This novel, published in 2003, is about a suburban neighborhood in Connecticut. It's set in 1974 and is written in the first person. The narrator is dThis novel, published in 2003, is about a suburban neighborhood in Connecticut. It's set in 1974 and is written in the first person. The narrator is describing the life he led at the age of twelve. While this narrator does not say, "By the way, I'm a grown man now, reflecting on his childhood," I think the reader is supposed to conclude the same thing I concluded: that the narrator is holding on to his childhood self but seeing his childhood with adult eyes. Dan Pope never tells you what he thinks, but you know he's aware that the events in the book are heartbreaking and that his narrator is rather amazed himself that he's survived. This is not a novel of "lessons learned," thank God. But it is a novel about growth and survival amidst change. It is not a work of nostalgia. This separates it from many books about childhood and adolescence. It is not a work of reverse-nostalgia. It is realistic without being clinical, poetic without being lugubrious and, best of all, it is hopeful without being sentimental. I was fourteen when the narrator was twelve, so I can say that the pop culture references are accurate. The mood of the times is right. But I also think IN THE CHERRY TREE outdoes other books about growing up in that it doe not insist the reader share the background of the narrator. I find such books exclusive. IN THE CHERRY TREE is inclusive. Anybody of any generation can identify with the emotions Timmy experiences. ...more
I first noticed this book in my local library shortly after it was published. At the time it had the photograph of Froot Loops cereal on the cover. II first noticed this book in my local library shortly after it was published. At the time it had the photograph of Froot Loops cereal on the cover. I think I noticed the Froot Loops on the spine. It was on the new shelf. I went to it, lured by the loops which anybody my age, give or take (mostly take) a few years, would instantly recognize from ads seen on Saturday morning network TV. The title intrigued me. I think it's from a song, but don't quote me on that. The song itself may be quoted in the book. I can't remember. I don't tend to re-read books. This novel has been stuck in my head ever since I read it, which I started doing the moment I pulled it from the shelf. What Scott Heim managed to do with this novel was capture the dark side of the mood conveyed in those Saturday morning commercials. The world of more or less flourescent plastics marketed toward children. Yes, this is a shocking book about predator, victim and loss. But a lot of books are about that. MYSTERIOUS SKIN works on an almost subconscious level. Somehow, watching THE ARCHIES as a boy of about twelve, there was a discomfort. I knew the networks were working with advertizers and throwing harsh colors at me, hurtling sound effects at my ears, as cheaply and pervasively as possible, in order to get me to shell out some allowance money for a Frisbee, a Hot Wheels racetrack or an edition of The Game of Life. Using that national seduction of the young as a backdrop, Heim personalizes it. The coach who abuses children thinks the same way as the Madison Avenue hotshots dreaming up the unattainable dreams thrown on TV screens around the country. With tremendous understanding of the abused, Heim shows us people obsessed with UFOs, fragile people. He also shows us people who appear strong, who throw themselves into street culture. I'm getting vague here because I don't want to give away the book. I want you to read it....more
I read the translation by H. T. Lowe-Porter. She worked with Thomas Mann. I think she captures his tone better than later translators. Then again, I dI read the translation by H. T. Lowe-Porter. She worked with Thomas Mann. I think she captures his tone better than later translators. Then again, I don't know German, which was the in which Mann wrote. But, every so often I compare some of the translations. I still hear a particular voice when I read Lowe-Porter's phrases. From her translations I get a sense of Thomas Mann as a sort of diligent, puckish, sometimes aggressive writer. I read the edition published by Knopf, with the great photo of Mann on the back. His face is in profile and the vein in his temple stands out in jagged sharpness. A biography said this was a sign of his having migraine headaches. In any case, this grand master of prose wore a bow tie and looked, for all the world, like a music critic. DOCTOR FAUSTUS is a sustained meditation on music. I learned more about musical endeavor reading this novel than I ever have reading nonfiction accounts of musicians. You can hear this music as you read. (God knows I wouldn't want to hear it in real life.) The main character -- well, the main character is actually the narrator, who is ostensibly writing a biography of his friend, a composer, but for the sake of argument I'll say this composer is the main character -- makes a pact with Satan, as so many guys who get called Faust do. In the book, his name is Adrian Leverkuhn. Mann had to write a disclaimer after Arnold Schoenberg noticed that the twelve-tone scheme described in the novel matched his own musical contribution, but Mann's