hearts.
It was the single best reading aloud experience I've ever had, and I've read many, many books with Të and Loš in their seven years. They loved it like nothing else I've read. Miloš actually wept when Thorin died (which took me completely by surprise). Brontë adored Fili & Kili, and has drawn some spectacular pictures of Smaug. Even Scoutie toddled her way into the readings once in a while, wanting to be part of the energy and excitement.
Reading the Hobbit aloud was nothing like what I had expected. I expected the read to be a slog. I was thinking of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings prose, that heavily descriptive, pseudo-archaic language that delivers so much weight to the War of the Rings, and I thought it would be impossible to keep my kids interested (though I had to try). Boy, was I wrong.
I remembered that Bilbo was the slightly-veiled narrator, but I assumed he would sound like Tolkien. I always remembered it that way, but it wasn't and he didn't. The narrative and the narration didn't just sound like Bilbo Baggins, it was Bilbo Baggins, with Bilbo often intruding quite literally on the telling (hiding his identity, of course, as any good ring bearer would). It was a conversation between Bilbo and my kids, and I was able to become Bilbo and tell the tale as our little Hobbit rather than as a dad reading to his kids in the winter of their seventh year.
Something marvellous occurred to me during my reading, something I'd missed each time I'd read the book in the past -- and it's the true genius of Tolkien's writing. I have always marvelled at his world building, his linguistic gymnastics, his deep, believable, overwhelming mythologies (even when other issues have frustrated me). I have been blown away by the fierce creativity of Tolkien's mind. But I suddenly realized what a subtle writer he truly was. The Hobbit, you see, is a lie. It is a white lie, perhaps -- an hyperbolous exaggeration by a bit player turning himself into the star -- but it is a lie from beginning to end, and Tolkien wants us to find the lie (and to do that we must be well versed in the Lord of the Rings -- so J.R.R. was busy forcing some deep intertexuality, amongst other brilliant things) and love Mr. Baggins all the more for the lie.
In Lord of the Rings we see an extended and objective vision of four hobbits, each heroic in their own way, each impressive, each foolish and/or weak, each capable of making decisions and driving events, but they are merely part of a much larger whole. They are members of a party of beings who can and do the same things as they. Aragorn is a king in the making; Gandalf the White, née Grey, is the catalyst of action; Boromir is noble and tortured and tragically heroic; Legolas and Gimli and Eomer and Eowyn and Treebeard and Gollum and Faramir and others all have roles to play, all are capable, all are important. But in the Hobbit -- with the exception of Gandalf once in a while -- Bilbo Baggins, or so he tells us, is the only one capable of anything great, and everyone else's great moments, if they have them, depend on him.
He is like no other Hobbit who ever lived. He's also completely full of shit, which makes me love him even more. There's probably a sliver of truth in everything our furry footed unreliable narrator tells us, but whatever that sliver is really doesn't matter because The Hobbit isn't about the truth, it's about the weaving of a tale, and this is the one time that J.R.R. Tolkien achieves that weaving perfectly. The Hobbit is mesmerizing for those who read it and those who have it read to them.
I wonder what the movie will do with Bilbo's attercoppy web of deceit. Will Jackson play it straight, and retell the tale in the same way he told Lord of the Rings (I can't imagine a bigger mistake)? Will it be dour and serious, and will Bilbo's lies be taken as truth? Will the movie be the book, lies and all? Will Jackson somehow tip us off to Bilbo's bullshit? Or will he dig deep into the tale and tell us the Hobbit that really was but never made it onto the page? Will all the events be there, but will the Dwarves be more capable? Will Thorin be more impressive? Will Bard and Beorn and Gandalf be more than deus ex machinas? Will Smaug be more frightening, and will his demise be more his own responsibility and less Bilbo's? Whatever the case, I think Jackson will have a much harder time delivering a satisfying Hobbit, though I bet it will be more loved than his first three.
It doesn't matter what the movie(s) do(es), though. What matters is that for those who take the time to read this with their loved ones, who read to their children or
for those who really embrace the telling, The Hobbit will always remain one of the most rewarding literary experiences you can have.
I love this book more now that I ever have before. I hope, with fingers crossed, that a year or two from now, Miloš or Brontë or Scoutie will bring me our tattered old copy of the Hobbit and ask me to read it again. Or, maybe someday, when I am old and dying, one of them will come by the home I am wasting away in and read it to me. That is about the most beautiful way to die I can imagine. And it will be comfortable and cozy in a way that Bilbo would approve.
*stolen with love and respect from Ceridwen's fantastic review. Go see it for yourself.(less)
Wuthering Heights is many things. A late-gothic ghost story. A tale of love and revenge. A chronicle of violence -- physical, mental, emotional and so...moreWuthering Heights is many things. A late-gothic ghost story. A tale of love and revenge. A chronicle of violence -- physical, mental, emotional and social. A dark peek into human nature. A condemnation of England's broken class system. A sort of anti-Austen book without manners.
I've loved it since I first read it in grade eight. It's another of the books my crazy cool Mom foisted upon me in her big, three year pushing of classics that defined my reading tastes for the rest of my life. I love the book so much, and Emily Brontë's leading man, that I named my daughter Brontë (dooming her, no doubt, to a life of pain, depression, and unfinished business, sorry Të).
