Heartbreaking. Absolutely and completely. But so, so achingly pretty. Watching the characters come into their own and change from the beginning of the...moreHeartbreaking. Absolutely and completely. But so, so achingly pretty. Watching the characters come into their own and change from the beginning of the novel to the end makes them come to life in both the reader's and the other characters' eyes. (less)
Hubs and I have a tradition of getting inked to celebrate the major milestones of our marriage. We are tragically overdue for our done-bought-a-house...moreHubs and I have a tradition of getting inked to celebrate the major milestones of our marriage. We are tragically overdue for our done-bought-a-house tats, which have less to do with buying our first home and are, instead, tributes to our literary heroes: HST for him, a whole mess of influential wordslingers for me, including the venerable Richard Python because, in a year that has been overflowing with some really great books and has (re)introduced me to some brilliant writers, it's my ever-growing affinity for T. Ruggs that stands out as 2012's most enjoyable development. My intended fleshy nod to Pynchon was lifted directly from this novella (I figured an otherwise unmarked book with a muted-horn bookmark would be an appropriately obscure enough tip of the hat) -- more than reason enough to revisit the book that started it all so many years ago, right?
I loved this when I first read it, though I realize that I didn't fully appreciate its myriad little treasures until now. What dazzled me on the brink of post-college life -- the word play, the deft navigation of a tricky plot, the delightfully symbolic and outright goofy names -- were just superficial (but still mighty rad) delights. Having a better understanding of the wonderful things that happen when Pynchon's at the helm made this nothing short of a densely packed little gift that just keeps on giving.
It's not a Pynchon novel without it also being an engineering lesson, a history class, a science experiment, a physics overview and a crash course in pop culture, all told in ten-dollar words. It had me researching the histories of both the U.S. postal service and philately (which I didn't even know was a word until this book forced me to look it up -- it's the study of stamp collecting), additional resources regarding Maxwell's Demon (though Pynchon laid it out pretty well), WWII tragedies masked as collateral damage, the effectiveness of LSD as therapy (thanks for laying that groundwork, Mister Huxley!) and God knows what else, which all prove my next point: It's also not a Pynchon novel without necessitating the consultation of at least three secondary sources and the whole damn internet. I learn more about a scattershot sampling of specialized subjects reading Pynchon than I do from any other life experience because the man crams three times as much story into his books than the page count suggests. I am just batshit over how even his meatiest tomes are deceptively short compared to the wealth of information they contain.
"The Courier's Tragedy" stood out so much more this time. Masterful imabic pentameter and a story-within-a-story that hasn't been this well executed since Shakespeare set the bar for such things at dizzying and humbling heights? Yeah, this book is proof that Pynchon rushes in where only The Bard dares to tread. (less)
I spent three months with this book, sometimes reading 10 pages at a time, sometimes reading more than 100 pages in a day. I need some time to process...moreI spent three months with this book, sometimes reading 10 pages at a time, sometimes reading more than 100 pages in a day. I need some time to process the myriad human tragedies that it pummeled me with over and over again. "People's History" was nothing if not dense and upsetting.
I will say that I wish I read this book year ago because it most assuredly affected my perception of the world. And the things I learned from this book are things I feel like I should have known eons ago. (less)
I've been meaning to get my hands on this graphic novel since a college friend recommended it years ago. While one's honeymoon maybe isn't the best ti...moreI've been meaning to get my hands on this graphic novel since a college friend recommended it years ago. While one's honeymoon maybe isn't the best time to be sucked back into the powerful and poignant memories of a fondly recalled first love, the touching narration and rich illustrations that comprise Thompson's childhood and bittersweet taste of new romance made for a visceral reading experience that was brimming over with a sense of belonging and kinship.
I read this in two sittings because I was so overwhelmed with a sense of empathy that I had to put some distance between me and the tale Thompson had woven. Everything from his Wisconsin origins, awkward sibling relationship, conflicting regard for Christianity and Christians (and the realization that the two have alarmingly different messages), remarkably intense first taste of what it is to be in so in love that it hurts, and stumbling, turbulent childhood and adolescent moments struck the chords of familiar terrain with me. I haven't felt so emotionally connected to a character before, and it made for one of the most cathartic reads ever.
Coming-of-age tales run the risk of cliche and sentimentality, but the emotions and milestones brought to life in the graphic novel format (coupled with Thompson's obvious capabilities as a storyteller) were so raw, so genuine and so very unflinching that I felt more like I was sneaking a peek at someone's diary than reading a mass-distributed book in its ninth publication.
