This is a tough one to review because it is at times a page turner (though it is more Sidney Sheldon than Charles Dickens) but there are just so manyThis is a tough one to review because it is at times a page turner (though it is more Sidney Sheldon than Charles Dickens) but there are just so many issues with it including:
1. The protagonist of the story is a teenage boy (it is kind of a weird coming of age story) and the author of the book is female and she has no clue how to write from the perspective of a teenage boy. His thoughts and actions are so unrealistic that through the whole novel I felt like the character should have been a girl (and that has nothing to do with a pseudo-gay scene). Trust me, I was a teenage boy, my friends were teenage boys, nothing about the character speaks teenage boy. The author is unable to even remotely capture the right voice here (and she might try reading something like Skippy Dies where the voice of a modern teenage boy is done very well).
2. I call this the Gilmore Girls phenomenon where teens are made to talk like adults and make obscure cultural references to things that happened way before their time that they just would never make. For instance, near the end of the book when the protagonist is in his early 20s (and the book supposedly takes place in modern times, more on that later) he refers to a girlfriend of his as Carole Lombard. Really? A 20-something male in his early 20s sometime in the 2000s is going to use Carole Lombard as his reference for a girlfriend? Um, no. Not going to happen, ever. And there are plenty more references like that in the book.
3. Speaking of when the story takes place, it is all sort of wrong. The protagonist makes reference to when he was 12 which would have been 10+ years in the past from the publish date of 2013 and yet he makes references to Blackberries and I believe iPhones which didn't exist back then. So either the story takes place 5 or so years in the future, or the timing of it is just a bit askew. I know, this isn't really that relevant to the plot or the ideas but it is lazy.
4. The protagonist is not particularly likeable, even before the main event "changes him." He's a brat and doesn't get any more likeable as the book goes on.
5. I ran in to the term manic pixie dream girl in a movie review once and the two most vivid female characters in the novel (the mother and lifelong crush) fit this to a T. It's almost comical. The character of the mother makes no sense at all in that she is the perfect beautiful intelligent artsy quirky woman loved by everyone and yet despite all of that married the exact opposite and is leading a humdrum life. Meh. It's plausible, but still a little bizarre.
All of that said, the last twenty or so pages sort of redeemed themselves. Not sure who I'd recommend this to, but it's OKish....more
Hmmm. I really thought this would be better, but then again, I haven't read anything by Thomas Wolfe since high school and I haven't read his fictionHmmm. I really thought this would be better, but then again, I haven't read anything by Thomas Wolfe since high school and I haven't read his fiction (only his non-fiction-ish books), so maybe that's on me.
It's pretty simple though: This book reads like a popular novel, pseudo-page turner, New York Times best seller type book, but nothing more than that. It was like watching a TV show compared to reading Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet which I read just prior to this. Simplistic, stereo-typical, telegraphed, and all with a catchy theme-song (ok, maybe not that last one). It just seemed like the characters were caricatures and overly one dimensional.
As for the writing, it was lively but the trick of using repetitive phrases to drive home points felt off base. How many times did Wolfe have to have the main character refer to himself as a "Master of the Universe?" In the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (which I thought was great when I read it as a 17 year old), Wolfe repeated the word "further" throughout the book (if I remember correctly) to drive the story, but when he does it here with "Master of the Universe" it just feels lazy and overdone. We get it, the protagonist thinks he is above the law/civilization, yawn.
Anyway, this is a decent beach book, and maybe a good snapshot of the Reagan 1980s, but it's no more than that. The ending being gray and not really an ending is disappointing and feels like a cop out, I get it, maybe that's kind of the point, but closure isn't a bad thing either....more
This book is Bolano-esque and that is as high praise as I can give something. The plot is not only detailed and intricate, but like Bolano, Durrell waThis book is Bolano-esque and that is as high praise as I can give something. The plot is not only detailed and intricate, but like Bolano, Durrell was a poet so the language, tone, and feel of the book are equal to the plot.
