On every excruciating page of this around Europe and Asia whine-fest, I wanted to shake your self-righteouPaul Theroux...you are a miserable bastard.
On every excruciating page of this around Europe and Asia whine-fest, I wanted to shake your self-righteous little New England prick shoulders and beat some enjoyment into your crabby-bastardness.
The trains are late or crowded or smelly -- waaaaah!
The food is crappy or elsewhere or non-existent -- waaaaah! waaaaah!
The service is poor or sarcastic or requiring bribes (sorry..."baksheesh." Boy are you ever cool and in the know) -- waaaaah! waaaaah! fucking waaaaah!
Get over it, Paul. You left your family for a four month excursion on the railways of the world, a trip I would die to experience, and you're busy pissing and moaning about having to experience the very thing you were on the tracks to experience -- life.
Where is your joy? Where is your excitement at hanging out with literary cats that are far more talented than you? Where's your sense of adventure? Wrapped up in the fucking books you were reading, that's where. How could you sit through Afghanistan and Russia and everywhere else with your nose in Dickens, shunning all but the most obnoxious Anglo-Saxon company? How?! (the answer probably has something to do with the fact that you're a Dickens fan, actually, but I digress).
I can't believe that The Great Railway Bazaar -- this piece of excruciating chauvinistic, Cold War, holier-than-thou trash -- is one of the essential works of travel literature. But it is. And I suppose that's why you're Paul Theroux, and I'm not.
Silly me for thinking that travel literature was supposed to be about the the joy of flirting with something beyond my experience, enjoying other people enjoying life, but what do I know? I haven't traveled on the rails of the world like you have. Maybe the whole world does suck, just as you say, and the only good travel literature is that which is misanthropic.
If that's the case, Mr. Theroux...YOU are the master. ...more
My entire review could be this: Phillip Pullman's "The Amber Spyglass" is one of the poorest closing books of a trilogy ever written.
But I feel compeMy entire review could be this: Phillip Pullman's "The Amber Spyglass" is one of the poorest closing books of a trilogy ever written.
But I feel compelled to continue. At one point, I actually stopped reading "The Amber Spyglass," put it down and vowed not to finish, but I wanted to be able to slag off the book with authority, so finishing became a must. And I even had a slight hope that Pullman could save his series
I did finish, but it never got any better.
Mulefa? Gallivespians? Iorek Byrnison fixing the incredibly fragile subtle knife? The knife breaking at all? Mrs. Coulter continuing to live? The incredible coincidence of everyone meeting the same Cittàgazze kids? It was all too much, and it only got worse as the book went on.
Thematically it was equally frustrating. There has been so much talk about Pullman's anti-religiosity, but the most offensive part of The Amber Spyglass is Pullman's portrayal of women. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Pullman is a misogynist , but he does seem to have a poor understanding of women.
The five main women in "His Dark Materials" are a catalogue of feminine stereotypes. Lyra, as her name so clumsily suggests, is a consummate liar, who eventually becomes a moony-eyed, love sick teen, subordinating herself to her lover Will. Mrs. Coulter is a manipulative femme fatale whose only hint of goodness is her inexplicable maternal instinct. Mary Malone is the pure ex-nun full of kindness and curiosity, blessedly open to all new things. Seraphina Pekkala, the loyal witch, is the classic "heart of gold" character (usually she'd be a whore with a heart of gold, but in a kids book witch with a heart of gold will do). Then there is Mrs. Parry, Will's mom, and her madness (other women appear in the story more, but they're not as important as Will's mom). There are few if any shades of gray in these women, and as the book drew ever nearer the close I found myself hoping desperately for the women to do something unexpected. My wish went unfulfilled.
Maddening, frustrating, and a great disappointment because of what it promised, China Mieville got it right when he made his list of 50 books every good Marxist should read and said, "in book three, 'The Amber Spyglass,' something goes wrong. It has excellent bits, it is streets ahead of its competition… but there's sentimentality, a hesitation, a formalism, which lets us down."
