There are two ways I can review this book. The first is to talk about the book. The second is to talk about me.
It's probably fairer to actually reviewThere are two ways I can review this book. The first is to talk about the book. The second is to talk about me.
It's probably fairer to actually review the book first.
'Making Money' is one of the more recent books by the much esteemed and highly prolific Terry Pratchett, for whom everyone prays (even if they aren't the praying sort) that he staves off his senility long enough to crank out another 30 or 40 novels. Pratchett has a bit of something for almost everyone's taste and is one of the author's I turn to when I want to read but don't really feel like reading. I do this because his novels are just so fun.
'Making Money' is one of Pratchett's Discworld novels, set in the city of Anhk-Morpork with its attendant cast of characters, and the second featuring one of Pratchett's more recent protagonists - the con-artist with a heart of gold, Moist Von Lipwig. All of Pratchett's novels are subversively didactic, and of Pratchett's protagonists, Moist Von Lipwig is probably the least subversive vehicle for Pratchett's attempts to educate the reader. In this story, the topic of Pratchett's humorously inventive lecture in novel form is primarily economics.
‘Making Money’ has all of Pratchett’s usual sly turns of phrase and plenty of humor, but it suffers from Pratchett’s usual unevenness. Sometimes he’s very very good: one of the best. At other times, he doesn’t quite get it all to come together and the jokes fall a little flat. In this case, he’s better than his worst but nowhere near his best. The occasional flatness of the humor isn’t the worst problem though. The central problem of the story is that it takes far too long for our protagonist to encounter significant difficulty, and once obstacles are placed in front of him they prove insufficiently daunting in appearance and too easily surmounted in fact. Also, the subplots of the story are not nearly as interesting as they are in other Pratchett novels, and generally the story simply fails to be as good as its predecessor ‘Going Postal’. Most of all, the various threads of the story simply don’t come together as neatly and perfectly as we would desire in a story like this. True, Pratchett ties it all together toward the end and resolves all of his loose ends, but the resulting package is not very neat nonetheless nor does the ending give an fully satisfying structure to the basically random events that led up to it. The reader is left wanting something, or at least I was.
Still, it’s an enjoyable read on a cold afternoon under a blanket with a cup of hot tea near at hand.
That is my review of the book, informed by my impressions but without really intruding into the review that much. What follows is a review of myself reading the book.
I think a lot. My thoughts just keep going and going and there is little I can do to stop them. Lately, my thoughts have been rather dampening my ability to enjoy fiction. The catalyst for this has been in part Goodreads. I can’t blame everything on Goodreads, as the rest of the internet and my relationship to it bears a portion of the blame, but it is Goodreads that bears most closely on my relationship to books and which most resulted in prompting this particular train of thought because it most exposed me to other people saying why it was that they liked books.
And the results of learning why people liked books have been rather horrifying to me, and have caused me to look at fiction with a general disgust that is not easily brushed off. I can safely say that over the past year I’ve read less fiction than in any other year since I learned to read. Pratchett is particularly well suited to illustrating the problem precisely because as I said, he offers a little something for everyone. To understand the problem, it’s important to note that my favorite books are J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and Gene Wolfe’s ‘Book of the New Sun’. Both authors I came upon something by accident - Tolkien in elementary school and Wolfe in college - without particularly seeking them out and without knowing anything particular about them.
At Goodreads as I read various people expounding on why they liked this book or that book, I noticed that the general pattern was that people liked books primarily because the books confirmed or validated for them something that they already dearly believed or liked to believe, about themselves, or the world, or other people. This could be in the form of some escapist fantasy in the case of a ‘lighter’ work of literature, or it could be in the form of some sort of philosophical or political point made cleverly or bluntly, openly or covertly. What I discovered essentially was that people liked books, and in particular gave to books the label of ‘literature’, because they liked to be lied to. They liked to have complex problems simplified. They liked to have straw men representatives of things that they didn’t like held up to be mocked or defeated. They liked to have their opinions validated. They liked to have the truth simplified and dumbed down. They liked to believe that one single story reflected artfully in some broken mirror shard told them everything that they needed to know about the real world. That is what entertained them. And it didn’t seem to matter how intelligent the person was. In fact, if anything, the more intelligent the reviewer seemed, the more prone they seemed to this behavior. The less intellectual the reviewer and the less they seemed to think about what they read, the less prone to liking something for this reason that they seemed. Although, it often didn’t seem to matter because the less intellectual reviewers always seemed to find what they wanted to find in the story when they reviewed it at length even if it wasn’t actually there.
