Unlike Paradise Lost, we find Milton returning with characters far less interesting in this new Christian era. Satan, once a driven and quixotic hero...moreUnlike Paradise Lost, we find Milton returning with characters far less interesting in this new Christian era. Satan, once a driven and quixotic hero is reduced to the likes of a very ineffectual tempter. Given that Satan and Jesus might have spent time together for eons before there was man, perhaps he'd know a little more about how to tempt him. Milton did use poetic license, in all but the lame temptations.
"Hey Jesus, you're an immortal being and pretty much omnipotent... remember that time you were in "God mode" on the battlefield and beat the crap out of all of my minions? Well anyway, would you like some toast? Can I tempt you with a little toast?"
Well of course we all know what Jesus has to say about that. Satan doesn't come up with a single other thing. It's a shame. In Pardise Lost we completely understand his motivation for being underground, "Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven." He doesn't seem to manage to explain any of this to Jesus, however, strong as a premise it might have been. Satan convinced a full third of the angels to rebel against God and hadn't the guile to feed his old cloud-mate some toast.
Here Satan not only fails to guile Jesus, but the reader as well. Jesus is a brick wall and Satan plays tennis against it. The result is inevitable... and boring. As a metaphor for Christianity as a whole, it's easy to see why Christians need Satan. Salvation and eternal life are just far too uninteresting. Give us a purpose. Give us a boogeyman to fear and resist and keep our sinful lives... if not pointless, interesting.(less)
If anyone has ever had occasion to boast, only to find that their audience is astonished not at the grandeur of the boast, but the nature of the boast...moreIf anyone has ever had occasion to boast, only to find that their audience is astonished not at the grandeur of the boast, but the nature of the boast itself... well this is the book for you. Barry Lyndon narrates his life much in the style of Giacomo Casanova, exchanging the unbridled sexual acts for even more unbridled acts of violence, often in the form dueling.
What's funny is the way Barry stops so often to say, "Now the reader might get the impression that I [am a very bad person] because of [what I boasted about]", only to affirm the badness and the boast further. Thakeray is brilliant in the telling and the reader does get lost in the narrative, forgetting that the narrator is a fictional character.
It's a surprise to me that few "great books" are narrated in the first person, I can only think of a few such as Moby Dick, Catcher in the Rye and Lolita. Also my own 1/2 finished book A Trail of Candy has this distinction. I think that the trouble is that it is not always easy to believe that the first person narrator is as honest as the omnipotent third person, from whom a lie would be unthinkable. The first person narrator may really make any claim and the reader is left to decide what to believe. Thackery provides us with this third person here and there to clarify the narrative and dispute some of the more outrageous claims.
Where did the book leave me? It left me feeling ambitious. In many ways it is a standard tale of a low born person making their fortune and way into high society... the cutout for any French novel, but the ambition of the narrator did rub off on me. I may not be so inclined as to duel or bet my life over every argument, but I'm struck with admiration for those that did in days gone by. The least I can do is force myself to complete my ambitious projects (with my life in complete safety). (less)
It is probably not possible to write a better book than The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevsky shows off his literary muscles early as a well read author...moreIt is probably not possible to write a better book than The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevsky shows off his literary muscles early as a well read author and likely a polyglot. For the non-Russian reader we learn about a pre-revolutionary Russia, about what it is to be Russian and what Russians from the peasant class to the aristocracy might have been like. For me, being subtly educated while I'm being entertained is a great joy.
The story itself is about 3 brothers born to a rather useless father. Fyodor Karamazov is a womanizing playboy who has 3 sons by 2 separate wives and a 4th son from the apparent rape of mentally impaired orphan girl that had been adopted by the town. The father ignores the three children completely and while never acknowledging fatherhood in the case of the latter, he takes in the boy (who turns out to be autistic) and employs him as a cook.
