3.5. Really close to a 4 at some points, but not quite. Sometimes it reminded me of the prose of Kage Baker. I think it would have made me think of th3.5. Really close to a 4 at some points, but not quite. Sometimes it reminded me of the prose of Kage Baker. I think it would have made me think of that even without the Spanish setting, but it's impossible to say.
It's about cheese, yeah, but it's not only about cheese. And there's the betrayal and revenge stuff, sure, but what the author is really doing here, and why this book took over ten years to produce, is because he's dealing with stories and why they're important. And also national-cultural identity as reflected in our personal lives, and how we can want to change that but can't always do so. Does that sound boring? Nonsense. Check out this excerpt:
(view spoiler)[My kids were back at home, and my wife, and there were bills to pay, and I owed England a bunch of money and then I had another thought: I'm not really Castilian, am I? Sara had said as much, but I hadn't believed her—hadn't wanted to—for in that moment, I'd felt myself so close to a breakthrough. I'd desperately needed a breakthough. Why couldn't I be the guy in the poncho, herding my family to a slower way of living? Why couldn't I settle in here and embrace the simple life, its quietude and old-wrld charms? What was so wrong about wanting to sit by the fire with your family, telling stories?
But no. It was like the boy raised by wolves, who realizes he likes raw rabbit innards less than pepperoni pizza, and begins to ask some hard questions. I heard a voice in my head singing my lonely hallelujah—and it now seemed as plain as deep-fried sheep ears when it spoke: You're an American, dude. I had long ago pledged my allegiance to Starbucks and microbrews, to stupid TV shows and those fluorescent Slurpees. I liked to order food without always hearing, "Como?" I couldn't invent attachment-apparatuses for a tractor, let alone drive one. When I was away from home, I missed vegetables and the phone ringing with some new assignment to somewhere i'd never heard of. Or a friend around the corner who wanted to grab a beer. I pledged allegiance to the ideals of our oft-flawed political system, for, at our best, we seemed less haunted than other countries, more protean, less grudge-holding, even if the world seemed more so toward us (and sometimes for good reason). As much as I loved that version of Guzmán on its hill, I don't think my heart had ever soared higher than the first time I drove cross-country and, in an adrenalized rush, saw the Rockies, carved in indigo, before my eyes—nor was I ever more taken aback by pure, random friendliness than, when first walking into a Waffle House after hours of driving, I was greeted by the woman behind the counter with, "Hey, shug-ah, anything I can get you?"
Yes, American life was messy and maddening, overwhelming and aggressive, supersaturated and plaque plagued, but it was deeply comforting, too. In the blur of our digital times, we may not have been as in touch with out inner Daniel Boones as Ambroisio was in touch with his El Cid, but this America was who I was.
... I realized that whatever legacy I gave my kids, I wanted them to know what it meant to be close to the land, close to history, close to the song of stars at night. I wanted them to feel close to me, too, and to Sara, by finding unfettered time that was so hard to find unless you flew far away from the madness. But it hadn't occurred to me to try to tame that madness rather than escape it, to bring the lessons of Castile back to my American life. (hide spoiler)]
This book made me want to read Poema de Mio Cid and more about Goya, and the stuff that Paterniti quotes from Walter Benjamin. It has some very long footnote-digressions, so if you are not into that sort of thing, well, don't say I didn't try to make sure you went into it with your eyes open!...more
Very nice prose. A collection of essays more than a really coherent single narrative, though. Well-chosen illustrations, though in this edition at leaVery nice prose. A collection of essays more than a really coherent single narrative, though. Well-chosen illustrations, though in this edition at least none of them are in color. Some of the topics covered included: draped clothing as a decorative motif since antiquity; clothes in books; clothing in erotica and the male gaze; mirrors; theatrical costumes; black as a perennial fashion statement; clothing in fiction. It didn't really tackle class issues and some of the author's statements concerning antiquity seemed speculative, but it is an interesting book if you're into fashion history....more
Yes, before anyone asks ... I am a little embarrassed that I read this. But I still think it's defensible that I did so. I don't deny that in some wayYes, before anyone asks ... I am a little embarrassed that I read this. But I still think it's defensible that I did so. I don't deny that in some ways, Dan Brown is a bad writer (and maybe kind of a jerk about Catholicism), that this series of books is formulaic. When I was seeking absolution (not really) from some Internet buddies for having read this, I said this when asked why I would do such a thing:
There aren't a lot of books that take an interest in art and architecture as part of our collective human heritage. Even if Dan Brown is doing it in a goofy and awkward way, well, those things are important to me.