disclaimer is so gracefully condescending in Lowe-Porter's translation that it is obvious Schoenberg's music was what Mann had in mind. If the following names ring a bell, then you'll find this novel absorbing: Gustav Mahler, Friedrich Nietsche, Sigmund Freud, Stefan Zweig, Albert Einstein, Alfred Einstein, Alma Mahler and, indeed, Thomas Mann. These are not characters in the novel, although Nietsche is discussed, but their minds inform every page. This is a book about the colossal Nordic intellect of the early twentieth century and its destruction at the hands of the Nazis. Hitler is never mentioned, although at one point someone, without knowing it, sports the style of mustache which, in the not-too-distant future, would be worn by "a very famous face." Essentially, Mann is saying Germany bowed to a satanic impulse after the First World War and forsook its own incredibly sophisticated culture (a culture of Goethe, Beethoven and Mozart)for that of history's most notorious despot. Mann fled Germany in the early thirties and, while writing the four-volume JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS, travelled through Europe, finally getting refuge in the United States. DOCTOR FAUSTUS, one of the most damning books about the decline of Europe, was written in Pacific Palisades, California. ...more
I'm reviewing the audiobook here. Needless to say, this novel, in itself, is one of "the Great American Novels," from a time when "the Great AmericanI'm reviewing the audiobook here. Needless to say, this novel, in itself, is one of "the Great American Novels," from a time when "the Great American Novel" was on everybody's mind. It is ironic, sweeping and dignified. Joe Morton is the actor who reads this novel on audio and I can't think of another actor so well-suited to this. He captures the tone of Ellison's prose almost perfectly. I essentially heard this voice over a period of years whenever I'd start reading INVISIBLE MAN. I bought the CD at a time when I wanted to get through some books I'd always wanted to read, such as THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV. (I listened to an audiotape of that over a three-week period driving back and forth to work.) The moment I put the first disc on and heard Joe Morton reading I realized I'd found an audiobook which matched voice to prose. I hope this is available for a long time. ...more
Those starting to read P. G. Wodehouse should start with this novel, which is sometimes called BRINKLEY MANOR. It is the immediate predecessor to WodeThose starting to read P. G. Wodehouse should start with this novel, which is sometimes called BRINKLEY MANOR. It is the immediate predecessor to Wodehouse's most perfect novel, THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS. He wrote this in his mid-fifties. It was something like his fortieth novel. He literally wrote about seventy novels, all of them extremely light, the vast majority of them humorous. (His very early novels were about cricket-players at prep-school.) RIGHT-HO, JEEVES features P. G. Wodehouse's most famous characters, Bertie Wooster and his butler, Jeeves. The Jeeves novels are like Sunday comic strips come to life; early Sunday comic strips of the sort printed around 1915, where people at dinner parties knock over elaborately placed dinner tables. There is a great deal of slapstick in Wodehouse's novels. The great thing with the Jeeves novels is that they are narrated in the first-person by the very opinionated main character, Bertie. He's an eternally vacationing young aristocrat. His main fear is having to visit one of his intimidating and/or crazy aunts at one of their various mansions. Girls he has no interest in constantly assume he's trying to propose to them and almost all the Jeeves novels involve Bertie's efforts to wriggle out of engagements he himself never instigated. He also has a valiant side. He tries to fix up friends who do love particular girls with the girls of their choice. The plots sound much more like Evelyn Waugh than they actually are. The plots are simply devices for Bertie Wooster to tell us what he thinks of the people who seem always to impinge on his repose. Wodehouse's strong suit is his absolutely classical use of language as juxtaposed with his sharp sense of jazz-age slang. The slang he uses, of course, never partakes of anything sexual. Wodehouse is the least libidinous humorist in the English language. Above all, you don't get a sense that a bully ever wins in Wodehouse. Everything comes right at the end. That's the definition of comedy....more
I read this for a school assignment in my senior year of high school. The narrator keeps using the phrase "on that head." For example (and I paraphrasI read this for a school assignment in my senior year of high school. The narrator keeps using the phrase "on that head." For example (and I paraphrase), "Darcy was singular; on that head, singularity was his calling card." Austen wrote at a time when the British aristocracy was shrewd, witty and rather up-front. Trollope, for all his powers of observation, wrote at a time when the British aristocracy was becoming a little snobbish. I'd much rather read Trollope, but it must be said that Jane Austen is immune to the lure of sentiment which snagged Trollope. She's genuine from start to finish.