What's to love about this book? Oh it is an amateur psychologists dream. Three out of the four Karamazov sons want to kill their father... all for their own reasons. They all have very distinct personalities, the major aspects of which are derived from the father and their terrible upbringing. Alyosha, the book's hero is the only son that doesn't seek the destruction of anyone and loves his father and brothers for what they are.
Of course there is much intrigue in the story, betrayals, plots, and even a murder, but unlike a Tolstoy story, Alyosha keeps us engaged and liking the characters... all of the characters... for he continues to see and point out their various good qualities even when those qualities are presently absent or lacking. In the end, after many terrors, he reminds us all all of the joy of being good to one another. It's a perfect ending to a story that has everything. (less)
When I picked up this book I was quite full of scepticism. I know how hard it is to detect deception and I expected that this book was going to tell m...moreWhen I picked up this book I was quite full of scepticism. I know how hard it is to detect deception and I expected that this book was going to tell me 50 ways to spot a liar from various tells. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author had a good grounding of the science behind body language and tons of field work (unlike the TSA, who with 15 minutes of training, can spot a terrorist just by looking at them).
What the book does do is give you dozens and dozens of clues as to how a person is feeling at any given time. If what they are saying does not match their body language, this can be a tip that the person is being deceptive. Usually, all we can discover from these clues is that the person being observed is enduring stress, or happiness, fear, or some other emotion that might be missing from verbal communication.
What the book doesn't tell you is that to really make use of the information, one would have to read, re-read, study and practice with the book for a very long time to make the best use of this information. Since reading it, I've watched for some clues mentioned in the book in my personal relationships and found that... 1) they are really hard to observe without being noticed as looking for them... and 2) once observed, you need a lookup table to remember what they mean.
Overall, I give the book high marks due to the professional nature of the writing and the admission that lie detection is in fact nearly impossible despite non-verbal clues and that might indicate the possibility of deception. For my own purposes, I think I'll re-read this book in a few months to bolster what I have learned. I imagine that understanding these non-verbal gestures could go a long way to aiding my personal communications for the rest of my life.(less)
The Man in the Iron Mask is a little like a Wikipedia page on French history that jumps out of your monitor and dances around on your desk. The charac...moreThe Man in the Iron Mask is a little like a Wikipedia page on French history that jumps out of your monitor and dances around on your desk. The characters are well known to us as we get into this story as we see the return of the three musketeers and D'Artagnon who has now become the captain of the company.
The intrigue surrounds a fabled twin brother of Louis XIV and gives an insight into the reign of the said king. The story of Fouquet, which leads to the creation of the Palace of Versailles was of particular interest to me personally, having spent so many wonderful moments in time at that grand chateau. Again, we get to see life in Paris and are taken to different parts of my fair city, though in a much different time. For me, this was not so much a book as a time machine.
While Dumas' writing is not as flawless as many of his day, he does flash around his writing and reading credentials, which I enjoy to learn of. What is mostly remarkable about his writing, however, is the likability of his characters. We like the good characters. We like the bad characters. What's most unbelievable is that most of the characters are historical figures. Unlike historical fantasies, however, it's very difficult to draw a line in Dumas' telling of the story to separate where the history ends and the fiction begins. My Wikipedia cross-referencing yielded more than a few surprises. I can't imagine more fun between the covers of a book.
You have to love old Edward Feathers. It's funny, but when I started this book I thought that maybe the chapters were all mixed up. Feathers was a ret...moreYou have to love old Edward Feathers. It's funny, but when I started this book I thought that maybe the chapters were all mixed up. Feathers was a retired lawyer at the end of his career and probably his life. Nothing to see here folks, my brain was telling me. As I got deeper in, however, there was a lot more too this fellow's life than you'd ever imagine... and it wasn't over. Life isn't over 'til it's over and for Feathers it wasn't over yet.