But on the other hand, you can't deny — at least I can't — that these novels are action movie fluff. (The last two especially.) I guess my ultimate take on this would be, interesting ideas, explored in a poor way....more
Complaints that this was shallow are ... not unjustified. There's a lot of focus on appearances and clothes and shopping. But while it's fluffy, it'sComplaints that this was shallow are ... not unjustified. There's a lot of focus on appearances and clothes and shopping. But while it's fluffy, it's not all affluent first world white woman problems. The core of this book is Facebook posts and tweets which the author has in some cases expanded into mini-essays. I enjoyed the anecdotes about adapting to Paris, and the sensory pleasures thereof. I liked how she talked in the introduction about waiting to experience the epiphanies that she read about in other cancer survivors' memoirs about the preciousness of life and living in the moment, and how it never happened, but that was okay. "I never did learn how to live in the moment, but I did learn that moments could be wasted and the world would continue to spin on its axis."...more
Not the best memoir ever, but an interesting one, especially if you are interested in East Asia and have a little bit of background. I feel like thisNot the best memoir ever, but an interesting one, especially if you are interested in East Asia and have a little bit of background. I feel like this really needs some annotations. Unfortunately, it doesn't have any.
I'm disappointed that the followup was never written. Even though I think the story of her post-World War II experiences in China and Japan would have been more sad, it would have been worthwhile, I think. I wonder if this was the manuscript that she mentions working on at the home of Helen and Tom Lambert? (Helen Lambert was a war crimes prosecutor and her husband Tom was a war correspondent. They first came to my attention in The Women Who Wrote the War.)...more
I was seriously poised to say something like "Great story. I hated it." for roughly the first half of this book. It's very gonzo and action-movie-ish.I was seriously poised to say something like "Great story. I hated it." for roughly the first half of this book. It's very gonzo and action-movie-ish. The thematically interesting, thoughtful parts aren't deployed until about halfway through. The first couple parts are like a really, really long prologue. I was seriously thinking of abandoning the book.
But the second half of the book saved it for me. It's a much more thoughtful examination of the increasingly prevalent SF theme that our physical bodies are a dead end or hindrance, or at least a flawed prototype. (Start paying attention to how many SF works have life extension or immortality as a casual background, and you might be surprised.) Its conception of the virtual world of uploaded human intelligences owes a lot to Neal Stephenson, and less to Greg Egan than I was expecting.
If you can handle/laugh at humor and mockery about Ayn Rand, well, there's a very amusing payoff. (view spoiler)["Do you call yourself an Objectivist? You're not fit to shine Alan Greenspan's boots!" (hide spoiler)]
At least one reviewer on GR has noted that this book is very Strossian, at least if the Halting State universe is your benchmark for Stross. Doctorow's writerly tics are harder to detect here.
(view spoiler)[Wittering about the jacket copy, you can skip this: the description that most online sources seem to be using is kind of awful. Made me think of this comic. (It's wrong about Anathem, though.) I replaced the one for this edition with the version that appears on the back of the book. In case you're curious, this is the old version:
Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids. For the most part, they are happy with their lot, living in a preserve at the bottom of a gravity well. Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining one or another of the swarming densethinker clades that fog the inner solar system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick that it obscures the sun.
The splintery metaconsciousness of the solar-system has largely sworn off its pre-post-human cousins dirtside, but its minds sometimes wander…and when that happens, it casually spams Earth's networks with plans for cataclysmically disruptive technologies that emulsify whole industries, cultures, and spiritual systems. A sane species would ignore these get-evolved-quick schemes, but there's always someone who'll take a bite from the forbidden apple.