This time through, however, I found myself not caring a whit about Heathcliff and Catherine the Older, or Hareton and Catherine the Younger, or Edgar, or Isabella, or Linton the king whinger. I found myself caring about Nelly Dean, and only Nelly Dean. And in so doing I discovered another thing that Wuthering Heights is: the most circuitous character sketch in the English language.
To read Wuthering Heights caring only about Nelly is to read an entirely different story. Suddenly the ill-fated love of Heathcliff and Cathy -- the torture and pain and ghosts and revenge -- becomes the way Nelly reveals herself, and the unreliability of Nelly as a narrator becomes the very stuff of herself. Every action she comments on, every action she claims to take, every piece of those tales she tells Lockwood cease to be about her subjects and, instead, reveal her as the subject. She is the star of her own narrative, and all those characters she claims to love or hate are mere supporting players to a servant's tale of herself. Which, for me, makes Wuthering Heights even more brilliant than I've always believed it to be.
I wonder what a stage version of this would look like if one were to use Nelly's perspective AND make her the focus, subverting her attempts to obfuscate her importance. Maybe I should take a crack at it. Or maybe I could just pass the idea on to my very own Brontë. I bet she could do something magnificent with it someday.(less)
Twenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. I came to Tolkien's masterpiece on my own, and that meant much...moreTwenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. I came to Tolkien's masterpiece on my own, and that meant much to me at twelve. The only books that had been reached by me alone were books on mythology and horror. Everything else I read, from DH Lawrence to Hemingway to Dickens to Shakespeare (and this also included Dracula and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde because they were "true" classics), was suggested and sanctioned by my mother (for which I will always owe her deeply).
It is easy to forget that The Lord of the Rings was not a pop culture phenomenon in the seventies and early eighties. It was a fringe book (at least in North America), something that was not yet considered a part of the canon, something that was not a name on every boy's lips (even if they were just getting to know D&D) let alone every child's lips. Sure it was respected and loved by those who knew it, but knowing it was not a foregone conclusion as it is today, and its audience was almost completely genre oriented. In my little community (my school and the blocks surrounding my home), I was the first kid to read it.
And that first reading was a revelation. Sure I'd read The Hobbit, but that didn't prepare me for the breadth and depth of The Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth in its grandest incarnation.
To create a fantasy world is one thing, but to breathe life into ages of that world, to keep all the pieces together with such magnificent detail and rigour, to create character after believable character and make us care about most of them, even poor Smeagol/Gollum, that is a literary labour of Hercules. And by pulling it off, Tolkien created the single most important manifestation of Fantasy that has ever and will ever be written. The Lord of the Rings has rightly been named a classic. It is part of the canon, and it deserves its place. It is entertaining, it is weighty, and it is loved by nearly all.
Aye...and there's the rub.
Its indisputable greatness has made it indisputable.
It has become dogma among fanboys and fangirls that the bastions of The Lord of the Rings are unassailable. Criticize Tolkien's work -- academically or otherwise -- and you put yourself in almost as much danger as a chatty atheist trying to engage in a theological discussion in a coliseum full of Jehovah's Witnesses (how many of those folks will make it into the afterlife? Isn't there a limit?).
Feminist critics point out the lack of women in The Lord of the Rings, and that those women who are present fulfill only the narrowest stereotypes. Éowyn's strength is dependent upon adopting male gender qualities, a typical stereotype of "powerful women in fantasy," and she is alone amongst the Rohirrim as a woman who can and will fight. All other women in her culture are present as a reason to fight rather than as integral parts of the struggle. Arwen's place (in the books, at least) as a maiden waiting for the hand of her king takes the "reason to fight" to even greater heights. And the only powerful female, Galadriel as the terrible, beautiful elven Queen, is too far removed from mortality and reality to be anything more than a mid-tale deus ex machina, thereby removing her from the realm of women and men and making her a pseudo-god whose power is allowed only because it is arcane and mysterious.
Post-Colonial critics have latched onto the racism inherent in The Lord of the Rings, pointing out the hierarchies between the races: from the "superiority" of the elves, to the "chosen" role of "European" Men of the West under the leadership of Aragorn, to the lesser races of Dwarves and Hobbits (the former are "lesser" because they are "too greedy" and the latter are "lesser" because they are children). Post-Colonialists look to the "orientalization" of Sauron's forces and the configuration of evil as an inherent quality of Orcs and "the dark folk." They point out Tolkien's family's history as a cog in the mechanism of English Imperialism, and his own birth in one of the most blatantly racist colonies of all, South Africa (while he did leave at three years old, his family's presence there at all suggests that some of the classic colonial opinions about the colonized "dark races" helped form the man who wrote these books), as possible reasons for this racism.
These criticisms further suggest, at least to me, that the archetypal source of all fantasy's entrenched racism -- even those books being written today -- is The Lord of the Rings. Those fantasy authors who have followed Tolkien consistently and inescapably embrace his configuration of the races (yes, even those like R.A. Salvatore who try and fail to derail this configuration) and the concepts of good and evil that go along with them, which leads to the stagnation and diminishment of their genre.