The book was rife with little insights into life around the world and Feather's past takes you from Malaysia to England to Hong Kong and back again. For a while we want to champion his wife, who we assume will be a paragon of virtue. She's not and visions of unfaithful women through the centuries of literature turned up in my head... particularly Cresside (for reasons I don't know). We learn that Feathers, or Old Filth as he's been nicknamed is the paragon. We learn that he's really kind of normal, forgiving, sensible, and of course likeable.
The writing is very moving and very human. You understand all of the characters as you go along and I found myself seriously rooting for Old Filth and wishing him a very long and happy life. In a life where he took his blows with such indomitable dignity that he was rumoured to have an easy life, when in fact his life was anything but... I wanted everything for him. Now that the book is over, he's one of those characters that I already miss.(less)
Well, since I started my hectic pace of reading, I have to say that only two authors have ever slowed me down, Proust and Tolstoy. The problem with Pr...moreWell, since I started my hectic pace of reading, I have to say that only two authors have ever slowed me down, Proust and Tolstoy. The problem with Proust is evident; he didn't write about anything. Tolstoy rather wrote about everything. Anna Karenina is rife with philosophy, sociology, art history, politics and whatever else fit into this massive book which is basically about a woman who leaves her husband for a lover.
I'm not sure why, but I didn't expect Tolstoy to be as well read or as evidently intelligent as he obviously is when reading him. I suppose that with modern literature and storytelling, one loses their audience with literary reference rather than bolsters it. Tolstoy doesn't hold back however, and I for one appreciated the effort.
Why did it take me so long to read? Well honestly, I could not really find myself liking any of the main characters. They were all just little too flawed, too real and none of their flaws were glossed over. I didn't care if the characters lived or died at one point and just wanted to get to the end of the story for it's own sake, not championing anyone to survive to the end.
Why did I give it 5 stars? It's flawless. I felt like I understood the mindset of the Russian people... and knowing the post Tolstoy history see how the country was ripe for Communism. The characters we learn are just vehicles to transport us around Russia from the great cities to the countryside. We live with everyone from the nobles to the peasants. That in itself was enriching. I recommend this highly to anyone who wants not just to learn, but understand the history of this part of the world.(less)
Every now and then I like to read something that is not on my "to do" list. The Joy Luck Club is about 4 mother-daughter relationships which between C...moreEvery now and then I like to read something that is not on my "to do" list. The Joy Luck Club is about 4 mother-daughter relationships which between Chinese-American women. Could this book be farther from my reality than anything. Perhaps.
How did I survive it? Well first, I'm a big fan of women. Almost all of my friends are women and some of my women friends are Chinese. Second, I've read some Chinese literature specifically dealing with Chinese thought. The women in this book say and do many things that an American reader might find surprising, but I found it rewarding to discover that the women acted in ways that I might expect them to, given their Chinese culture... and the fact that they are women.
Apart from the edification of my feminine understanding, the book is well written. The stories about the four main mother-daughter relationships in the book intertwine and you get to see various events from different points of view. As a reader, I often felt like someone was revealing a secret that I already knew. Who doesn't like that feeling?
The book holds together to the end with a nice happy/weepy/sad climax that even managed to fill my eyes with a few tears... until I realized that my eyes had tears and I put a stop to it at once. :) Any woman reading the last chapter should have a box of tissues at the ready. 4 stars.(less)
OK, when I picked up this title I really did expect it to be some sort of Disneyeque swashbuckling tale with a little swordplay and derring-do and ver...moreOK, when I picked up this title I really did expect it to be some sort of Disneyeque swashbuckling tale with a little swordplay and derring-do and very little to sink one's teeth into. Of course I've seen so many movie adaptations that were little more than popcorn=throwing fare, geared toward 10 year olds. I fence, however and decided that if nothing else, I would admire the swashbuckling. Happily, my predispositions were shown false from the first chapter.