Or to put it even more plainly, nothing objectively separates the reading of works of literature from listening to that preeminent entertainer of our day Rush Limbaugh. For those of you that would rather gag on a pile of maggots than listen to Rush, he has always been very open about the fact that he is not a journalist but an entertainer. And he has always been very open about the fact that he succeeds at entertaining people and garnering listeners because he validates for his listeners in ways that they find artful and compelling what they have always believed anyway. Like Moist Von Lipwig, he has the gift of being able to show the trick to his audience and still get away with it. I’ve always found that Rush is a far smarter individual than his critics give credit for. It may be that he’s a complete hypocrite or that he’s wrong about everything, but he is no fool. I have lately come to the conclusion that Rush’s observation about why he succeeds in talk radio probably applies to all forms of artistic expression generally. We like what caters to us. And that’s all. Nothing more. Everything else seems very likely to me at this point to be rationalization and covering up for ourselves so as to claim that our opinions as to the value of art are objective facts – this is good and that is bad. Or, since ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are not words academia is fond of, we find some more nuanced way of saying exactly the same thing.
I’m forced to this conclusion by examining everything I do like. Although I loved the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Gene Wolfe long before I knew them to be committed Christians, it is not I think incidental to my enjoyment of them that they are very covertly saying things that I believe. Sure, they are saying it so covertly that many readers probably don’t even notice it there and even I didn’t notice it there at first, and didn’t really notice it until I learned of their beliefs and really started digging for it, but its not I think random that my favorite authors would turn out to be people whose beliefs about the world basically agree with my own. All up and down the list, it is the same. It’s even the same if we turn to the subject of movies. I like ‘Chariots of Fire’ and ‘Lily of the Fields’. I like ‘October Sky’, ‘Apollo 13’, and ‘The Incredibles’. And if you know me as well or nearly as well as I know myself, then the reply to this ought to be, “Well of course you do.”
When we speak of reading we often use the metaphor of eating. When we read a book we devour it with or mind; we drink it in. We digest its contents. Well, I find it not terribly surprising on reflection that the things which I find agreeable are those things which agree with me.
Pratchett is an excellent case in point. Amongst my friends of a particular political and philosophical bent, their favorites tend to be precisely the ones where Pratchett’s bit of didacticism most agrees with their own. These of course I found the least interesting, least readable, with the least empathetic characters, least amusing humor, and least satisfying twists. On the other hand, my favorites were stories like ‘The Night Watch’ and ‘Wee Free Men’. These I found to have the most empathetic characters, the most exiciting endings, the most amusing humor, and to be the most compelling reading. Of course, the stories I liked best were also some of the stories where Pratchett’s Libertarian, scientific, and nerdy inclinations most clearly intersected my own. So in fact, I find myself unable to state that they were better written or better conceived stories than the ones I didn’t like. Perhaps I find Pratchett’s writing ‘uneven’ solely because he and I are both highly eclectic individuals with diverse tastes, and all I was really critiquing was how closely he tacked to what I believed. Like Homer Simpson, do I find it funny only when I find it to be true?
I find the whole idea I've constructed here repellent. It causes me to question whether there is any real value in fiction at all. I don't like it, but I also don't see any evidence that it isn't true. ...more
There are any number of books about manners aimed at young children. At one time, that was about all children were encouraged to read. Some of them arThere are any number of books about manners aimed at young children. At one time, that was about all children were encouraged to read. Some of them are pretty good - for example Richard Scarry's famous work. Many times though they are as wretched as only something didactic and condescending can be.
But how many teach you what to say when you've crashed your plane through the roof of the duchess’s house, or been bitten by a dinosaur, or bumped into a crocodile?