It is a heavy read (quite literally, too -- the book weighs in at 500+ pages) if you're unusually in touch with the exposed nerve of the past, but it's well worth the emotional ride.(less)
-- It was funny. Not solely in a spirit-of-the-time sort of way but in a universally human one. The same communication br...moreA few things about this book:
-- It was funny. Not solely in a spirit-of-the-time sort of way but in a universally human one. The same communication breakdowns, conflicting motives, misdirected emotions, misguided actions and character flaws plague the denizens of George Eliot's far-reaching tome as they do a modern audience.
-- Seriously. It's funny.
-- Dodo. Fucking Dodo, man. How a character can go from being such an insipid little pill to one of the novel's most compelling forces... it's breathtaking. George Eliot juggles a massive cast comprising dozens of intricately crafted personalities to paint a sprawling, immersive collage of one provincial town. It is ultimately worth the pushing through the odious beginning: Consider it the necessary cost of admission. The ride gets really good once Dorothea finally starts gaining some dimension and direction. (less)
The first time I read "The Gunslinger," I was dazzled. I mean, my love for "The Stand" is insurmountable and I'd enjoyed other samplings of Stephen Ki...moreThe first time I read "The Gunslinger," I was dazzled. I mean, my love for "The Stand" is insurmountable and I'd enjoyed other samplings of Stephen King's works, but I had no idea Sai King was THIS good. No one should be able to tell this kind of story (which is a wicked beginning to a series in the first place -- and bloody good in its own literary right) at 19.
The second time was like coming home. I don't know how else to describe it. I'd taken so long to read The Dark Tower series the first time around that I got to know the characters, their pasts and the sequence of events detailed within the seven books so well that starting over was just an absolute treat. Every major happening still packs a wallop even with the knowledge of where it all leads. And I can't believe how many little details I'd forgotten that just came screaming back with every word of this book.
Just getting to revisit Roland (one of my all-time favorite fictional characters, by the way) and his world and his quest is so comfortable and familiar in all the right ways. Seeing him as The Gunslinger, a man with a mission instead of the fully fleshed-out being that he becomes by the end of the series, was pretty cool. And all the foreshadowing King throws in feels like sharing the best of your inside jokes with someone who appreciates them just as much.
And Jake. Oh, Jake. I've never cared so much for a child, real or fictional, as much as I've cared about him. The humanizing effect he has on Roland just about killed me this time.
"The Gunslinger" is one of the few books that I actually enjoyed more as a reread than I did the first time around. Maybe it's because the series is familiar territory now. Maybe it's because I understand where Roland's coming from -- and going -- now. Or just maybe it's because King created an astoundingly intricate and magnetic universe populated by alarmingly visceral characters with the DT books. Regardless, all I have to say is thankee big-big for these books, Sai King.(less)
So the parts when Vermeer was actually being a painter were interesting. Seeing as I slogged through this on account of a recommendation that arose fr...moreSo the parts when Vermeer was actually being a painter were interesting. Seeing as I slogged through this on account of a recommendation that arose from an art-class lecture on Vermeer, I was hoping that the art stuff would at least deliver.
But it's not a good sign when a book's most compelling moments revolve around two people grinding pigments. And, no: "Grinding pigments" is not a euphemism for artist-bangin'. It is, quite literally, referring to the detailed descriptions of how paint was made in the days before those fancy metal tubes replaced pig bladders as the paint-storing vessels of choice.
This was the most predictable book I've read in a while, and that includes the two graphic-novel series that are simply retelling stories I know well in a new medium. I knew exactly where the plot was going within the book's first dozen pages. Every subsequent thread was introduced with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the writerly finesse of a 14-year-old's first attempt at fanfiction.
It was also pretty obvious what stereotype everyone was going to play from his or her very first appearance. There really isn't a multi-dimensional character in this book. I understand that the first-person voice is a limited perspective by its nature, and I would write it off as just that if the peripheral characters were the only flat archetypes, but even the narrator doesn't carry any convincing weight. Griet is the protagonist because she's the main character. And because all of the characters with whom she has scuffles are inexplicably bitchy. Not giving characters any real motivations, not making them behave and interact believably, and generally preferring to tell rather than show all contributed to making this whole book feel sloppy, underdeveloped and rushed. If "Girl with a Pearl Earring" was maybe 200 more pages of really hammering out the story and its players, maybe then it'd be a more satisfying read. At least it's mercifully quick and mostly painless at its current length.
I say "mostly painless" because there are some groan-worthy lines showcased here: While more pages would have maybe benefited the plot, there is nothing -- save for a control-freak editor -- that could have improved the prose itself. I could not get past the clunky writing. It didn't take me long to get violently annoyed by the author's fondness for hitting the reader over the head with the most obvious attempts at subtle foreshadowing by way of forcing too much weight on these flimsy, laughably ominous one-sentence paragraphs. There were numerous other technical things that kept grating on me about the writing and its myriad shortcomings. Among them: Griet saying things like "I always regretted that decision" to indicate that she's looking back on a time that is very clearly written as the present; not one character shows any development throughout the novel; sixteen-year-old Griet, the daughter of a tile painter, somehow knows more about painting and composition than Vermeer, a professional artist who actually managed to garner some fame during his living years.