Our story begins like so many French novels with a young provincial, d'Artagnan, heads to Paris to make his fortune. He's described early on as a Quixotic character riding a nag perhaps not even of Rosanante's quality and builds his reputation from there. When he meets the three musketeers, we find that each of them has a long back story and is full of surprise and intrigue that the movies never let us suppose about them.
Once we find that we have a large cast of real three dimensional characters, some taken directly from the history books, including Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis XIII, we have everything we need for a ripping tale and Dumas certainly delivers. There are political intrigues, mysteries, sword-fights, battlefields, international travels and affairs, nefarious acts, honourable sacrifices... This was not the story I'd learned of in my youth.
If you like a pleasant surprise, I highly recommend this book to anyone that has ever said "The book is better than the movie." (less)
One million dollars says Albert Camus was at least partly influenced by this book. It should not come to appear to be a spoiler that the title charact...moreOne million dollars says Albert Camus was at least partly influenced by this book. It should not come to appear to be a spoiler that the title character dies here and the city he dies in has disease in it. I was captivated by the motives of the main character and found myself recalling Camus over and over again. Of course, one thinks of Nabokov too when our hero's doom is discovered to be a rather unconventional and undoubtedly immoral love.
What shocks the most, I think is the novel's brevity. Having recently read a couple of novels that top 1000+ pages, I've allowed myself the comfort of nonchalance... letting the words wash over me knowing that there would be many more to fill in the every nuance of the characters. Mann gives no such luxury, however as everyone and everything is described precisely and only once. In what seems like the exact amount of time we are transported through every year of Aschenbach's career to his death on a beach in Venice with what seem like the exact number of words we need to hear the story.
It is a compelling read and probably worth reading twice back to back. Having mentioned two, I can probably think of a few more modern novels that have likely been inspired by this very concise and brilliant work. I wonder how it has escaped my reading so long. (less)
Is this the greatest work in the English language? For me, the crucial thing to decide would be whether Milton was in on the joke, that is to say whet...moreIs this the greatest work in the English language? For me, the crucial thing to decide would be whether Milton was in on the joke, that is to say whether be believed in the Christian mythology that he wrote about. From historical accounts he was a Protestant and believed in religious tolerance... so long as the one being tolerated was some other variety of Protestant. Because of this, I answer my question with a "no" because this is not a work of expertly crafted fiction, but an inspired epistle of belief. Chaucer and Shakespeare can rest easy.
The story itself begins shortly after the angels who opposed Jehovah get cast down to hell. Their leader, a plucky thing with a sword and excellent orator gives steel to the castaways and leads another charge on Heaven. From the beginning, you like Milton's Satan. I even cheered for him, after they get beaten back by the angels and Satan regroups them and rallies them to a successful and triumphant charge (he's the only General who should have ever uttered the words, "On my mark, unleash Hell." [he doesn't' say this but could have]).
When Jehovah unleashes his son Michael to sort out the situation, he gives the son all of his Godly Powers... much like when MCP gave SARK all of his powers in the movie Tron. Without the magic TRON frisbee however, Satan is no match for this new warrior who is literally in "God mode". Like a douche who's just hacked a game server, he sends Satan and his band of contemptuous angels back to Hell without breaking a sweat.
Here you have to really admire Milton's Satan. He's so terribly Quixotic. He has absolutely nothing to gain in the universe by opposing Jehovah and everything to lose. He coins the now cliche phrase, "Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven." You can't help but think, "Yeah Satan! What now?"
It doesn't take long for Satan to come up with a plan. Jehovah had only made angels up to this point in his design career and that was pretty much it. Imaginative, he wasn't. So he decided to terraform some lonely planet and give it the spark of life. The pinnacle of this experiment culminates when Jehovah tops off his creation with a couple of monkeys and even teaches them to talk.
When Satan learns of the news, he's ecstatic. Having faced an omnipotent enemy twice and having his ass handed to him on a plate... twice... he prepares his third attack to fuck up Jehovah's experiment. There's no reason. He knows he'll only bring more grief upon himself, but you have to admire him for trying.