I read this book in one night. I rarely do that. In fact, I usually take about three weeks to read a book, with interruptions for THE DAILY SHOW, workI read this book in one night. I rarely do that. In fact, I usually take about three weeks to read a book, with interruptions for THE DAILY SHOW, work and a social life. But this story interested me on several levels. First, without being a fan of hers, I grew up watching Lucille Ball on TV. She is in my DNA the way THE WIZARD OF OZ is in my DNA. It is virtually impossible for an American of my generation to have ignored I LOVE LUCY, which was shown daily on one of the nine or so available TV channels (three in most parts of the country.) So, curiosity about the workings of the show has often led me to reading an article or a book about it. I've watched many documentaries about the home life of Lucy and Desi. I can't watch an original STAR TREK without having a strange feeling when, at the closing credits, the word "Desilu" flashes on the screen. I start thinking how strange it is that the stars of a little situation comedy came to own a huge Hollywood studio, divorce each other and then simply dominate television production for ten years. (Kill me if I exaggerate, but don't say producing and starring in I LOVE LUCY and then being the landlords to just about every studio used in network filming wasn't a big deal for a couple who, in 1949, were considered washed up.) When I noticed Lee Tannen's I LOVED LUCY in the book store I flipped it over and was surprised to see it was written by a man younger than myself. If he'd merely been a fan writing a biography his age wouldn't have surprised me, but, reading the jacket, I saw he had known Lucille Ball quite well. In the last decade of her life, Lucille Ball played board games several times a week with the author. She'd call him up and ask him to drop by. A friendship developed. The writing is good in several respects. The anecdotes ring true, the history of the friendship, with its ups and downs, is completely believable and the voice is consistent. I do not get the sense this was ghost-written. The chief reason I recommend this is that it chronicles a friendship of a sort that is all too often ignored; the friendship between a young, gay man and a straight, older woman. This is not the sort of boundary-crashing gay-straight friendship as is chronicled in biographies of other starlets. The friendship between Lucille Ball and Lee Tannen is respectful and affectionate. Occasionally there is a falling out and the pain Tannen feels is genuine, but he is not describing a tragic situation. Tannen describes a woman whose best days are long behind her, but he reveals her as a star almost immune to stardom. She really does want to play Parchesi and swap wisecracks. Finally, Tannen describes his and Lucille's final parting. I have stressed this is not a tragic story but the scene he describes, in unembellished prose, could be the centerpiece of a tragic play. The actress, fully realizing she will never see her friend again, calls on her store of theatricality in a gut-wrenching moment. Again, it is very believable. I wish more people were aware of this book. ...more
This judicious biography of the humorist James Thurber is the best one, as far as I'm concerned. It is not morbid, as was the case with Burton BernsteThis judicious biography of the humorist James Thurber is the best one, as far as I'm concerned. It is not morbid, as was the case with Burton Bernstein's THURBER, and it is not obsessively detailed, as was the case with a thousand-page book which came out about fifteen years ago. ...more
Over the years I've read bits and pieces of this collection of bits and pieces. I was most fascinated with it when I was in my early twenties. My fathOver the years I've read bits and pieces of this collection of bits and pieces. I was most fascinated with it when I was in my early twenties. My father was a big reader and he would, on occasion, ask me to get THE MENCKEN CHRESTOMATHY out of his study so he could read a passage to me and my brothers. I'm fairly certain Mencken compiled this himself and that it was published shortly before a stroke ended his ability to write. One has to know something about American newspapers and magazines of the early-to-mid-twentieth century to really relate to this stuff. Briefly, Mencken was an American newspaperman of the most hardworking sort. He reported, edited, published, etc. Around 1918 or so he began to write literary criticism and political commentary. He caricatured Woodrow Wilson as the hand-wringing, prudish "Archangel Woodrow." He essentially called Wilson a liar for running on a promise not to involve the United States in the First World War and then going ahead and involving it anyway. Young, educated