This is an easy-to-read account of Julia Child, her life, her marriage, and other information about her. It has the benefit of not being to wanderingThis is an easy-to-read account of Julia Child, her life, her marriage, and other information about her. It has the benefit of not being to wandering or in-depth, as are some other bios about the American woman who helped create the seminal French cookbook for the home cook and brought public cooking shows back to life.
Shapiro probably spends a little too much time defining Childs' politics - beliefs shaped by her time, her dislike of her dad's conservative, but her unwillingness to understand her importance as a working woman whose husband played a supporting role. A whole section is spent on Childs' thoughts on homosexuality...perhaps that's important considering that her contemporary and friend James Beard was. However, I never knew of Childs' biases, nor did I care to (and I'm a gay man). I know people of her time would've had less exposure and more trouble with gender questions and sexual identity.
Still, most of the rest of the book is breezy and reverent enough of the woman - her legend and her flaws....more
What an enjoyable, funny first novel! It's about the white-collar workers at an overly juvenile advertising firm - told in first-person plural, so youWhat an enjoyable, funny first novel! It's about the white-collar workers at an overly juvenile advertising firm - told in first-person plural, so you never know who the narrator is. Gossip, pranks, and tangents fill their days...until the layoffs come. Much of this is about the dehumanizing of people at corporate business; some of this is about how we humans dehumanize each other. Specific things happen; someone hides a piece of sushi in someone else's office, people steal each other's chairs in a mocking of La Ronde, someone goes a little crazy after being terminated. If I have quibbles, the trick about the first-person plural never fully gets answered, so we never know who the voice is. Also, in the middle - for good and bad reasons - the voice of the book changes for one chapter to third-person omnipotent; it is well written, but it feels a little gimmicky. Still, much of this is funny. And it makes you think in good and bad ways about capitalist corporate culture...or the lack of culture, really. It's funny and also, a bit sad. ...more
I won't write a lot, because so many people have already commented. I will say that, reading it as an adult, I was struck with how political it was -I won't write a lot, because so many people have already commented. I will say that, reading it as an adult, I was struck with how political it was - including a call for rich, landed people not to sink into idleness and obsession. There is a bit of paranoia in it.
I cannot say I like the way spurned lovers treat their passion and pain. I'm also not wild about the messages that if you cannot prove your worth to your family - which may be a completely arbitrary judgment - your family has every right to write you out of their wills. I would understand if this was about specific characters, but Grahame presents these ideas as perfectly acceptable actions, by using phrases like "Of course."
I was also surprised by the descriptive language, how able Grahame is to create a children's language that still gives detail in short sentences. The is a beloved book for children around the world; who doesn't love talking animals (even if they mix weirdly with humans and machines). It seems, though, that this is a book originally for the children of English landowners and aristocracy. I never realized this before....more
On John Irving, I have six thoughts: 1. He always seems to have a discombobulated male as his central character, Garp, the narrator in A Prayer for OweOn John Irving, I have six thoughts: 1. He always seems to have a discombobulated male as his central character, Garp, the narrator in A Prayer for Owen Meany, the dad in The Hotel New Hampshire, and the young orphan in The Cider House Rules. They can be clueless, happy-go-lucky, confused, aimless, grief-stricken… 2. There is also always some intriguing but slightly distant female. 3. Irving loves the little bits of weirdness, like the woman in the bear costume in The Hotel New Hampshire. 4. Irving also loves those moments of sweetness, to the point that they can become syrupy at times, like at the end of Owen Meany. 5. He writes very clean sentences; they’re amazingly adept and easy to read. 6. Still, his little inventions often strain my suspension of disbelief.
All of these are true for The Fourth Hand. Patrick Wallingford is a cavalier reporter for a sensational news channel. He trots the globe covering disasters and small tragedies for the spectacle-obsessed audience. In each port, he panders his cavalier, sleeping with women without forethought or remorse. Then he loses his left hand in a lion accident. (No spoilers: it happens in the first few pages).
Dr. Zajac is a minor character, but he is the opposite of Patrick. He’s too distant, too thoughtful, very analytical, and even clueless. He’s a hand surgeon who hopes to utilize Patrick’s accident to make the first successful hand transplant.
Doris lost her husband, a man she loved very much; they agreed that if the opportunity should ever arise, they’d donate their hand to Patrick (who became famous because his accident was caught on camera.) Though Doris is sad at never having a child with her husband, and she is now grief-stricken, she insists on meeting Patrick and Dr. Zajac to make sure her hubby’s hand is going to a deserving person.
Love is going to find all these characters, even in their extreme circumstances. The main story here is how falling in love helps transform Patrick from a brainless, pretty lothario to someone who wants to be upstanding and responsible. The main question is whether he’s changed drastically and soon enough to deserve Doris, a grief-stricken woman whose husband’s hand Patrick now possesses.
