Twenty years since I first read this. The re-read holds up my opinion that Dracula can't hold a candle to Frankenstein in terms of overall quality. Th...moreTwenty years since I first read this. The re-read holds up my opinion that Dracula can't hold a candle to Frankenstein in terms of overall quality. That said, I didn't have the same problems with the book's pacing this time round that I did originally. The first time I read the book, I felt the first half was excellent - right up until Lucy dies. After that, the book became an unbearable slog. This time, I found the second half more lively than the first. Why, I can't say. The book could definitely be shorter, though. If you took away all the (human) characters' continual gushing to each other about what good friends they are, it would be a novella. Then if you took away all of Van Helsing's needlessly cryptic blathering it would be a short story.
There are moments of greatness, however, and that's why we remember it. The opening section of Harker in Transylvania is magnificent. The log of the doomed crew of the Demeter is sublime. Dracula's absence for the majority of the book is maddening, but his eventual appearance in Mina's bedroom is appropriately shocking and well worth the wait. And then there's Stoker's most brilliant creation of all: Renfield. The sympathetic loony who's somehow linked to Dracula's mind is the novel's most conflicted, most unreliable, and most interesting character. Overall, the book was well worth slogging through again.
(And the fact that it came free with my new Nook didn't hurt.)(less)
I think what every author probably hopes for most is that people will keep reading them after they're gone. In all the tributes to Ray Bradbury, peopl...moreI think what every author probably hopes for most is that people will keep reading them after they're gone. In all the tributes to Ray Bradbury, people keep name-checking Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, but the one I'm going back to (and a great read for summer) is Dandelion Wine.
"It was a day as perfect as the flame of a candle."
The year is 1928, the place is Green Town, Illinois, and the eyes are those of Douglas Spaulding, age 12. Every day of June, July, and August gets pressed and bottled away, not to mention written down on Douglas's yellow note pad in his lists of Ceremonies and Revelations. It begins with the boy's realization that he is truly, truly alive, and leads to the day when he faces the idea that eventually he will die.
This must have been one hell of a tricky book to write, and I'm not sure that anyone but Bradbury could have pulled it off. Dandelion Wine is, in my mind, nothing less than a meditation on Happiness. That's a topic that most writers, especially "serious" ones, might treat with scorn, cynicism, or as an exercise in futility. Bradbury looks it right in the face, admits that there is such a thing, and that it can be found - it just can't be forced. You've just got to let it happen.
What makes the book work (and keeps it from descending into a swamp of nostalgia) is that death is always present, usually lurking around the margins but sometimes knocking politely on the door and once in a while leaping out of the bushes to yell, "Boo!" Life is tenuous, and Bradbury doesn't deny it. He merely shows that sadness and death don't detract from life's beauty, they just make you sit up and take notice.
And this review just turned into some kind of devotional. Sorry about that. Anyway, Dandelion Wine is my vote for best Bradbury book. So there. (less)
Well, that was cool. Having seen umpteen bazillion variations of Sherlock Holmes in film, TV, and literary pastiche, it's pretty much impossible to co...moreWell, that was cool. Having seen umpteen bazillion variations of Sherlock Holmes in film, TV, and literary pastiche, it's pretty much impossible to come at the original source material "cold," and yet A Study in Scarlet still managed to surprise me.
Even with the recent Cumberbatch and Downey Jr. versions fresh in my mind, the Holmes my brain defaults to is Jeremy Brett. Doyle's Holmes in this first novel is younger than any of those, except possibly Cumberbatch, and his arrogance isn't nearly as abrasive as is usually portrayed nowadays (although from a rigid Victorian standpoint, it may have been shocking). He seems to be a pretty clear cut manic-depressive, though Doyle never uses those exact words (I doubt anyone did yet at the time).
So what's surprising? First, I was amazed how many elements of this story were reused in "A Study in Pink," the first episode of the current TV iteration, although twisted and turned all out of the original context. Also, it was pretty unexpected when the mystery is solved halfway through the story - then Doyle makes a literary u-turn, backs up twenty years, and retells all events of the mystery from the point of view of the perpetrator and a few other characters. Where the story really begins and who the most villainous characters are I won't say, but it was something of a shock for a novel I'd expected to stay rooted in ye merrie olde England.
I guess I'm committed now. Thank goodness these stories are all available free from Feedbooks. On to The Sign of the Four!(less)
The second Sherlock Holmes novel is already sliding into formula - Holmes investigates crime, solves it almost immediately but doesn't tell anyone jus...moreThe second Sherlock Holmes novel is already sliding into formula - Holmes investigates crime, solves it almost immediately but doesn't tell anyone just so he can be a smart-alec, hunts down culprit, and then we veer into an extended section depicting the criminal's story from his own point of view. While in A Study in Scarlet this latter section took up a full half of the novel, in the sequel it wisely only takes up a single chapter.
Still, my problem with this one is that the problem Sherlock solves doesn't really seem all that difficult, and therefore there's no real suspense and no "a-ha!" moment at the end. More interesting here are the subplot of Watson's romance with the story's "wronged woman" and the revelation that Holmes is a coke-fiend. I'd heard about his drug use in the original stories, but I'd always assumed that it was something subtly alluded to and not this blatant: the book begins with Holmes shooting up, and ends with him about to do the same. Not that I'm complaining, mind you - I like my heroes with flaws, and this is a big one.
This book also shows quite a bit of racism on Conan Doyle's part in his depiction of the monstrous "black savage" from the Andaman Islands. It's also worth noting that even though the villain they capture in the end is white, every single murder in the story is committed by Indian Seikhs or the islander, Tonga. There's also a healthy dose of arrogant British colonialism in Doyle's depiction of the Great Mutiny, although some of that could be excused because he was relating the events from a criminal's point of view.(less)
An interesting collection of mostly 19th Century fairy stories with a few "weird" tales of the era thrown in, but for the most part this anthology is...moreAn interesting collection of mostly 19th Century fairy stories with a few "weird" tales of the era thrown in, but for the most part this anthology is only enjoyable from an academic perspective.
These stories have not aged well. Most are trite, precious, wooden, and overly moralistic. Only a handful are genuinely good ("Black Heart and White Heart" by H. Rider Haggard and "Chu-bu and Sheemish" by Lord Dunsany are the best) but several are completely unreadable.(less)