On second thought, Mieville was too nice. "The Amber Spyglass" should be avoided like a plate of raw chicken meat on a hot African day. Read "The Golden Compass" and skip the rest. Period....more
It's not at all difficult to pinpoint Salvatore's biggest problem: his elementary views of good and evil. I have pointed out in previous reviews of his work that the way he structures good and evil is inherently racist, but I don't think I have yet talked about how his views undermine the "goodness" of Drizzt. We are told over and over that Drizzt is internally good, maybe even the best, regardless of springing from the Realms' most evil race. We are told and told and told again, as though Salvatore believes that that will be enough to make it so. We are also faced with the never ending stream of moral debates Drizzt has with himself, which offer an illusion of character depth, but Salvatore undermines Drizzt's potential depth over and over by allowing Drizzt to commit questionable acts without any reflection upon what he's done -- particularly when it comes to killing. Sure, Drizzt reflects on some of his acts, but if the being he is fighting is a "monster" -- thus inherently evil -- Drizzt rarely gives his actions a second thought.
Consider the scene in Streams of Silver when the companions wade into a battle between some "riders" and some "creatures" along the Surbrin river. All the companions hear is the sounds of battle. They then see the Riders doing poorly in a battle against creatures that "resembled little trees, though undeniably animated, running about wildly, whacking with their clublike arms." That's enough for Wulfgar and Drizzt and Breunor. The trio wade in and save the poor Riders, decimating the ranks of the "little trees" without even a second thought. And even when the battle is complete no one even hints at remorse; instead, they are all indignant that the Riders they saved demand Drizzt, the scary "black elf," leave their lands and never return.
Poor Drizzt is being judged by his appearance rather than by his actions. Oh how terrible for him. How terrible the world is. How unfair. And all of this is implied to be proof that Drizzt is good. He saved the riders from death and that "kindness" meant nothing to those he saved. But boy is he ever good.
Yet isn't that precisely what the companions did with the "little trees"? The trees were not "human" or humanoid. They were "monsters," "creatures," so they were evil and deserved death. Not only is that what Salvatore wants us to believe, but it is what he himself believes in direct opposition to his own writing. He preaches and preaches that one cannot judge a being by his skin, and then Drizzt does that very thing without missing a beat. Has Drizzt learned nothing? His actions within the books suggest he has learned very little, although his philosophical interjections and Salvatore's narrative commentary would lead us to believe something else entirely.
Even if the trees were "monsters," even if they were completely evil, the action of the moment should have given at least Drizzt pause. To begin with, the companions slept within running distance of these "monsters" all night without being molested. Moreover, these "little trees...weren't unthinking beasts," and they were making this area their home. They had even built "a ramshackle bridge of logs" over the river. Which means that the Riders were the aggressors. It was the riders who came into the territory of the "little trees" and attacked them, and it was the more mobile riders who could have fled the scene had they chose. But somehow Drizzt has no pangs of guilt for helping slaughter these "little trees." Not even a moment to consider what he had done. Clearly, Salvatore falls short when it comes to the message he is trying to deliver. Very short indeed.
If this weren't enough to lower The Legend of Drizzt in one's estimation, then the crappy plot devices and blatant stupidity of supposedly intelligent characters should be. Why on earth would Sydney stop Bok from digging through the rubble to reach Drizzt? Because of the aforementioned reasons and both are unacceptable. First, Sydney stops Bok because Salvatore needs to leave Drizzt to Entreri; it is a plot device and a poor one at that. With a little imagination and work, Salvatore surely could have found another way to avoid Bok digging through the rocks that didn’t include the second answer to my question: Sydney becoming an idiot. She had shown herself to be the intellectual equal of Entreri throughout the novel, but suddenly her brain ceases to work. If Drizzt is actually dead under the pile and Sydney’ s master, Dendybar, has told her he is looking for the Crystal Shard, the wisest course of action is to let Bok dig up the body so she can claim the Shard and take it home. And if he doesn’t have the shard she can hunt down Drizzt’s companions later. Her decision to stop Bok is unsupportable; and the fact that he did stop is too. Salvatore tells us time and again that the golem is mindless, that it is programmed to do one thing -- find Drizzt -- and that it will not always listen to Sydney’s commands. With Drizzt only feet away through a pile of rocks, Bok would not have stopped digging. This is just one example of Salvatore’s sloppiness, but it is a hallmark of his writing. In fact, in all five of the first books something like this has occurred.