Now to my six points:
1) Patrick’s journey is worthy as long as everyone recognizes that he is not always the most engaging, sympathetic character. He’s pretty shallow, in fact. I feel Irving spent too much time with Patrick, given that the man is basically a handsome but thoughtless cad. Dr. Zajac is also a bit of an automaton, but Irving seems to have spent the exact right amount of time with his story. We get the comparisons to Patrick. If Patrick’s story had been shortened to seem more even to Dr. Zajac’s (and Doris’), I would’ve been OK with that.
2) Doris: yes, I wish I’d known much more. What does her obsession with football mean? How does it define her, her relationship with her husband, her connection to his family? How does her day-to-day life look, especially grief stricken, especially jobless and with new responsibilities? How will she ever prepare herself to move on, to make room for another relationship in her life? In many ways, she purposely chooses to believe certain mythologies and lies: why? A few more chapters with her back-story would’ve pleased me. Her story is the shortest of the three main characters, and I feel that’s deeply unfair to her character and to the readers.
3 and 6) [Yes, I know I’m going out of order.] So, yeah, there is weirdness here. Actually the lion attack was believable, and even the hand transplant has some fact behind it. However, the strained little lies that characters tell themselves and each other were a little more problematic. I often doubted people’s intentions, and I felt that others acted fairly gullibly at times. I felt that outspoken characters would’ve been more blunt, less accepting.
4) This novel is one of Irving’s quieter, sweeter novels, even with the lion attack at the beginning. That should make it more saccharine, but I found that Irving did an even job with the romance and relationship portion (except, of course, what I mentioned earlier about people trusting others and not speaking up enough.)
5) There is something so breezy about the way Irving writes that I didn’t feel I’d read almost 300 pages. It’s a simple, effective approach I wish other writers – including myself – knew how to mimic.
So, that’s why this is only a good but not great novel, even though I feel that Irving is one of our best living writers. ...more
To really enjoy this book, you have to have three ingredients 1. you need to be a rabid Stephen Sondheim fan (or at least have a HUGE knowledge of hisTo really enjoy this book, you have to have three ingredients 1. you need to be a rabid Stephen Sondheim fan (or at least have a HUGE knowledge of his work). 2. You have to have master’s level degrees in music composition, theatre, and movie critique. 3. Finally, you have to love in-depth and detailed works written by great experts for the edification of other great experts. Put aside your heart, because this is Broadway musical history run through a careful and cold dissection, poked and prodded to death, replete with anatomical drawings.
I do love Sondheim. He’s the Broadway composer who started out as a lyricist for Gypsy and West Side Story. He went on to write some of the greatest, most complex musicals Broadway has ever seen, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, A Little Might Music, Follies, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Passion, and Assassins.
Sondheim’s musical composition is often intricate; he regularly suffers the strange complaint that his songs aren’t hummable. His tunes are integral to the plot, making them virtually impossible to be pulled out and turned into pop songs. Often songs are sung dialogue, replete with carefully constructed and clever rhymes and witty sayings. His technical ability has people accusing Sondheim of writing shows that are too complicated and emotionally cold. And yet over 60 years in the theatre has proven that he is a creative force to be reckoned with. Sondheim is the man who successfully stirs the hearts and uncorks the emotions of theater-going intellectuals.
The technical side is all present in Steve Swayne’s book. And since Sondheim does inspire such rabid intellectual debate, perhaps Swayne was writing with the thought in mind that he’d have to answer to Sondheim’s nitpicky fans. This is a book for experts by an expert. It’s accurate and thoroughly researched. But as entertainment, it’s also a rather gray, lifeless read.
Perhaps it’s because I only have one college-level class of music composition, so I found the detailed descriptions of musical keys and chords tiring after 20 pages. I kept having to look up the classical music that Swayne refers to, and I often still didn’t quite get the point after listening to it. I would google Swayne’s references to plays and movies I hadn’t seen (about half of the ones mentioned).
From the pages and pages of dissertation-level language, we can tell Swayne has done his research. But really, at the core, the author’s basic premise to the average reader is quite simple. Sondheim is a product of what he was exposed to. He’s very learned, WASP born and bred, and IVY League educated (with personal help by brilliant lyricist Oscar Hammerstein). Sondheim is a classicist by nature. Also, Sondheim is a man whose high interest in detailed drama, intricate structure, and challenging puzzles and games informs all of his works. Sondheim writes to specific style, as with Sweeney Todd where he mixed Grand Guignol—dark, Victorian, operatic—with the film noir scores of Bernard Hermann (Psycho).
This is a book for researchers and people digging into the delicacies of parts, pieces, and moments—the viscera. Swayne is obviously obsessed with Sondheim, and the author is a workhorse of a researcher. Also, Swayne’s not afraid to share an opinion. However, this high-aiming book has an extraordinarily limited audience. Until I read it, I thought I was in that elite group.
Sondheim is often criticized for his intellectual detail, complexity and coldness. Yet, his music—when properly and fairly explored—has a true depth of emotion and human-borne conflict. Swayne’s book has the intellect, construction, and coldness down. Sadly, it also assumes Sondheim’s artistic heart is a mere product of academic dissection. This book is all parts of the bodies of Sondheim’s work carefully autopsied in a lab-like experiment, as if these very lively and human creations were past the hope of breathing any new spark into. ...more