This book is an instant classic. The kids in my class loved it, and I loved it, too. The drawings are charming and full of personality, and the text iThis book is an instant classic. The kids in my class loved it, and I loved it, too. The drawings are charming and full of personality, and the text is simple but effective, packing a rhythmic punch. PENGUIN is the story of an outgoing boy who is given a reticent penguin as a present. The penguin may be a man of few words, but he proves to be a loyal friend and not the least timid. The story works nicely as either a fantasy (the penguin is a real animal) or as a realistic portrait of Ben's imagination (the penguin is just a doll), and on the latter level it is a heartwarming depiction of the bond between children and their toys. Some of the reviews--and the plot synopsis, as well--paint Ben as being a bad or a "bossy" kid, and one of the reviews even suggests that he should receive his "comeuppance" in the end. I don't see it that way at all. Ben's a good kid, a realistic kid, who just wants this new "person" in his life to be his friend and to acknowledge said friendship by, say, laughing at his funny faces. There's nothing rotten about that. The story is more about a personality clash between an oddball bird and a gregarious little boy. The boy is willing to accept a stranger's idiosyncrasies, and vice versa. I loved it, and my kids wanted me to read it to them again and again, which--as is rarely the case--I actually did. ...more
This is perhaps the greatest long con that's ever been pulled in literary history. Murakami tempts the reader in with a title that purports to offer sThis is perhaps the greatest long con that's ever been pulled in literary history. Murakami tempts the reader in with a title that purports to offer some modern response to Orwell's classic. He reassures such thinking by having characters early in his novel specifically cite the book in reference to events in their own world. In this world, however, there is no Big Brother but instead a group of Little People; what statement will this make about Orwell's themes of totalitarianism? There's the mysterious NHK corporation, which is cited early and frequently, a state-controlled media conglomerate that hires thugs (more or less) to extort "subscription fees" from the populace, since those radio waves aren't just floating out there for free. (I assumed that NHK was one of Murakami's inventions. It's not.)
And while you're trying to figure out what this massive novel has to say about fascism, propaganda, brainwashing, and invasion of privacy, you begin to realize that there's another, more exciting literary promise that's being offered to you. How will the dual narratives, which begin so far apart, intersect? As the lives of these two separate characters begin to crisscross, and as the storytelling tempo begins to increase, will Murakami pull off some jaw-dropping stunt of metafictional wizardry? Is Tengo writing Aomame's story while Aomame writes Tengo's story? Is this some inverse poioumenon, post-modernism crashing into string theory, where the work itself is actually writing reality? How else could the author justify nearly 900 pages of repetition, of characters preparing lunch, of conversations that begin two pages before they need to and end five pages after they should, of real-time internal monologues covering personal dilemmas that have already been covered twice before? Surely Murakami must have something masterful up his sleeve to justify all this... tedium? I mean, one doesn't get talked about as being the frontrunner for a Nobel Prize for nothing, right?
And then the threads become more numerous. There's some metaphysical terminology that's likely relevant to reality at large--the maza, the dohta, the two moons, the air chrysalis. Surely this will all have something to say or suggest about the real world, since simply making up science fiction terms and then never really explaining them is something that a middle schooler can easily accomplish. There are Proust references. There are lengthy excerpts from Chekhov. There's an imagined short story about a town full of cats. And then there's a third narrative strain! One that's riddled with genre cliches and defies all logic! Man, the payoff is going to be AMAZING....
No. No, it's not. You've been conned. The book has the profundity of an episode of "Law and Order," only you've spent untold hours reading it. If it had been submitted as the manuscript of a first-time novelist, at least four hundred pages of it would have been edited away. It would not have been an enormous international bestseller. It would have been recognized for what it is: a second-rate thriller with a couple passages of superb tension, a book which promises many things but follows through on very few of them. Several important subplots are simply discarded, and all plot holes are tidied up with the convenience excuse, "Oh, this takes place in 1Q84, not 1984, so it doesn't matter. It's a different reality." No, Murakami. No. It does matter.