Finally, as a veteran D&D man, I have to say I loathe the Monty Hall feeling of Salvatore’s books. For those unfamiliar with this usage of “Monty Hall,”* it is the way gamers often describe heroes or campaigns that go beyond the ability to suspend one’s disbelief. It is a derogatory term gamers will often use against other gamers whose characters haven’t earned their experience and are somehow capable of impossible things. Impossible things like, say, running for four days and nights while being hunted by trolls in a nasty, endless, bogland and finally killing upwards of a hundred trolls in battle after battle with no serious wounds. Quite simply, Breunor, Drizzt and Wulfgar are too tough. And that makes the books absolutely laughable on top of their already serious flaws.
It makes me wonder how anyone likes Salvatore. Seriously? I don't get it. And the fact that there are people out there who actually believe the Drizzt books are better than installments of Dragonlance rocks my opinion of the general intelligence of readers to the core.
Drizzt sucks. It’s not even debatable.
But, yes, despite that, I will finish the series -- if only so I can point to everything that is wrong with the series when its lovers puke their emotional overstatements of its greatness all over my shirt.
*see comments for a discussion of this term. ...more
To begin with, Rob MacGregor betrays the character of Indiana Jones. His Indiana is not just healthily skeptical, he’s idiotic. Imagine if Dana Scully had continued as a total unbeliever past the first season of X-Files. Well that is Indiana Jones in the Interior World. No matter how much evidence he is presented with, not matter how many mythical creatures he bumps into, no matter how much time and space he traverses, Indy believes in nothing until the last possible second. And when he does believe the new evidence is simply not strong enough for his total transformation.
But the book doesn’t just fail as an Indiana Jones novel, it fails as a work of fiction. It is a morass of cliché and silliness. It is an author trying to be clever and failing. It is an author wasting our time and his.
I had to finish so that I could write this review with a clear conscience, but I wish now that I had never read Indiana Jones and the Interior World. Do yourself a favour and stay away -- far, far away....more
I freely admit that my disdain for The Da Vinci Code is my own personal backlash over its popularity.
Dan Brown isn't a terrible writer, despite facinI freely admit that my disdain for The Da Vinci Code is my own personal backlash over its popularity.
Dan Brown isn't a terrible writer, despite facing that charge from many experienced readers. He has a likable style, and he drives the pace of the book relentlessly, which is exactly what one would want from a pulpy adventure that one can take to the beach.
Likewise, the charge that The Da Vinci Code is somehow a failure because it is in any way inaccurate or unbelievable is unfair. The story is fiction, after all, and one should expect to have his/her credulity stretched, especially when reading pulp that is written with the screen in mind (as The Da Vinci Code surely was).
I even enjoyed the Sunday afternoon it took me to read The Da Vinci Code. It was an absolute waste of time and exactly what I wanted to be doing, sitting on a comfy sofa, drinking tea and reading about self-flagellating albino monks (and other fun things).
I've given many books that are just as good as The Da Vinci Code and even some that are worse three stars, and I meant every star. The truth is that on its own merits, I'd have given The Da Vinci Code a similar rating if not for a repeated experience that led to my backlash.
At the beginning of every semester, in a bid to get to know my students better, I play a memory game wherein the students provide me with their favourite things (books, food, music) and some personal details (people they hate, people they love, things they are proud of), then I connect something about them, something that stands out for me, with their name. It is a good start in getting to know the students, but it has also led to my hatred for Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
A good half of the students that enter my courses declare that they don't have favourite books, and/or they've only ever read three books in their lives -- two involuntary (both assigned by an English teacher, and always seeming to include To Kill a Mockingbird) and one voluntary (The Da Vinci Code). What pisses me off most is that even if these people liked The Da Vinci Code, Brown's novel didn't spur them on to read more. They read the The Da Vinci Code, enjoyed it or didn't, then went back to their reading apathy.
Moreover, if I could convince people to read one book voluntarily, one book for their pleasure, it would not be ANY cheesy, pulpy, low grade adventure story. It's like pouring a glass of $9 dollar wine for a person who is trying wine for the first time. They may enjoy the glass, but they're not going to choose wine as their alcohol of choice based on Fortant de France.