The fact is that these flaws do exist in The Lord of the Rings. They are present. They are easy to find. But few of Tolkien's rabid fans want to hear about them.
And even when the criticism is not necessarily suggesting a flaw in Tolkien's work but merely the presence of some subtext, the dogmatists react with rage and condemnation. A fine example of this is when Queer and Gender theorists point to the overwhelming relationships between men, and how the relationship between Frodo and Sam is homosocial, at least, and possibly even homosexual. The only true intimacy in the book occurs between the men, after all, and to ignore that fact is to ignore one of key components of why The Lord of the Rings is so emotionally satisfying, especially to young men.
Even faced with these ideas supported by convincing arguments, however, many fans either strive for ignorance or attack the messenger. This may have much to do with the worry -- unreasonable though it is -- that to admit that a flaw or something uncomfortable exists in any of these books, which so many people love so deeply, is to accept that The Lord of the Rings is neither great nor worthy of love.
But this is not the case.
I love The Lord of the Rings even though I subscribe completely to the post-colonial criticism, and see the merits in both the feminine and queer criticisms, not to mention the countless other criticisms and subtexts that are floating around.
The books are racist; they are sexist. They are not perfect. And I must criticize the elements of The Lord of the Rings that make me uncomfortable and deserve no praise. But my complaints and the complaints of critics make Tolkien's achievement no less great.
Tolkien created the most magnificent imaginary world ever conceived, and, for good or ill, Fantasy would be nothing today were it not for him. The Lord of the Rings is a triumph on countless levels, but it is not the word of God, nor should it be elevated to such heights.
I love The Lord of the Rings, but I love it with reservations. I love it because of its place in my personal mythology, its genuine originality, its creativity, its power, but I love it with my mind open to its flaws, and I refuse to make excuses for Tolkien or his work.
Twenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. Not today. But I am still willing to admit my love. (less)
If you've never read Hemingway, this isn't the book for you. If you don't like experimentation, this isn't the book for you. If you're turned off by v...moreIf you've never read Hemingway, this isn't the book for you. If you don't like experimentation, this isn't the book for you. If you're turned off by violence, this isn't the book for you. If you're an opponent of socialism, this isn't the book for you. If you want happy endings, this isn't the book for you.
If, however, you have dabbled in Hemingway and you want a challenge, this is the book for you. If you dig experimental literature, then this is the book for you. If you can stomach violence or you recognize its primacy in the human experience, this book is for you. If you are a socialist, this book is for you. If you hate happy endings, this book is for you.
There're probably other things I can add, but mostly I want to say that this book is for me. (less)
I marvel that this was ever read by more than a thousand people. It is too poetic for the mainstream, too fragmented for easy consumption, and too sen...moreI marvel that this was ever read by more than a thousand people. It is too poetic for the mainstream, too fragmented for easy consumption, and too sensual for those who consider plot the most important part of a novel. This remains one of my three favourite novels because of its poeticism, fragmentation and sensuality.
This time through I decided to read it out loud, and a whole new sensuality exploded into the experience for me. Actually rolling those words and worlds around on my tongue, wheezing my way through the English Patient's tale, letting Kip's Lahore English spill over my teeth, adopting Carravagio's voice as my own, and trying my best to capture Hana for myself (I have the benefit of being mostly Canadian and not having to adjust my accent for the latter two) broadened the sensuality of the book, and not just because the sounds were resounding in my head. I could feel the words filling my lungs, or burning my throat, or passing through my airways in different manners, so that saying the words on the page, those already sensual words, made the sensuality tangible for me.
To feel a book in other ways as I read it and hear it is as near as I come to a holy experience. Words are my church. Michael Ondaatje is my priest. The English Patient is one of my scriptures.
Don't even talk to me about the travesty that is the film. (less)
WARNING: This review probably contains some (but not many) spoilers, so you may not want to read this if you haven’t read Perdido Street Station yet....moreWARNING: This review probably contains some (but not many) spoilers, so you may not want to read this if you haven’t read Perdido Street Station yet. This review also contains plenty of vulgarity. Please don't read this if you do not want to see the "f" and other words. Thanks.
Me reading my review: I decided to read this on SoundCloud, since BirdBrian has turned me into a recorded voice madman. You can listen right here if you'd like.
I fucking hate moths.
Seriously. I hate them. They freak me out. You know how Indiana Jones hates snakes? That's how I hate moths. I hate them so much that the disdain and fear extends to butterflies. I actually made a little girl cry when I was surprised by a butterfly and crushed it between the sole of my shoe and concrete, although I've never been sure if she cried because I squished the moth or because I let loose with the sanguine battle-cry: "DIE FUCKER!"
Moths and butterflies are frightening, fucking horrible, unholy, unnatural, freaks of fucking nature.
I sense you wondering why I feel this way. Well ... I'll tell you.