And the most humiliating part of it, like any effective con job, is that some defensive part of me keeps trying to rationalize and justify having been duped. "Maybe I'm not thinking about it hard enough... maybe I'm not reading between the lines... maybe I need to read it a second time." Fool me once.......more
This was easily the best of about six or seven different books that I used to try to teach myself Korean. Everything I learned that stuck came from thThis was easily the best of about six or seven different books that I used to try to teach myself Korean. Everything I learned that stuck came from this book's exercises and examples. Not only that, but I actually enjoyed digging into this book. The cartoon visual aids are amusingly bizarre....more
This book was pretty useless as an educational aid. It had some funny personal anecdotes and some interesting historical and contextualizing info, butThis book was pretty useless as an educational aid. It had some funny personal anecdotes and some interesting historical and contextualizing info, but good luck trying to actually learn anything from the language instruction. I made much better headway with this: Korean Grammar In Use: Beginning To Early Intermediate....more
An uneven book with no real transitions between wildly divergent ideas. Premature babies, electromagnetic fields, telepathy, and feng shui might all cAn uneven book with no real transitions between wildly divergent ideas. Premature babies, electromagnetic fields, telepathy, and feng shui might all coexist on the same page, meaning this was not the focused, enlightening work I expected from Gallagher after having read RAPT. There's a handful of interesting information scattered here and there, but nothing terribly fascinating. Part of the problem may be that this book is two decades old and by now we all know about Seasonal Affective Disorder and some of the other subjects which may have been groundbreaking back then. Unfortunately, this book is not especially worth reading. (But her other book, RAPT, most certainly is!)...more
Reading the stories of RATTLESNAKES & THE MOON is reminiscent of the feeling evoked by Edwidge Danticat's KRIK? KRAK! In that collection, three geReading the stories of RATTLESNAKES & THE MOON is reminiscent of the feeling evoked by Edwidge Danticat's KRIK? KRAK! In that collection, three generations of Haitian and American women were subtly linked, the story of one grandmother's oppression reflecting the insecurity of her distant grandchild. While reading that book it's possible to draw a genealogical chart linking all the seemingly distinct stories. With Neal's book, the feeling is less concrete and yet equally provocative. The scared girl in one story could grow up to be the brave woman of another. The tired alcoholic on one page could be the drunk driver pages later.
What this achieves is a feeling of solidarity. Neal writes about women who endure tragedies large and small yet never give up, and she does so not with melodrama or pathos but with a precise matter-of-factness. For these women of the American south and southwest, tragedy isn't a plot development that rises and then falls in action but instead a fact of life to be dealt with. Cruelty, bad luck, poor decisions, destructive behaviors--such is the landscape these characters struggle through with varying degrees of strength, persistence, and optimism. And though there are no unqualified happy endings, no great triumphs--over adversity, over despair, what have you--in these stories, the combined effect is more realistic and inspiring: the sum of these stories teaches us it is possible to survive. With resolve, support, and open eyes, surviving the trials of life is certainly possible.
Neal's prose is overflowing with precise details. The diverse settings seep under the skin, and the rhythmic quality of the writing, the naturalness of the speech, and the understated tension of the plots is atmospheric and mesmerizing. "A Man Wrapped in Gold" especially stands out, and "Scarf" is a perfectly crafted masterpiece of flash fiction, speaking volumes about jealousy, forgiveness, rage, and poor judgment in merely a few hundred immensely satisfying words. ...more
An argument for a realistic, progressive, and contextual approach to English grammar, appropriateness, and ideas of linguistic correctness. Heavy on pAn argument for a realistic, progressive, and contextual approach to English grammar, appropriateness, and ideas of linguistic correctness. Heavy on persuasion and argument and light on explicit detail, this book seems like it was written in a brief amount of time; all the same, the argument is convincing, and the book is a quick, interesting read. For readers interested in a more thorough look at the changing landscape of the English language throughout history, check out Words in Time by Geoffrey Hughes....more
This book makes me wonder why it was even written or published. At the end, a writing workshop professor (who seems full of hot air and nothing else)This book makes me wonder why it was even written or published. At the end, a writing workshop professor (who seems full of hot air and nothing else) tells the autobiographical narrator that writers should only write what they know and that all other writing is automatic trash. That's decent (though trite) advice, and that's obviously a platitude that Fuguet has taken to heart, but when all you know is boredom and mild bitterness and you don't have a particularly lyrical grasp of language or storytelling, then maybe you just shouldn't write at all.
All the characters are boring and interchangeable (and, I dare say, seem like Fuguet is just writing about his acquaintances, who I suppose are much more interesting to him than they are to us). There are no plots or story arcs, and so the stories end abruptly and seem unfinished. Topics are introduced and dropped. Occasionally characters wax philosophic, but their wisdom is about as profound as the average seventeen-year-old's. The narrators are obnoxious, constantly referencing movies and technology in a way that seems shallow and (more importantly) unrealistic. And of course there's a heaping spoonful of the same old, unoriginal anti-American criticisms, which fall flat when it becomes obvious that he doesn't even know enough about this country to be relevant (a character drives by himself from LA to Atlanta in a mere two days without stocking up on cocaine or Red Bull; DC is covered in snow on the day before Thanksgiving...).
This book is on par with rough drafts from a college introduction to creative writing workshop--the kind of stuff written by people who don't really have anything to say, don't have much imagination, and don't have particularly good eyes for detail, the people who think that they can just write about their frustrating, tedious lives and pretend that it's compelling fiction. At best this book provides a realistic look of regular life in modern Chile. But there's no pleasure or wisdom to be had from reading it. ...more