It's a rare occurrence, but I immediately know, sometimes, if I'm going to give 5 stars in a book review. An internal switch flips and I know that wheIt's a rare occurrence, but I immediately know, sometimes, if I'm going to give 5 stars in a book review. An internal switch flips and I know that when I'm finished with the book in question, I will go out of my way to read everything I can on the topic, learn as much as possible, and follow the thread as far as it goes. I'm already planning to read the books that Mr. Ondaatje references - and others - and as I live in NYC, I'm already thinking about my calendar and what day I can visit MoMA to see Bellocq's photographs. Bolden's story, what there is of told here, is written as its own free-form jazz riff: peaks, quiet valleys, notes held as long as your breath lasts, and consistent, unexpected shifts to different styles. It's not perfect, but you expect some false notes and disconnected, avenues in free-form jazz. As the incomparable Miles Davis said, "if you hit a wrong note, it's the next one you play that makes it good or bad." I can't think of a better example of making it good - great - than this gem....more
I loooooved this book. It manages to achieve a relatively rare feat not once but often: reading it alone, you laugh out loud. So many perfect moments,I loooooved this book. It manages to achieve a relatively rare feat not once but often: reading it alone, you laugh out loud. So many perfect moments, so many irreverent and ridiculous, yet completely believable characters. Out-victim-ing contests. Calling Mr. Dershowitz by his full name as if he's a prayer himself. That odd smell. The couple outside the realtor's office building. An absolute joy to read and completely brilliant. I can't wait to read his memoir (I know, wrong order, but can't be helped.)...more
Maugham is one of my favorite writers and I believe he writes short fiction as well as he does novels. RAIN is one of the best stories I've ever read.Maugham is one of my favorite writers and I believe he writes short fiction as well as he does novels. RAIN is one of the best stories I've ever read. I'm always astonished at how incredible short-fiction writers (Hemingway is the perfect example) manage to engage a reader so fully as to have as strong of an impact as a much longer work has. RAIN creates a level of unease, of discomfort, as a reader is forced into facing his or her own prejudices, hypocrisies, and judgmental and critical behaviors. No one actively, comfortably - HONESTLY - presents him- or herself publicly as narrow-minded, uncaring, prejudiced, or cruel. Even the KKK wears masks. RAIN holds a mirror up to the reader, forcing him/her to see those things in perfect clarity....more
WOW. I can't remember the last time that reading a book felt like an active, rather than passive, activity. This is one of the best books I've read inWOW. I can't remember the last time that reading a book felt like an active, rather than passive, activity. This is one of the best books I've read in quite a long time and takes you on an incredible adventure. I really became so engaged in the mystery I felt compelled to keep reading - you can't put it down. Ms. Pessl deserves all of the high praise both her first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and this one, have received. Unfortunately for me, a critic ruined my total enjoyment of the former by calling it "Nabokovian." I love Nabokov, and for some reason literary critics and reviewers like to use that adjective. It's not fair to the author, though, because anyone who loves Nabokov already approaches the work with expectations that no one can satisfy. But I digress.
This makes you question, and second-guess, the very core of your belief system. Sure, many people are religious and have faith in what can't logically be proved, but some of those same people are CPAs and lawyers: analytic, logical, and rational. Yet once the focus is not on formal, traditional religion, most of us are skeptical, to say the least, about witchcraft, spells, curses, and the like. Ms. Pessl has succeeding in manipulating the most rational of us - I have an MBA, I think Math can solve anything! - into questioning just how confident we are that these things don't exist. Not just questioning, but actually starting to see how there just may be an equally satisfying way to explain a course of events through curses, spells, witches, magic, etc as it is to explain with rational, tranditional, tangible explanations. This is out of context, but I remember a line from Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" where she contemplates "the shallowness of sanity" and that phrase has always struck me as incredibly powerful because of its truth and how it can affect someone. As I read this I thought of that line and although it's completely unrelated, it's also applicable here. We all beieve we're confident in our beliefs but it really doesn't take all that much to take that leap.
The one issue I had, which seemed so odd, considering the great pacing of the rest of the novel, is that the segment at the estate was way too long. It was interesting and suspenseful, but way too long. It was the only time I wasn't completely engaged and felt I was aware of reading a long book and looking forward to the section being over.