When I was sixteen years old, I walked out of my bedroom on a Friday night and headed for what I thought was a D&D marathon. Somewhere upstairs my Dad heard my bedroom door closing and yelled down, "Turn off the light." Even back then he was a stickler for energy conservation (but that had everything to do with being a cheap bastard and nothing to do with the environment). I heard him, but I ignored him. My friend Pat was honking for me outside, I had a pack full of D&D gear, and I was in a hurry. I was up the stairs, in my shoes and out the door before anyone could say anything more.
Now I had this fucking bizarre bedroom window. You see, I was and am the lightest sleeper the world has ever seen (even now I have double blacked windows, wear a black eye mask and 33 decibels ear plugs, and I still wake up at even the slightest shift in the air), and to try and buy me some more sleep without hurting the aesthetic of our home (a far more important concern for my Mom than combating my insomnia), my Dad installed a blind whose efficacy required the removal of my window screen. That meant that when my window was open in the summer, which it was the night I was out D&Ding, my room was open to all creatures great and small -- mostly small.
So somewhere between the time I left and the time I came home, my Dad came downstairs to make sure I'd turned off my light. He opened my door, reached for the light switch, turned off the lights, closed the door and went off to bed himself, but not before the light had attracted some fuzzy, beige, fluttering, dusty fucking creatures.
That night we didn't play D&D.
Nope ... that night we ate some mushrooms. My first time on hallucinogens. And what did I do? I invited the creatures of the night into my room. At around 4 a.m., I found myself back at home on the downturn of my trip. I needed to get to my room, put on some chill-out music and a soft light, and just let my cozy room ease me back to reality. I opened my door, closed it, flipped on the light switch and was fucking bombarded by HUNDREDS of moths.
I fucking lost it. I grabbed my squash racket and started killing while I screamed and swore and trashed my room.
There were probably only about a dozen moths in my room, but those shrooms did their job, and I spent the rest of that long morning obsessing about fluttering wings and the claustrophobic feeling of moth dust and guts settling on my skin, in much the same way that dreamshit settles on the minds of sleeping New Crobuzoners.
I am sure that you’ve figured out why I related this story now.
When I first read Perdido Street Station, I was enjoying Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin’s search for crisis energy well enough. The beauty of China Miéville’s prose and the complexity of New Crobuzon made Isaac’s rather pedestrian quest tale, whose goal was providing Yagharek -- the exiled, wingless Garuda -- a way to fly again, a compelling read. Then came the blindside of the Slake Moths, and my enjoyment was transformed into absolute horror, keep-the-lights-on-late-at-night-horror, stomp-all-fluttering-insects-into-the-pavement-horror, fucking-shit-my-pants-at-night-from-nightmares-horror. Miéville dumped the quest and changed the plot and raised the stakes, shifting the tale unexpectedly and fundamentally, and that coupled with the horror of the Slake Moths made me a passionate believer in his writing.
For me, the Slake Moths are the most terrifying creation in literature. Now I know that much of that is the psychology of my good trip gone bad, but when one considers all of my inadvertent personal subtext -- that Mieville’s Slake Moths feed on fear, and induce fear through their droppings, that their shit is sold as an hallucinogenic drug, that they suck the minds of their victims dry with an interdimensional tongue -- well, I hope my passion for the Slake Moths will be forgiven.
But then, I know that my love for Perdido Street Station goes far beyond my drug-induced psychosis. China Miéville’s writing bursts with sensuality, intelligence, politics, social commentary, fierce creativity and a thirst for life that is unparalleled. And those are just some of the reasons his fans love him.
For me, however, my loathing of the order lepidoptra means that Perdido Street Station must and will remain my favourite Miéville, and Slake Moths will continue to excite and haunt the recesses of my mind until I die.(less)
I've read this too many times to give a straight up reaction review, and I feel like any significant writing I might attempt on this book would necess...moreI've read this too many times to give a straight up reaction review, and I feel like any significant writing I might attempt on this book would necessarily become an essay. It's too late at night for that, so maybe next time. Instead, here is what I was thinking this time through:
• I love Frank. I don't mean I love to hate him. I mean I love to love him. And I think it is one of the greatest achievements of Iain Banks' career that he makes me love Frank. I empathize with him as he maintains his Sacrifice Poles and lies in the Bomb Circle and divines the future through The Wasp Factory. I love him so much that I find it very difficult to get all righteous about his three killings.
• Which is worse? Killing your sibling? Killing your cousins? Burning a dog? Burning a flock of sheep? Experimenting on your child(ren)? Blowing up a colony of rabbits? Torturing insects? Turning an already damaged brain to mush? Is there any difference?
• I need to spend more time on the beach.
• Bone is a marvelous piece of anatomy, and skulls are downright beautiful. I would love to bequeath my bones to my children (if they want them) or a medical school rather than being buried or cremated.
• Do I spend too much time reading books?
• I would give anything for one or both of these: 1. for Banks to retell this story, right now, today, from Eric's perspective; 2. for Banks to return to the sparing style of his debut. I want short and powerful all over again.
• I am so glad they've never tried to make this into a movie.
• Water. Fire. Earth. Air. Frank is an elemental being. It's all here, and it's all important.
• I want to see some crazy European company start making Banks toys. A lifesize model of The Wasp Factory. Azad. Damage. Black River. Not to mention the action figures. The potential is amazing.