readers related to Mencken in much the same way college students in 2007 relate to Jon Stewart. Mencken championed writers who had been censored. He skewered pompous politicians, bombastic ministers and grandiose businessmen. At the same time, he put together a serious, if, nevertheless, amusing multivolume work called THE AMERICAN LANGUAGE, which is still in print. So: Mencken was something of a dynamo. But when the stock market crashed and the establishment he ridiculed was collapsing, Mencken fell into disfavor. His conservatism became more and more obvious to a readership seeking the socialism of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mencken the Darwinist who had made Williams Jennings Bryan a laughing stock in his Scopes Monkey Trial reporting, was, by the time World War Two started, an archconservative who publically reviled Roosevelt and who chose not to write a word about the Nazis. He had personally felt the sting of anti-German bigotry during World War One and he used this grievance as a justification for his silence about Nazism. He signed a petition to help Jewish refugees, but this gesture wasn't much from a man whose words would have reached men in power. So, why should we read anything by him? Because he is a master of comic form. When he attacks a politician, an idea or an institution, he is not actually trying to change the reader's mind. He is simply trying to cause him to collapse in the corner laughing. He builds comic suspense better than anyone except Twain and has a slapstick sensibility which is still unbeaten. Such a devotion to humor is something of a virtue, perhaps Mencken's only one.
Updated Review, February 7th, 2011: I have just finished reading the second novella in this two-novella volume. I read MISS LONELYHEARTS in 1997. NathaUpdated Review, February 7th, 2011: I have just finished reading the second novella in this two-novella volume. I read MISS LONELYHEARTS in 1997. Nathanael West is difficult. He is essentially an Expressionist and therefore unrelentingly abject. He is not averse to joking, every so often, so I shall put in a joke: He was an Abject Expressionist. LONELYHEARTS and LOCUST are both shocking. The reader must bring a lot to these stories. What seems merely absurd is explicable to a reader who gives a lot of thought to what is being described. But the message is bleak in a way that James Joyce's books are not. Both Joyce and Nathanael West know what people are up to. But there is some hope in Joyce's prose. A reader has to be ready for West's absolute pessimism. Here's the review I posted a while back, when I had only read MISS LONELYHEARTS. It's not much of a review, but it does talk about the book cover and the Donald Sutherland movie a bit:
I've read MISS LONELYHEARTS, but not DAY OF THE LOCUST. I read the former after seeing the movie starring Montgomery Clift. I have never seen the movie of DAY OF THE LOCUST, starring Donald Sutherland. I have also never seen the Donald Sutherland version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, but I have seen the original, and read the Jack Finney book, which originally was called THE BODY SNATCHERS but which has since been re-titled INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. (I saw a Donald Sutherland movie tonight, by the way. You should see him in Fellini's CASANOVA, although that's not the one I watched tonight. Tonight I watched ASK THE DUST, which is based on a book by John Fante.) I love the cover. It's a black-and-white photograph of a crowd with a giant, gray, broken heart superimposed on it. I think the crowd is waiting for movie stars to emerge from Rolls-Royces. We don't see any Rolls-Royces. The men have hats like the men in the crowd at the beginning of a SUPERMAN episode. I think this has been the cover for decades.
This highly diverting memoir is the follow-up to THE MOON'S A BALLOON. I have not read THE MOON'S A BALLOON, but if BRING ON THE EMPTY HORSES is merelThis highly diverting memoir is the follow-up to THE MOON'S A BALLOON. I have not read THE MOON'S A BALLOON, but if BRING ON THE EMPTY HORSES is merely a pale imitation than THE MOON'S A BALLOON must be hilarious. Niven actually makes Hollywood sound like a beautiful place. In his Hollywood people offer each other cool glasses of iced-tea, smiles and good fellowship. But he does not shy away from reality. There is a chapter describing an actress's nervous breakdown in frightening detail. The reader is aware that the people who are nice to Niven are not necessarily good people. A Niven biographer has said that he fabricated a lot of stories. But there is a sustained mood of wistfulness here which can't have come from a desire to distort. Niven had a desire to tell us about a wonderful place he himself never quite reached....more