Even when the book pissed me off (which was often), I will admit that I never found Griet herself to be irritating (maybe because I kept fantasizing about Scarlett Johansson to save my brain from oozing through my ears?) -- but I was irked at how it felt like Chevalier was Mary Sue-ing her way through the character. The way that every man whom Griet encountered in the whole! damn! book! fawned over and flirted with her, the way she was presented as being uneducated but naturally clever just because she sometimes spoke her mind and separated her chopped veggies by color, the way Griet's family was painted as these simple, sheltered little Protestants who knew nothing of the world around them.... there was far too much black-or-white for me to take anything about the book seriously.
I don't care enough to write about this book any more. So. Every other gripe I have notwithstanding, here are three of the book's most glaring failures:
-- Vermeer, for being the central male character, remains an enigma. It's not that he's shrouded in an air of charming mystery but rather that his personality is nothing more than a bunch of suppositions that Griet "just knows" about him.
-- Griet does not ever refer to Vermeer as anything other than "he" or "him". Not. Once. It made her sound like a starstruck teenybopper and it undermined any sense of genuine affection between the painter and his maid.
-- The similes. Oh, dear sweet Baby Jesus, the similes. I now know that I have a limited tolerance for the number of trite comparisons of faces and voices to household objects that I encounter in one novel, all thanks to the time I spent reading this book.(less)
The universal pains of a girl's stumbling journey to womanhood definitely overshadow the more specific agonies of growing up Latina, which made it eas...moreThe universal pains of a girl's stumbling journey to womanhood definitely overshadow the more specific agonies of growing up Latina, which made it easy to relate to Esperanza's series of vignettes. I just can't help but feel like the whole story would have flowed together better if it were told in a graphic-novel format rather than a whole lot of two- or three-page snippets. Also, I read the bulk of this book in an insomnia-flavored haze, so take from that what you will.(less)
Like "The Road," I bought "World War Z" so people would stop recommending it to me; also like "The Road," a few years passed between purchasing and fi...moreLike "The Road," I bought "World War Z" so people would stop recommending it to me; also like "The Road," a few years passed between purchasing and finally reading the book, the latter effort being choked with innumerable moments of vivid déjà vu wherein I wondered why the hell it took me so long to delve into such a disturbingly awesome novel (and so indulging myself in Halloween-appropriate reads already proves to be a brilliant move).
The most immediate success of WWZ is Brooks's ability to write believably in dozens of unique voices. No two survivors -- not even the military personnel -- have the same story, so it stands to reason that none of them should sound the same in their interviews: The only commonality in the various personal accounts is their palpable humanity. Each survivor's pre-war life and wartime experiences shape their narratives, and it's impressive how one character's ongoing internal battles can be so well hidden while others still are visibly dealing with their own psychological demons. Taking on the international element and offering the reader a global perspective only makes the zombie scourge more believable.
It is the worldwide perspective that makes WWZ an ambitious undertaking. Seeing each country's response, how national identities affected individual responses and how global relations played a role in every stage of the war offered an unsettlingly realistic look at a hypothetical tragedy.
Brooks really doesn't leave a stone unturned, and his impeccable attention to detail is another one of the book's strongest assets. He addresses everything from seeking refuge in a nuclear sub to some nations' return to isolation tactics to the environmental devastation of attempting to blast the undead back to the hell from whence they shuffled (OH HAI NUCLEAR AUTUMN) to the failure of standard wartime tactics in the face of an unconventional enemy to even the biologic composition of zombies, which becomes creepily relevant upon revealing the "quisling" phenomenon. Though, given that a staggering number of survivors AND undead have taken to the oceans, I'm kind of curious about the possibility of zombie sharks. Yeah, it sucks that the whale population is a notch below extinction by the end of the book but.... c'mon. Zombie sharks. Let's entertain that doubly insatiable flight of fancy, please.
The scariest part of this novel? How much it assured me that neither my country's government nor its people are even close to being adequately prepared for anything more traumatizing than a really bad week at work. The events that unfolded in these 342 pages had me wondering if the rise of the undead might be the bite in the ass that society needs to get its priorities in order. My fellow Americans worry me more than zombies do (but that's no recent development), which was more than enough inspiration to make sure that the zombie-apocalypse go-bag is up-to-date before heading to the range for target practice.
In the end, I came for the zombies; I stayed for the authenticity of the book's various human reactions. (less)