• I wish I could write like Banks. Next time I read this I am going to buy the audiobook, narrated by the author, and listen to it instead. I want to hear it with the accents intact. (less)
Lolita isn't about murder. Lolita isn't about obsession. Lolita isn't about madness. Lolita isn't even about pedophilia or abuse.
Sure those elements...moreLolita isn't about murder. Lolita isn't about obsession. Lolita isn't about madness. Lolita isn't even about pedophilia or abuse.
Sure those elements are there, but there's skin on the outside of my body, and I can tell you that my largest organ is not what I am about. The same is true for Lolita.
Lolita is a game. It's a chess match by a Russian master. It's an intellectual exercise by a genius. It's an experiment in reader manipulation that's hypothesis is born out. It's references upon references upon references upon references, and it requires multiple PhDs to fully understand (which I know I don't, but I keep trying).
It is one of the greatest novels in the English language and everyone should read it, but if you let yourself be fooled by any of those things that Lolita is not about, Nabokov will have beaten you without a fight, and you won't be doing the master or his book any justice.(less)
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange...more'What's it going to be then, eh?'
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange I'd sobirated from the biblio. I was ready to be tolchocked in my litso, to have my mozg pried out of my gulliver, to feel that sickening drop in the yarbles when falling from a great tower block; I expected to be preached to by that nadmenny veck A. Burgess in all his high goloss; I expected to loathe Alex and all his malenky malchick droogs. But by Bog or God I got something much more horrorshow.
I actually enjoyed A. Burgess's nadsat burble. I found veshches -- like all the ultra violence and razrezzing and oobivatting and twisted radosty -- to be oomily delivered. I ponied where little Alex was coming from and raged against the millicents and infintmins and prestoopniks and bolnoy sophistos that were arrayed against him. I actually guffed and smecked at like many veshches. But I nearly platched at how malenky little Alex saw the error of his ways and looked forward to a life of chai and a zheena and malenky vecks of his own.
But once I viddied the story like once I wanted rookerfuls, and I've returned again and again, both to A. Burgess's book and S. Kubrick's sinny.
A Clockwork Orange is one of the five or six true greats ever govoreeted. The nadsat isn't at all gimmicky. The lomticks of philosophy are compelling and grow in relevance with the passing of raz. And I for one, oh my brothers, will always "remember the little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal."
Now he was a chelloveck of malevolently heroic proportions.(less)
ii. I'm at it again, but this time I opened up my Aubrey-Maturin reread by listening. It took a month of commuting, but it was worth the time and the...moreii. I'm at it again, but this time I opened up my Aubrey-Maturin reread by listening. It took a month of commuting, but it was worth the time and the patience, and though I have gleaned no new insights into Master and Commander, my enjoyment of the audio experience was more than fulfilling enough.
O'Brian wasn't a big fan of the audio versions of his books, nor of the men reading them: “To revert to my ideal reader: he would avoid obvious emotion, italics and exclamation marks like the plague - trying to put life into flat prose is as useful as flogging a dead horse.” As a fan of O'Brian's "flat prose," however, and one who is only coming to the audio books after having read the novels multiple times, the life that his readers bring to the characters is as welcome as a fine Madeira off Gibraltar.
I've long heard that Patrick Tull is the man to listen too when it comes to Aubrey-Maturin books, but my MP3 copy of Master and Commander was read by Simon Vance. I was a little disappointed at first because I wanted to hear and engage with Tull's reported excellence, but once Vance's vocal performance began, once Stephen and Jack were jostling one another during the concert at the Governor's Mansion, I was content.
The voices of Jack and Stephen took some getting used to (and I am not a fan of Vance's Spanish accent), but the range of his vocalizations is quite impressive. And I really enjoyed his narrative voice. It is clear, emotive without being too much so, and he offers a real liveliness during Naval actions. I think my favorite part of his reading, though, was his characterization of First Lieutenant James Dillon. Dillon is an important corner of the first book's Aubrey-Maturin-Dillon triangle, and his presence is key to the love Aubrey and Maturin come to have for one another. Vance captures the subtlety of this, making Dillon likable even when he's being unfair to Jack -- as it should be.
It was such a good experience that I have already purchased Post Captain. Tull may be the best reader of Aubrey-Maturin, but don't be afraid of Vance, especially if you've not heard Tull before, he does a commendable job.
i. When I do finally get around to writing my PhD, I want to do my work on Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series. It offers endless possibilities for critical analysis and even more possibilities for discussion.
One could paint politics, science, sports, warfare, literary allusions, sexuality, manners, and all things naval of Aubrey/Maturin without ever tiring the possibilities, and these are only the broadest strokes. Each of these themes -- and countless others I haven't mentioned -- generate focused areas of specialization that could cover everything from the most general to the most minute.
But when you're rereading Master and Commander (in my case it's the first rereading), most of those concerns take a backseat to the simple strength of O'Brian's vision. Everything you need to know about Lucky Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin takes shape in O'Brian's masterpiece of an inaugural novel, and one wonders how much of O'Brian's twenty and a half books he had in his mind the day he sat down to start writing the story with his pen and paper.