And for that reason, I hate The Da Vinci Code. It is the cheap wine that keeps people away from the joy of good wine, and while I admit that it is the fault of popular culture rather than Dan Brown, each reader I find who stops at The Da Vinci Code makes me hate the book a little bit more....more
**spoiler alert** WARNING: This is not a strict book review, but rather a meta-review of what reading this book led to in my life. Please avoid readin**spoiler alert** WARNING: This is not a strict book review, but rather a meta-review of what reading this book led to in my life. Please avoid reading this if you're looking for an in depth analysis of Anna Karenina. Thanks. I should also mention that there is a big spoiler in here, in case you've remained untouched by cultural osmosis, but you should read my review anyway to save yourself the trouble.
I grew up believing, like most of us, that burning books was something Nazis did (though, of course, burning Disco records at Shea stadium was perfectly fine). I believed that burning books was only a couple of steps down from burning people in ovens, or that it was, at least, a step towards holocaust.
If I heard the words "burning books" or "book burning," I saw Gestapo, SS and SA marching around a mountainous bonfire of books in a menacingly lit square. It's a scary image: an image of censorship, of fear mongering, of mind control -- an image of evil. So I never imagined that I would become a book burner.
That all changed the day Anna Karenina, that insufferable, whiny, pathetic, pain in the ass, finally jumped off the platform and killed herself.
That summer I was performing in Shakespeare in the Mountains, and I knew I'd have plenty of down time, so it was a perfect summer to read another 1,000 page+ novel. I'd read Count of Monte Cristo one summer when I was working day camps, Les Miserable one summer when I was working at a residential camp, and Shogun in one of my final summers of zero responsibility. A summer shifting back and forth between Marc Antony in Julius Caesar and Pinch, Antonio and the Nun (which I played with great gusto, impersonating Terry Jones in drag) in Comedy of Errors, or sitting at a pub in the mountains while I waited for the matinee to give way to the evening show, seemed an ideal time to blaze through a big meaty classic. I narrowed the field to two by Tolstoy: War and Peace and Anna Karenina. I chose the latter and was very quickly sorry I did.
I have never met such an unlikable bunch of bunsholes in my life (m'kay...I admit it...I am applying Mr. Mackey's lesson. You should see how much money I've put in the vulgarity jar this past week). Seriously. I loathed them all and couldn't give a damn about their problems. By the end of the first part I was longing for Anna to kill herself (I'd known the ending since I was a kid, and if you didn't and I spoiled it for you, sorry. But how could you not know before now?). I wanted horrible things to happen to everyone. I wanted Vronsky to die when his horse breaks its back. I wanted everyone else to die of consumption like Nikolai. And then I started thinking of how much fun it would be to rewrite this book with a mad Stalin cleansing the whole bunch of them and sending them to a Gulag (in fact, this book is the ultimate excuse for the October Revolution (though I am not comparing Stalinism to Bolshevism). If I'd lived as a serf amongst this pack of idiots I'd have supported the Bolshies without a second thought).
I found the book excruciating, but I was locked in my life long need to finish ANY book I started. It was a compulsion I had never been able to break, and I had the time for it that summer. I spent three months in the presence of powerful and/or fun Shakespeare plays and contrasted those with a soul suckingly unenjoyable Tolstoy novel, and then I couldn't escape because of my own head. I told myself many things to get through it all: "I am missing the point," "Something's missing in translation," "I'm in the wrong head space," "I shouldn't have read it while I was living and breathing Shakespeare," "It will get better."
It never did. Not for me. I hated every m'kaying page. Then near the end of the summer, while I was sitting in the tent a couple of hours from the matinee (I remember it was Comedy of Errors because I was there early to set up the puppet theatre), I finally had the momentary joy of Anna's suicide. Ecstasy! She was gone. And I was almost free. But then I wasn't free because I still had the final part of the novel to read, and I needed to get ready for the show, then after the show I was heading out to claim a campsite for an overnight before coming back for an evening show of Caesar. I was worried I wouldn't have time to finish that day, but I read pages whenever I found a free moment and it was looking good.
Come twilight, I was through with the shows and back at camp with Erika and my little cousin Shaina. The fire was innocently crackling, Erika was making hot dogs with Shaina, so I retreated to the tent and pushed through the rest of the book. When it was over, I emerged full of anger and bile and tossed the book onto the picnic table with disgust. I sat in front of the fire, eating my hot dogs and drinking beer, and that's when the fire stopped being innocent. I knew I needed to burn this book.