The Alexandria Quartet is really four novels put together (hence the word "Quartet" in the title, funny how that works out) and each of the novels is a slightly different perspective/take on the overall story and each serves to peel away a bit more of the onion (it's not quite as innovative as Bolano's 2666 where each of the five books was written in a completely different style as well as from a different viewpoint, but it is still very different from a typical novel). It's all very well done and makes no sense to me why this isn't a much more well known piece of literature.
The plot revolves around intrigue among writers, spies, vagrants, politicians, and the fashionable crowd in Alexandria, Egypt mostly before World War II and then goes on to deal with the war, but it's really a story of human desire and deception with complex characters who are never quite what they seem to be and the story gets flipped on it's head several times so you never quite know what is coming next or what each character's real motives are. It's rich, layered, engaging, and poetic. What more could you want?...more
Not one of Roth's greatest pieces of fiction but a decent quick read. It felt a bit Operation Shylock-y at times for some reason (which is good). OverNot one of Roth's greatest pieces of fiction but a decent quick read. It felt a bit Operation Shylock-y at times for some reason (which is good). Overall a fine short book....more
Fante is probably the best little known writer of the 20th century, which is a shame because books like the Brotherhood of the Grape are quite enjoyabFante is probably the best little known writer of the 20th century, which is a shame because books like the Brotherhood of the Grape are quite enjoyable. In the novel, Fante takes the reader on a rollicking and somewhat absurd journey while at the same time letting everyone know that life sucks.
The novel is about the dysfunctional Molise family led by their alcoholic, domineering father Nick, who is determined to go on one last bricklaying job and guilts his 50 year old writer son Henry in to going with him. As the protagonist, Henry tells of what a lousy father Nick was and how it has spoiled the relationships among all of Henry's siblings with their parents and with each other. Most of all though, it's about drinking and growing up in first generation families in the United States in the early 1900s.
While, it's not nearly as lyrical or real as Ask The Dust (but then again, what is), it is funnier and Fante comes across as Vonnegut-esque in that in the nicest way possible he is able to tell you how life and everyone in it is miserable....more
The first part of the book felt like homework. Just painfully slow and not that well organized and frankly just boring, but then the author started wrThe first part of the book felt like homework. Just painfully slow and not that well organized and frankly just boring, but then the author started writing about her own experiences growing up in Soviet Russia and emigrating to the US and the book really took off.
The author and her mother led such fascinating lives. From sort of privileged Soviet citizens to starting from the bottom US immigrants, they went through hardships and saw things that seem like they happened on another planet and not in our lifetimes. What is most interesting is the author's somewhat guilty nostalgia for parts of her youth in the Soviet Union and then her take on going back to visit Russia in the Putin regime. History seems to be moving slowly every day and yet you look back and fifty years wasn't that long ago and the geopolitical changes have been sweeping. I highly recommend this book as a memoir and a snap shot of life in the Soviet Union that doesn't involve prison camps....more
A fantastic book on trading and the markets hidden inside of a book about how the author set up a fund to profit on betting on baseball. The author, JA fantastic book on trading and the markets hidden inside of a book about how the author set up a fund to profit on betting on baseball. The author, Joe Peta, walks through his career on Wall Street and how he translated his learnings in to building a statistical model to beat the inefficiencies of Las Vegas baseball betting lines. It's quite fascinating and inventive and not only points out the holes in baseball betting (which may have been closed up a bit after this book), but also the holes in some of the thinking on Wall Street.
Peta is a lively enough writer (though his dated/dorky/Jay Leno-esque pop culture references/jokes should probably have been scrubbed) and the material is thoughtful and applicable. I recommend this book to baseball fans interested in numbers and highly recommend this book to MBA students who are thinking of going to Wall Street. ...more
Wow, this is a weird snapshot in time where apparently it was ok for professional baseball players to be proud of being peeping toms, proud of being rWow, this is a weird snapshot in time where apparently it was ok for professional baseball players to be proud of being peeping toms, proud of being reliant on greenies and getting hammered after games, proud of being borderline (or full on) racists, and most of all proud of being stupid (and the author is only proud of being two of those four, sort of). This book feels like it was written in a completely different time/era/planet and yet it is only ~45 years old. Scary.