The first book foreshadows the last, and for a series that reaches upwards of 10,000 thousand pages, that level of coherence and depth is a tremendous feat.
We learn of Jack's genius at sea and his social ineptness on land. We learn of his needy ego and unquenchable desire for advancement. We learn of his fierce loyalty and his even fiercer libido. We learn of his pure love for his ships and how that love opens him up to emotional wounding. We're introduced also to nearly every person who will be important to Jack, for good or ill, over the course of his career.
We learn of Stephen's love for naturalism and physic. We learn of his deep loyalty of and care for Jack. We get hints, if we are paying close attention, to his role as a spy and his frighteningly dangerous temper. We are introduced to his loathing of Napoleon and his indifference to King George. We are shown the earliest manifestations of his shipmates' respect for his skills, and his absolute inability to understand anything nautical. We even get a hint that he will never leave Jack's side.
And of course we are introduced to Jack's fiddle, Stephen's cello and Killick's toasted cheese, which are at the heart of what I think is the most compelling component of the Aubrey/Maturin books -- the intimacy between Jack and Stephen.
No matter whom they marry, whom they hate, whom they love, whom they care for, whom they save, whom they kill, they are and will always be the most important people in each others lives; from the moment they bump heads at the concert to the last moment of 21, Aubrey and Maturin are intimates in every emotional sense of the word. They are intimate in a way that Holmes and Watson, Crusoe and Friday, and Jeeves and Wooster never approach. They are as close as two humans can be, and I find myself longing for that companionship. Of course it is impossible, but I can live vicariously through Aubrey/Maturin, and for any man longing for intimacy in a world that denies men intimacy, Master and Commander, and every book that follows, is a boon companion in a lonely world.
Next up: Post Captain...again...and I can't wait. (less)
Twenty winters ago I read Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire for the first time. I read it again just before Neil Jordan's film version came out,...moreTwenty winters ago I read Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire for the first time. I read it again just before Neil Jordan's film version came out, and then I let it slip into the recesses of my personal mythology, only letting the memory of it pop out once in a while for some wistful nostalgia and a vow to read it again.
This year's glut of filmed Vampire adaptations -- HBO's True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books, and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight -- got me longing for a good Vampire fix again, something well written, something weighty, something inventive, something that was targeted for an audience with literary tastes rather than your regular purveyor of pop culture.
The hunt was on.
My mind slipped straight through its familiar fondness for Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and dismissed her work as the wrong place to go to find my fix. After all, can you get more pop-culture than the Vampire Chronicles when you're talking about Vampires (besides the aforementioned)?
So I found myself going to the source of all great Vampire work -- Bram Stoker. I started peeking at Dracula late in the night when the rest of my day was done and the kids were in bed, or after True Blood was finished on the movie channel. Dracula was as excellent as I remembered, but it didn't come close to satisfying my craving.
Earlier this week, though, I found myself looking at my shelves and there, again, was Interview With the Vampire. This time, without a thought, without any hesitation, I picked it up and dove in.
It is not just a piece of pop culture fluff (although it certainly became a pop culture event after its publication). It is a surprisingly well written masterpiece of depth and feeling.
Anne Rice may have written some poor stories before and since Interview With the Vampire, but those stories don’t change the fact that she is a damn good writer (unlike Harris or Meyers who, despite their popularity and entertainment value, are mere hacks in comparison to Rice). Her prose is clear, clean and evocative of emotions and sensations, breathing undeniable life into the story of her undead hero, Louis.
She writes so beautifully about Louis that it is almost impossible not to find oneself believing his story is true. I want there to be a majestically handsome Creole vampire who consciously struggles with the cost of his immortality because of his human beliefs. I want there to be a tormented vampire whose visions of love transcend human morals and concerns, who can love a nihilistic child vampire, a seemingly sadistic master vampire and a brooding but gorgeous male vampire differently but with equal intensity.
And I want there to be a vampire so wrapped up in his own journey of undead discovery that the concerns of human history float past him like a stick sliding unnoticed under a bridge.
Louis feels the world, his world, so richly, loves humans so deeply, thirsts for human creation so intensely that he -- in his interview -- can convey nothing other than his lust for life and all that is living. And that is Rice’s gift to us: the declaration that living life intensely, whatever that life may consist of, is the most important thing we can do.
I think I might have received that message from her twenty years ago, and I’ve been trying to live it ever since. I hope I am alive in twenty more years to revisit Louis and test my living against his call to feel. I wonder how I will have done by then.(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 (although square brackets indicate some additional information for readability) from all those years ago. It is one of my lost reviews.
When I tell others about this novel I talk about Roddy Doyle's voice and how he captures the thought patterns of children so well; I mention certain tales Patrick tells, like the burning of Sinbad's mouth, or the Grand National, but I never mention the connection the novel has with my own life.
Brian [my Dad] never left Chris [my Mom], but my experiences of abuse and my own violent childhood and my need for isolation are all captured in the voice of Paddy. I understand his futile fight with Charlo and his alienating defeat of Kevin. The violence and inner pain have been mine and still make teh occassional appearance. However, the most powerful part of the book his Paddy's confusion concerning his Da. He loves the man, wants to be the man, and fears the man, eventually hating him. I've been there myself. Doyle expresses my experience best. (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.