Well fuck up the experiment he does. He fucks it up so badly that Jehovah ends up killing ALL the talking monkeys in a massive flood save one that could use tools well enough to make a boat. At this point, you know that Satan did a good job, having inspired a lot of fornicating and poo flinging indeed. The fornicating even spread to the animals. Jehovah in kind, killed all the cats and dogs and zebras, who had apparently become as wicked as fuck.
Had the story ended here, I think we'd have the greatest story told in the English language, but unfortunately it doesn't. The original talking monkey, Adam, on the verge of being tossed out of Paradise (hence the name Paradise Lost), gets filled in on the coming advent of Christianity. The mythology of Christianity is explained, an Shakespeare keeps his crown. It was a thrilling read, nonetheless.(less)
What you think about this book will probably have a lot to do with how you feel about revenge. For me, the old adage, "The best revenge is to lead a g...moreWhat you think about this book will probably have a lot to do with how you feel about revenge. For me, the old adage, "The best revenge is to lead a good life," has been my mantra. This is not the philosophy of our hero Edmond Dantès, however, and about 1000 of the 1200+ pages of this book is dedicated to his revenge.
Overall, the book is indeed a delight to read. Dumas paints his characters very vividly and tells us enough about them that we feel intimate. The revenge plot is intriguing to the very end. I'm sure that the average person with vengeance on their mind would find some expedient way to kill their enemies and once avenged, get back to the good life mentioned above. Our hero certainly has the skills and resources for a good life, but pursues vengeance to the point of disbelief and perhaps well past that point.
I suppose that our hero and the story redeemed itself for me when our hero concluded his revenge and almost seemed merciful. His credo had made him machine-like in his pursuit of vengeance and the cracks in the machine and the eventual conclusion of the machines purpose give Dantes, and the story as a whole, back its humanity.(less)
This is the first Southern American literature I've read since Twain (unless Kerouac counts). I really had no idea what I was getting into except that...moreThis is the first Southern American literature I've read since Twain (unless Kerouac counts). I really had no idea what I was getting into except that I liked the title of the book. After a couple of pages, however I was hooked into Toole's world and couldn't put it down.
Is there a heavy moral in here? No. Does anyone in the book learn a lesson? No. While you follow along in the lives af these hopelessly tragic, yet comic characters, we do get reminded a lot about ourselves and what's important to us in life. We want to fix the characters and even the most pathetic ones... we root for them.
I suppose I'd compare the characters to something from Balzac, without the necessary grip on reality. In real life good things happen to bad people and vice versa and Balzac's characters don't always get their just desserts. While the dunces always have fortune turn in their comedic favour, the descriptions of them and their squalid living conditions could have been lifted straight from Balzac. You feel part of the scenery from one page to the next. I suppose that this is the appeal of the book that keeps you drawn in.
There is so much to love about this book that I don't know where to begin. When our hero, Phillip goes to Paris, however, the whole thing struck home....moreThere is so much to love about this book that I don't know where to begin. When our hero, Phillip goes to Paris, however, the whole thing struck home. He walked down the same streets that I've walked down and he'd done many of the same things. His experience with his first art class, for example, when confronted with a nude model and having no idea how to draw her. For the average reader, this is a priceless moment. For me, it's a page from my own memoir!
Philip is simultaneously a genius and an idiot, attractive and repulsive and his bondage is really just this desire to be 'normal'. It takes him thirty years (and several hundred pages) to finally come to the conclusion that no one is normal and at best a few normal attributes is all that a person can ever possess.
We discover the meaning of life in the book... and wonder... really? I was reminded of watching Monty Python's Meaning of Life movie and thinking... really? Life, I suppose is what you make of it. Our hero learns to be satisfied with his by discovering what he really wants from it and not what others expect from him. If this was a modern tale, I'm sure that in the final chapter, he would have closed his facebook account. Easily one of the best books I've read this year. (less)