Just one - this marvelous little manual by Sesyle Joslin and illustrated by the incomparable Maurice Sendak. Charming and whimsical, this book of manners is sure to delight with its mixture of propriety with untamable imagination.
My girls, I'm proud to say were able to recite or correctly guess nearly everything you should say in such situations on the first try, except I'd forgotten to tell them the proper thing to say to an orchestra of bears when it tries to eat you. But, now that that's been covered, I think we are ready for anything.
I'm not usually sensitive to this sort of thing, but I'm dropping a star because for all its whimsy it ends up with games that are a little too conventional in their gender roles for me. Since I'm not generally sensitive to this sort of thing (and often sensitive to its opposite), I suspect people who are will be too much distracted by questions like, "Why doesn't the girl slay the dragon?" However, I can avow that my wife absolutely loved the book, perhaps more than I did, so don't let this slight misgiving keep you or your children away from this joyful little book. ...more
I have twins: identical twins. The most noticable difference between the two is one is smaller than the other one. My smaller one is my brave one; theI have twins: identical twins. The most noticable difference between the two is one is smaller than the other one. My smaller one is my brave one; the bigger one is prone to being a 'scaredy cat'. She's uncountably and randomly afraid of all sorts of things. Somethings are understandable: dogs and electric motors. Other things are less easy to explain: helium filled balloons, for example.
When we take the girls to the library, which is to be honest several times a week, we allow the girls to each pick out a book (or two, or three, they take after their parents). Often, particularly my little one, has very good taste. You can tell a book from its cover - especially if it is a picture book. The last time we went to the library my 'little bit' picked out 'Scaredy Mouse'.
I love 'Scaredy Mouse'. It's a very fun book to read. I get to do voices. I get to go, "IT'S THE CAT! IT'S THE CAT!"
When I go, "IT'S THE CAT! IT'S THE CAT!", my 'little bit' gggggggiiiiiiiiggles and grins. :D
And that makes her Daddy smile.
But when I go, "IT'S THE CAT! IT'S THE CAT!", her bigger, stronger, more atheletic, generally more assertive sister buries her head in my shoulder or hides under a pillow, and says, "That's too scary for me."
It isn't my favorite children's book, but this one gets extra stars for the look of joy my kids have on their faces when it's read to them. Clearly, tIt isn't my favorite children's book, but this one gets extra stars for the look of joy my kids have on their faces when it's read to them. Clearly, this is humor that three year olds can appreciate. Also, as I've discovered time and time again, the best children's art has a depth to it which encourages the young viewer to be drawn into it and find hidden little details. So, even if you don't get anything from the book directly, definately recommended to all parents of 2-3 year olds for what you get from the book indirectly....more
I was disappointed by this Olivia outing. Part of what makes an Olivia story a proper Olivia story is that the story can be very disjointed as Olivia'I was disappointed by this Olivia outing. Part of what makes an Olivia story a proper Olivia story is that the story can be very disjointed as Olivia's short attention span jumps from topic to topic. Sometimes this can be very entertaining and humorous, but in this case it just wasn't very satisfying. ...more
The great thing about the Olivia books is that they work on multiple levels - sort of like a good classic Warner Brother's cartoon. There is a littleThe great thing about the Olivia books is that they work on multiple levels - sort of like a good classic Warner Brother's cartoon. There is a little something for every age level and you'll find yourself laughing along with your children - albiet maybe not necessarily for the same reason.
In this episode, Olivia's family is going to celebrate Independence Day - an event which Olivia is sure requires a band.
My girls are just getting old enough to form a theory of mind, and the Olivia books are excellent for tracking their ability to imagine what another character is thinking....more
Little Bernard's parents wish to put him down for a nap, but he doesn't think he is sleepy. The situation which arises is one which will be familiar tLittle Bernard's parents wish to put him down for a nap, but he doesn't think he is sleepy. The situation which arises is one which will be familiar to all parents and small children.
I love the cute little story within a story and the 'Elephant Lullaby'. Excellent naptime reading for the precocious toddler and the story helps nurture the critical mind reading skills that children this age are just beginning to develop.