This review was written in the late nineties (for my eyes only), and it was buried in amongst my things until recently when I uncovered the journal in...moreThis review was written in the late nineties (for my eyes only), and it was buried in amongst my things until recently when I uncovered the journal in which it was written. I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago (although square brackets may indicate some additional information for the sake of readability or some sort of commentary from now). This is one of my lost reviews.
Let's begin as Gibson does: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." That's what Gibson does so well. He is a master of the contemporary image, a visual storyteller tapping into the metaphors and similes of our experience.
Neuromancer is his greatest book.
It is great by any literaty measure of the word. It actually coined the word "cyberspace" and predated that consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation," catalyzing the creation of what we know today as the internet. It provided the inspiration for all cyberpunk that followed. It provided a deep mine for hyperrealist theorists. And it is a damn good story. Neuromancer is a wonder.
But then there are the characters: Case, Molly, Riviera, SJane, The Finn, Julie Deane, Cath the druggy, Armitage/Corso, Ashpool, Linda Lee, Wintermute, and Neuromancer. Indelible characters all. Oops, I nearly forgot Malcolm and the Zion Boys.
It's not a pretty future that Gibson envisages. It's not a terrible future either. But it is the dirty place we're headed.
This book is a masterpiece. Gibson is a prophet. "He never saw Molly again." (less)
The ultimate tale of the ultimate Victorian hero, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a true masterpiece of the mystery genre, and quite possibly remains...moreThe ultimate tale of the ultimate Victorian hero, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a true masterpiece of the mystery genre, and quite possibly remains the finest mystery novel ever produced -- even if its first appearance was serialized in Strand Magazine.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's unforgettable hero Sherlock Holmes matches his wits against what appears to be a centuries old curse and the ghostly hound that exacts vengeance on the Baskerville ancestors for Sir Hugo Baskerville's sadistic misdeeds in the time of Oliver Cromwell.
Of course, (I will try not to spoil it for anyone) the curse turns out to be a classic Victorian crime motivated by money and perpetrated with the application of science to prey on the superstitious nature of a people still getting used to the Industrial Revolution. Classic Victorian crime, indeed. But also classic Holmes.
And this is the best of Holmes.
The action is taut and well drawn, the mystery is compelling, Dr. Watson has a brief spell as the star while Holmes does some hidden work in the moors, the villain is an arrogant cad, and the supporting characters, from the unfortunate escaped convict, Bruce Seldon, to the suspicious Barrymores, round out the perfect population of Victorian archetypes (but it must be remembered that while these archetypes may seem cliche to us today, they would have been fresh and new when Doyle put pen to paper).
There may be better Holmes short stories (I'll always be partial to "A Scandal in Bohemia" and the lovely Irene Adler), but none of the Holmes stories can compete with The Hound of the Baskervilles' breadth and scope. It is the mystery book that all mystery writers aspire to match for greatness, and the mystery book that all mystery readers must read if they are to call themselves fans of the genre.
But let me put genre aside for a second and just say this: The Hound of the Baskervilles is a great mystery novel, yes. But it is also a great novel. One of the best ever written. Period.(less)
I am a huge, unabashed fan of Ken. I love him. I have loved him for years. And this extremely early biography simply made me love him more. I love him...moreI am a huge, unabashed fan of Ken. I love him. I have loved him for years. And this extremely early biography simply made me love him more. I love him so much that if you ask me the question, "Emma or Ken?" My answer is Ken (though I love Emma too).
Beginning took much heat for being precipitous. It came out extremely early in Ken's career, just after his amazing triumph with Henry V, and everyone thought it was dreadfully narcissistic to write an autobiography when he was so damn young. They're probably right. But that arrogance, that self belief, the surprising humility beneath the arrogance, the recognition that it was too much, and the wonderful tale of a young life on the brink of a greatness that would fizzle and remain on the verge for years is just too beautiful to dismiss.
A good portion of the book is taken up with his production diary for Henry V (which is excellent, particularly for anyone interested in some day directing films), but the best parts of the book are the truly autobiographical chapters, which offer unforgettable anecdotes about all of Ken's heroes. These sections made me fall deeply in love with a couple of generations of amazing British actors, and I remain fans of them all to this day. Branagh's marathon runs with Brian Blessed, his awe over the Hamlet recall of Derek Jacobi (the man knows the ENTIRE play by heart), his love for Olivier and Gielgud, his crush on Judi Dench, all of it dazzles, and it is obvious that Branagh was -- and if one considers his body of work he must remain -- as big a fan as he is a colleague of these geniuses.
And you know what, apart from his appallingly shabby rendition of Frankenstein, I remain a massive fan of Branagh's body of work. I loved him most recently in Valkyrie (regardless of my general disappointment in the film) and Wallander, but I really can't think of anything else I've disliked. I know some find his Hamlet overwrought, but I love huge portions of it and like most of the rest (and casting Heston as the Player King is genius). I loved him as Gilderoy Lockhart. I still adore Dead Again. And I don't care what anyone thinks, I love his casting of Keanu as Denzel's brother in Much Ado About Nothing.