The author is Jim Bouton and he writes about trying to make it in baseball using the gimmick pitch of the knuckleball as an older player after arm problems threatened his promising career. Bouton was supposedly an intellectual for baseball at the time as he read books, and yet his fondest memories are of peeping in on girls in hotel rooms or drinking after games to try to fit in. While that was part of the culture, it seems really really creepy in retrospect.
I'm a baseball fan, I'm a fan of the underdog (knuckleballer), I'm a fan of guys who think outside of the box (supposedly Bouton), but this book is so dated that it is cringe worthy. I mean I am sure some of this behavior still goes on today, but no one would ever write about it in such glowing terms. Plus Bouton just doesn't come across as all that interesting/evolved. This book feels like it came out of a time capsule that probably shouldn't have been opened....more
Rabbit Run is like a goyishe Philip Roth novel and if twitter had existed back then a review simply could have been #whitepeopleproblems.
It's not thaRabbit Run is like a goyishe Philip Roth novel and if twitter had existed back then a review simply could have been #whitepeopleproblems.
It's not that Updike is a bad writer, in fact he's extremely talented, it's that he writes as if an adult were translating Jack Kerouac or Frederick Exley or the like and you just never feel a real soul in any of it.
That said, the book does get quite interesting ~2/3 of the way through with a dramatic event that actually causes the characters to exude some emotion and act like, well, like characters, and that part of the novel is quite good.
Overall though, it reads as very surgical and precise without feeling (maybe that is the point?) and the main character of Rabbit is perhaps the least likeable main character in fiction other than that dope in Confederacy of Dunces. I get why people like Updike, and there are parts of this novel that are particularly good, but it's just a little too high school English literature for me....more
...people seem to think this book is deep and multi-layered because it opens with a sentence fragment that can be completed by placing the last senten...people seem to think this book is deep and multi-layered because it opens with a sentence fragment that can be completed by placing the last sentence of the book in front of it, thus creating a circle, but people also think Jay Leno is funny, so there's that.
Hmm, I don't know exactly what to say about this book as it starts off as weird dystopian science fiction which is fine as you are introduced to the main character and the city of Bellona which is operating as a different world even though it is supposedly in the US and that is kind of interesting, but then you're innocently reading along and all of a sudden a graphic gay sex scene breaks out, and this is pretty much how the book goes. Twenty pages of kind of interesting story, twenty pages of graphic (sometimes gay, and always poorly written) sex, and that pattern lasts for 700 pages. No really. If you cut out all of the (sometimes gay, and always poorly written) sex scenes, the book would be like 69x more interesting and half as long. Plus the author's use of language in those (sometimes gay, and always poorly written) sex scenes is laughable. It's like an uncool kid all of a sudden trying to use cool vernacular. And I am not a prude here as I am a big fan of Philip Roth, Charles Bukowski, and the like, but they are actually skilled writers of language whereas this author isn't.
Anyway, I found this book on some list of best science fiction books ever and it is well reviewed as being intricate and challenging but I was not aware that intricate and challenging were synonyms for kind of interesting and mostly pointless. I suppose there is much more to it than for which I am giving it credit as I just went to Wikipedia and learned the book somehow plays on a lot of Greek Mythology but if I want to read Greek Mythology, I'll just you know, read Greek Mythology.
I don't know, there were parts that sucked you in to the world of Bellona, and yet......more
A quick and interesting read about Warren Harding and the people with whom he surrounded himself. The author paints Harding as an affable enough guy wA quick and interesting read about Warren Harding and the people with whom he surrounded himself. The author paints Harding as an affable enough guy who was happy to please his political party, enjoyed gambling and fraternizing, and was unable to say no (especially to Nan Britton with whom he had an affair and an illegitimate child). He was kind of an accidental President who managed to get ahead by being milquetoast enough to let his party's good old boy network pull the strings and enrich themselves.