The illustrations are well done and have the sort of depth that helps make stories of this type interesting through multiple readings. ...more
The Little Ghosties, sitting on posties, tell wild boasties of how they've scared various monsters. But how will they fare when they turn thier talentThe Little Ghosties, sitting on posties, tell wild boasties of how they've scared various monsters. But how will they fare when they turn thier talents on children?
This cutesy little 'horror' story with illustrations meant to look like childish doodles deals with fears of things that go bump in the night, and is bound to generate laughs from your toddlers.
I particularly love the use of a wide variaty of hand drawn fonts to respresent the sound of words. It's rhymes, sound words, and onomatopoeia are sure to please the whole family. It's fun story to tell and my kids love making the sounds.
**spoiler alert** I didn't discover this book until I was an adult. It's become perhaps my favorite book targeted at young children.
My two girls love**spoiler alert** I didn't discover this book until I was an adult. It's become perhaps my favorite book targeted at young children.
My two girls love Frances, and I can't blame them. She's a creative, intelligent, imaginative, musical, sweet little badger whose parents are absolutely amazing role-models. The wonderful thing about Frances is that she feels real. She has the entire emotional range of a young child, and the stories for all that they are about badgers have a real and touching feel to them. You can't help but believing that there was or is a real 'Frances' out there, and if there wasn't then Hoban's creation is a real marvel of imagination and insight comparable to the best of the best fiction.
'Bedtime for Frances' deals with the all too familiar issue of trying to get a creative, intelligent, imaginative, inquisitive and largely sweet little girl to stay in their bed. (In my case, it's two such girls, which is enough to cause you to want to pull your hair out some nights.) As usual, Frances's parents deal with Frances's growing pains with their usual grace, gentleness, and empathy. In this case though, all the usual methods fail to have the desired effect, forcing France's father to resort to a stern lecture and to threaten more drastic and wholly politically incorrect action. (I can fully empathize with this too.)
If I have any complaint about the Frances books at all, it is that the girls’ appetite for them is so voracious that it can be tiring to read one (for the fourth time in an afternoon). Sometimes it is necessary to put them up out of sight and distract them with other books. Also, getting Frances books from the library wasn't sufficient to curb the girls Frances craving, so we had to buy them. 'Bedtime for Frances' is the only one we don't have and it's the hardest to find a copy for - probably because of the aforementioned lack of political correctness.
'Bedtime for Frances' is absolutely recommended for everyone if you can find it though. ...more
Since I was 6, just learning to read on my own and going through my Dr. Suess phase, this has been my favorite Dr. Seuss story. What didn't occur to mSince I was 6, just learning to read on my own and going through my Dr. Suess phase, this has been my favorite Dr. Seuss story. What didn't occur to me then, that occurs to me now, is that this is one of Dr. Seuss's only prose works. It does not have Dr. Seuss's easily parodied meter or a rhyme scheme.
I don't know what the meaning of the story is. If it has an overall meaning, its not nearly as easy to tease out as so many of Seuss's openly allegorical and more famous tales. Perhaps that's part of what placed the story in my esteem then, and holds it there now. An allegorical story is trying desparately to convince me of something, and generally speaking in a way that annoys me especially when the moral of the story is so much simplier than the problem that it seems to have no practical merit. 'The 500 Hats' isn't desparate to convince me of something; it's just entertaining and if I learn something from it then all the better. As has become typical of my opinion as I aged, I think I was unconsciously rejecting politics as the highest level of art even then.
The basic story concerns the conflict between the very small, and the very great. Bartholomew Cubbins has a family hat that he's quite willing to remove from his head to please the proud King Derwin. Unfortunately for poor Cubbins, his hat is not nearly so willing to be removed. Cubbin's involuntary act of hubris leads to conflict with the entire social fabric of the Kingdom - a conflict that Cubbin's ends up winning not by any virtue of his own part (except perhaps basic goodness and fast feet), but by the sheer stubbornness of the hat over which he has no control. In the end, the audacity of the hat ends up pleasing the King so well, he's willing to have it's vainity crown his own head and Bartholmew Cubbins returns to his humble roots unmolested and unencumbered (except for new found wealth). ...more