You can tell me he sucks. But I'll disagree. You can tell me I am a fool. And I will say you're probably right. But I love Ken. Nothing's going to change that. And I know, at least, that James has my back.
Kenneth Branagh is the King. I can't wait for The Mighty Thor!(less)
A long time ago in a city far, far away, the end of a friendship began over a disagreement about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. D--- was so close to...moreA long time ago in a city far, far away, the end of a friendship began over a disagreement about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. D--- was so close to the material, so desperate to relive the nostalgia of the original trilogy, so deeply invested, that when we left the theatre and I expressed not just my frustration but my rage at what I'd seen, he took it as a personal insult. A slag of his taste (or what he thought I must have been declaring was his lack thereof). A debate raged between us for days. I pointed to inconsistencies with the original trilogy, terrible acting, poor direction, silly errors of Sci-Fi thought (such as describing direction in space as North, South, East and West), etc., etc. He mostly denied the existence of these problems, and when he couldn't deny their existence he tried to rationalize them. What he didn't do, however, was simply embrace the fact that he loved the story because he WANTED to love the story.
I said, "Well you can love the stories all you want, just don't pretend they are good." I think that hurt him even more.
Since those days I have kept a weather eye open for cases when my own love of a movie or TV series or book could become an inadvertent source for personal pain and imagined insult. I’ve come across a couple of minor examples, both giving me an opportunity to re-evaluate, and in once case change, my opinion of the works in question. And because I was vigilant, I was quickly able to escape the negative feelings that came along with the disagreement.
A third instance appeared this month when I reread Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. I have long held off rereading this book, worried that it would diminish my love, but the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club was reading it for August, and I was sucked into being the discussion leader. My worries were unfounded. I loved it even more this time through. But it felt like I was the only one, and I endured a month of irrational frustration and hurt at the unwitting hands of my group friends.
In my head, I knew I shouldn’t be taking things personally, but I couldn’t help feeling angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed and insulted by the opinions of others. Hell, I was even hurt by the relative silence of people whose opinions I rate highly. I figured their silence must be tacit dislike of the book. Why else were they staying quiet? See. Irrational.
Everything was conspiring against me in that discussion, but through it all I tried to stay neutral and lead the discussion with as little interference or personal opinion as possible.
Now that that’s off my chest, I can get to Red Mars. My personal issues turned out to be a good thing in this case. I was reading criticism of one of my favourite books while I was rereading it, and that criticism made me open my mind to the possibility that my feelings about the book were entirely emotional rather than intellectual. I genuinely opened myself up to that possibility, and I can honestly say that my feelings come from both places. I love this book for personal reasons, but I also love this book because it is Sc-Fi of the highest order.
KSR does so many things right in Red Mars. His vision of the near future was and is believable (he even manages to look into post-Soviet Russian culture with a measure of accuracy). His science is excellent (albeit occasionally compressed or fudged to further the story). His new novella narrative is wonderfully effective, allowing us to look deeply into six of his main characters -- Frank Chalmers, MayaToitovna, Nadia Chernyshevski, Michel Duval, John Boone, and Ann Clayborne – as we follow the colonization of Mars from their perspectives. But this also allows us to dig more deeply into other important characters, like Arkady, Phyllis, Saxifrage, Coyote, Hiroko and Mars itself, giving us multiple perspectives on these important people from the very different perspectives of the people they love or hate. His descriptions of Mars are beautiful. His political and philosophical thought is engaging. And his vision for the potential colonization of Mars, and what that might mean for Earth, is totally plausible.
I can see how some – and maybe all – of these things could rub a reader the wrong way. I can see how someone could walk away not liking Red Mars. And I can accept that even if it hurts me (because I love all of those things), it is really not personal. But what I can’t accept is the assertion that KSR is a crappy author.
To my mind, this book proves his brilliance. I think I will stop now (can you tell that this review didn’t go at all the way I had planned?) (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.
It's a feeling I can't quite place, a feeling I can't pinpoint, but I feel The Eye in the Door is a more enjoyable book, although less literary, than Regeneration. Still, I will try here to point out a few elements that stand out in my mind.
First, I love Prior's struggle with the dissociative state. His slipping into fugue states, and the resulting loss of memmory, adds a tinge of fear and menace to the story that makes me more emotionally involved. Second, I enjoy Barker's handling of betrayal in a torn society. Third is the wonderful way in which Barker deals with homosexuality in WWI-era Britain. Fourth, and maybe the most important, is the imagery of WWI warfare. When we hear Manning's story of the soldier slipping into the mud of a foxhole, it makes me feel weak and privileged in my relatively safe late 20th Century society.
This book challenges me, and I love being challenged. (less)
One lick less. One lick less. It sticks with you, that sound, as does this book, and there ain't no escaping the feelin's it conjures. I couldn't slee...moreOne lick less. One lick less. It sticks with you, that sound, as does this book, and there ain't no escaping the feelin's it conjures. I couldn't sleep while reading the Bundrens' tale again. I dunno if the book's t'blame. But I kept hearin' one lick less, one lick less. I'm still hearin' it. (less)