I couldn't do it at first. I had to talk myself into it, and I don't think I could have done it at all if Erika hadn't supported the decision. She'd lived through all of my complaining, though, and knew how much I hated the book (and I am pretty sure she hated listening to my complaints almost as much). So I looked at the book and the fire. I ate marshmallows and spewed my disdain. I sang Beatles songs, then went back to my rage, and finally I just stood up and said "M'kay it!"
I tossed it into the flames and watched that brick of a book slowly twist and char and begin to float into the night sky. The fire around the book blazed high for a good ten minutes, the first minute of which was colored by the inks of the cover, then it tumbled off its prop log and into the heart of the coals, disappearing forever. I cheered and danced and exorcised that book from my system. I felt better. I was cleansed of my communion with those whiny Russians. And I vowed in that moment to never again allow myself to get locked into a book I couldn't stand; it's still hard, but I have put a few aside.
Since the burning of Anna Karenina there have been a few books that have followed it into the flames. Some because I loved them and wanted to give them an appropriate pyre, some because I loathed them and wanted to condemn them to the fire. I don't see Nazis marching around the flames anymore either. I see a clear mountain night, I taste bad wine and hot dogs, I hear wind forty feet up in the tops of the trees, I smell the chemical pong of toxic ink, and I feel the relief of never having to see Anna Karenina on my bookshelf again.
Not at all disturbing, not at all compelling and not at all interesting, Jose Saramago's Blindness only succeeds in frustrating readers who take a momNot at all disturbing, not at all compelling and not at all interesting, Jose Saramago's Blindness only succeeds in frustrating readers who take a moment to let their imagination beyond the page. Yes, Saramago's story is a clever idea, and, yes, he creates an intentional allegory to force us to think about the nature of humanity, but his ideas are clearly those of a privileged white male in a privileged European nation. Not only do his portrayals of women and their men fall short of the mark, but Saramago has clearly never had to fend for himself in the world. If he did, he'd realize that there were a thousand easy answers to the dilemmas he created for his characters, and he could have then focused more on the internal filth of their souls than the external excrement of their bodies. Blindness is not worthy of a Nobel Winner....more
A painful beast of a book. It took me five attempts to get past page one hundred, and when I finally did break that barrier I pressed on until the verA painful beast of a book. It took me five attempts to get past page one hundred, and when I finally did break that barrier I pressed on until the very end so that I didn't have to suffer ever again.
Dickens is a problem for me. I admit it freely.
There was a time, many years ago, when I was a fan. I read Great Expectations for the first time in grade four, and I was in love with the book and Dickens. And I imagine that some part of my social consciousness, which wasn't a gift from my parents, was planted with the seeds of Dickens.
Over the years, though, Dickens and I have grown apart.
I don't mean that I have "outgrown" him in any sort of condescending manner. It's not the sort of thing I expect anyone else to do, nor is it something that I blame fully on Dickens. No, we've grown apart as many couples do when one person changes through life and experience and the other remains constant.
I have become a radical over the years, and Dickens...well, he's still as bourgeois left as ever, and we're not compatible any more. He venerates the comforts of the middle class; he expounds the virtues of law and order and charity; he attacks the indignities of the abuses of power but only offers imaginary methods for overcoming them, mythologizing the bourgeoisie's ability to overthrow the things that ail us; he vilifies those who seek more radical solutions; and, whether he admits it or not, he still believes in the superiority of nobility and noble blood.
So when he starts to attack the revolutionaries in Paris and uses it to illustrate the "superiority" of civilized English behavior, when Dickens' moral soapbox weighs heavier than his plot, I begin to tune out of his lecture, and A Tale of Two Cities makes me increasingly angry from page to page.
I recognize Dickens' talent. I still love his prose. And I get why people love this book, and maybe even why you do, kind reader, but I can't stand it (and I am finding it increasingly difficult to like any of his work anymore).
I may burn this someday. But I have fully annotated the version I own and while I can burn the words of others (it's the radical in me), my lovely inner narcissist simply can't burn words of my own (unless it is for catharsis). So A Tale of Two Cities will likely survive on my shelf until I die, mocking me from its high perch in my office, whispering that a catharsis that may never come just may be necessary....more