The book deals little with Harding's actual policies or accomplishments while in office, rather it focuses on the people surrounding Harding as well as Harding's rise to the presidency and his affairs. Whether Harding knew of all the graft going on among his appointees during his Presidency is questionable, but his associates seemed to have free reign to do as they pleased within the government so he was either guilty of knowing too much or guilty of knowing too little....more
For anyone who laments the early death of John Kennedy Toole, author of the cult-ish one-hit wonder Confederacy of Dunces , be careful for what you wiFor anyone who laments the early death of John Kennedy Toole, author of the cult-ish one-hit wonder Confederacy of Dunces , be careful for what you wish. Exley is a bit like Toole as his first novel, A Fan's Notes , was pretty much out of nowhere and absolutely crushed it (perhaps the greatest singularly American novel of the 20th century), but then he went on to write Notes From A Cold Island , and this book, which are somewhere near pointless and more pointless.
It is almost mindboggling how Exley could have produced A Fan's Notes and then a book like Last Notes From Home which reads like an unedited diary that doesn't quite tie anything together in to any serviceable plot. It's like he either knew he could never outdo A Fan's Notes so he stopped trying, or he just drank so much that he lost his literary edge.
There is absolutely no reason to read this book unless you want to see a what a Ferrari looks like after it crashes. ...more
The Loser is a fantastically melodic book where the author, Thomas Bernhard, writes as if he were composing his own musical score by continually driviThe Loser is a fantastically melodic book where the author, Thomas Bernhard, writes as if he were composing his own musical score by continually driving the plot back to the same point like a chorus in a musical composition.
The plot (if you can call it a plot) is about a fictional narrator, his friend Wertheimer, and the pianist Glenn Gould (interesting fact: Glenn Gould is a real dude, something I did not know until halfway through the book) and how they met at the Mozarteum and how the lives of the narrator and Wertheimer were forever changed because they could never be as good as Glenn Gould was at playing the piano.
There is little structure to the book, it lacks much punctuation, and the narrator simply rambles on tangents for pages before bringing everything back to the central chorus of how he and Wertheimer could never be as good as Glenn Gould at playing the piano and how that ruined their lives. It is really terrifically written as well as being quite interesting and different....more
Roth takes on Kafka's Metamorphosis only instead of Gregor Samsa turning in to a cockroach, Professor David Kepesh turns in to a boob as Roth pokes fuRoth takes on Kafka's Metamorphosis only instead of Gregor Samsa turning in to a cockroach, Professor David Kepesh turns in to a boob as Roth pokes fun at the mundane and neurosis of the world. It's a quick read with some top notch writing. Roth has done better and has certainly done worse (and yeah, I'm talking about you Great American Novel), but not a bad introduction to Roth and still likely better than anything your English teacher made you read....more
This is exactly how not to write a biography as it is pretty much a recitation of facts with little analysis. The author basically went through WashinThis is exactly how not to write a biography as it is pretty much a recitation of facts with little analysis. The author basically went through Washington's voluminous library and just wrote down the events that happened in Washington's life with very little context or sense of the bigger picture. So if you want to know the first time George Washington ate an avocado, it's in there (no really, it is), but if you want to know how his decisions fit in with the rest of what was going on during the Revolutionary period in anything other than a cursory way, you are mostly out of luck.
The only interesting part of the book was when the author did provide some context and dove in to the Jefferson-Hamilton relationship when they were part of Washington's first cabinet. There you felt like you were learning something rather than just getting a recap of events that you could find on wikipedia.
The other annoying part of the book (besides all of it), was that the author would frequently reference portrait paintings of George Washington and claim they showed a distinguishing feature or showed him aging in a certain way, but then didn't include a photograph of the picture about which he was writing (maybe that is the editor's fault and not the author's, but whatever).
The point is, if you are going to go through the trouble of pointing out famous paintings of Washington and spend multiple paragraphs/pages explaining what they showed, you should include those paintings in the book so the reader can see for him/herself about what you are writing. Seemed odd.
Oh yeah, somehow this 700 page book won the Pulitzer Prize as I guess that year they were judging by weight only.