Overall, though, this book is utterly, undeniably, one of the best books I've read in a long time and one of the best books of the year. Ms. Pessl is a huge talent....more
You don't at first think this is a mystery novel, because technically you know who in the Prologue who the murderers are, so okay, it's a crime novel.You don't at first think this is a mystery novel, because technically you know who in the Prologue who the murderers are, so okay, it's a crime novel. Except it isn't. It takes quite awhile to realize that the mystery is who these people are, and how they became that way. In the background is the visible-on-the-surface, but not understood, academic Julian Morrow. These are college students, each an outsider for a different reason, all outsiders based on their full commitment to studying the Classics and those alone. Also vague is how much Ancient Greece and Rome influence and dictate worldview, beliefs, and very behaviors. Intriguingly, Dostoyevsky, or specifically his character Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment is referenced consistently and clearly has impacted their lives as well. The book is amazing: it's incredible how absorbing it is and how strongly it holds your attention. You lose hours; you can't put it down. Difficult to classify, well-written, and absorbing....more
It's a rare occurrence for me to be utterly amazed, astounded, and completely engaged by a book, so much so that I need time for it to marinate in ordIt's a rare occurrence for me to be utterly amazed, astounded, and completely engaged by a book, so much so that I need time for it to marinate in order to absorb it in multiple ways. I was an immediate convert to a Larson fan (I come close to prosthelytizing about "Devil in the White City" to everyone I come into contact with) and have read it several times. It's a big story, with two very big events that transform America, maybe the world, and everything that's come since: the Chicago World's Fair and the first modern American serial killer.
This is a very different book, and having read some other reviews, I can almost understand how one might say "it seems like a diary of daily not-much" (or, if I may mis-quote "The Official Preppy Handbook," a series of journal entries of what Great-Aunt Mildred ate for each meal for ten years.) The immediacy, and the daily minutiae of both Professor Dodd and his daughter's lives, do make up a good amount of the book. The incredible potency of this type of presentation, though, is that when you take a step back, when you think and connect and add it all up - see the forest, not just the one tree, if you will - the macro view is overwhelming. The juxtaposition of the micro and macro points of view, and expressions and description of events when viewed through the lens of the overall environment at that time, let alone the lens of history, because we all know what's coming, makes this a masterpiece. From the personal, micro lens, we see this beautiful city, and garden, and facade of normalcy through the eyes of an objective, and therefore, honest, observer. Yet we also see the macro view: the steady march towards a future we know but these people, who we've become to know intimately, don't - and we do anything about it.
The mix of these two is explosively affecting, and the skill with which Larson writes makes this a masterpiece....more
I'm not sure how to even comment on this book. Maugham, whose short stories included in the volume published with the short novel "Cakes and Ale" wereI'm not sure how to even comment on this book. Maugham, whose short stories included in the volume published with the short novel "Cakes and Ale" were each individually brilliant, proves here that he was one of the masters of the century. Each sentence seems pulled from a different person's soul, dead, living, or not yet born, including myself and contemporaries.
I find myself considering the novel in the same sort of category as Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin". Excluding time-specific details, both stand as anthems of a feeling, an essential human truth, that exists in every generation, in every century, in every person.
Discovering Maugham in my 30s has been such a gift - one of the greatest of my life. It's as if I discovered a new planet, a new continent. And yet that comparison doesn't even include the essence of Maugham's talent. What a great gift to world of literature. I can't wait to read everything else by him and a biography, although this is widely considered quite close to an autobiography....more
One of the best family stories I have, a true sentimental favorite that reminds me of my grandmother and the huge steps we're capable of taking in jusOne of the best family stories I have, a true sentimental favorite that reminds me of my grandmother and the huge steps we're capable of taking in just a generation or two....more
Unbelievable and perspective-changing. A courageous, defiant, and utterly true restatement of what makes for successful cities. She improved the futurUnbelievable and perspective-changing. A courageous, defiant, and utterly true restatement of what makes for successful cities. She improved the future of all cities and changed accepted century-old standards by proving that we need to think differently about our surroundings and the results of then-current planning to save and nuture our environments and our own lives....more
Unbelievable that a book about punctuation can be this much fun to read, laugh-out-loud funny, and utterly convincing on every page. Ms. Truss is a BrUnbelievable that a book about punctuation can be this much fun to read, laugh-out-loud funny, and utterly convincing on every page. Ms. Truss is a British national treasure and I'm a huge fan as well as a lifelong stickler. Unite!...more