So until the overminds bore of stirring Earth's anthill, there's Tech Jury Service: random humans, selected arbitrarily, charged with assessing dozens of new inventions and ruling on whether to let them loose. Young Huw, a technophobic, misanthropic Welshman, has been selected for the latest jury, a task he does his best to perform despite an itchy technovirus, the apathy of the proletariat, and a couple of truly awful moments on bathroom floors. (hide spoiler)] ...more
"It's Valhalla — you know, for kids!" (i.e., the heroes' afterlife, but in a somewhat toned down and sanitized way.)
I can see why some people fell in"It's Valhalla — you know, for kids!" (i.e., the heroes' afterlife, but in a somewhat toned down and sanitized way.)
I can see why some people fell in love with this book when they read it as children. I also think that this is a book you have to read as a child to fully relate to its charm. (There will be adults who are exceptions to this, I suspect. It depends on how you feel about death and dying. Because it deals with these themes it would be good to preview it before giving to a young child, I think.) The idea of it is interesting, but parts of it are simplistic, in ways that didn't satisfy me.
This edition has lovely illustrations. Some of them evoke the old Norse style without fully imitating it....more
I think I read this in the 90s sometime? I'm not completely sure. At the time I could relate very well to the way the protagonist didn't get along witI think I read this in the 90s sometime? I'm not completely sure. At the time I could relate very well to the way the protagonist didn't get along with her sister....more
2.5. A while ago, I read Doctorow's short story "Anda's Game" in The Starry Rift. I enjoyed it and was curious to see what Doctorow would do with the2.5. A while ago, I read Doctorow's short story "Anda's Game" in The Starry Rift. I enjoyed it and was curious to see what Doctorow would do with the idea of stories that took place mostly in MMORPG settings. (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game, frequently shortened to MMO.) Oh, and you can read "Anda's Game" online here. It's unusual in that it deals with gold farmers (people who farm in-game currency and items and then sell them for real money) in a sympathetic way. This novel does too.
A few days ago, I was looking for something light and different to read, so I grabbed this from the library. Different, yes; light, no. "No" in the sense that this is science-fiction-is-didactic (thanks, Joanna Russ) at its bestworst, with lots of straight-up mini-lectures about economics. (Which is something I don't remember seeing at all in previous Doctorow books I've read.) Most of the time, Doctorow didn't bother to disguise these as dialogue. But also, this book deals very realistically with life in the economies of China and India. (And well, I would say.)
Though the author denies that this is memoir, to me it read like one in places. An interesting look at the American art scene (with some looks at theThough the author denies that this is memoir, to me it read like one in places. An interesting look at the American art scene (with some looks at the Parisian scene) and how Americans especially appreciated art in the late nineteenth and early 20th century. I particularly enjoyed the section on Renoir.
Pach was the son of a portrait photographer who studied classical art, so it was interesting to read the minor asides about photography here as well.
It will be interesting to have this in the back of my mind the next time I re-read My Name Is Asher Lev. (Or, alternately, it was interesting to have My Name Is Asher Lev in the back of my mind when I was reading this. In that book, a non-fiction book by Robert Henri is mentioned; here, Robert Henri's thoughts on creating art are briefly discussed.)...more
I grabbed this in a hurry because the library was about to close and I was looking for a light read. This filled the bill fairly well. It is an intereI grabbed this in a hurry because the library was about to close and I was looking for a light read. This filled the bill fairly well. It is an interesting adaptation of the story of Sleeping Beauty to modern times. There is one thing that strained my suspension of disbelief, though — an American teenager finds a clerk in a GAP store in Germany who both knows and is willing to point him to someone who can produce a 21st century system-fooling fake passport? I'm sorry ... no. And the heroine was pushing the plausibility line too, at times. There's a fine line between doing cool things because she's the protagonist and being liked by all the sympathetic characters and able to fix almost all their problems.
That said, this was a fun and interesting read. Not world-shaking, but it made me think a little. If you like modern fairy tale adaptations, this is at least worth getting from the library for a test drive....more
Fine idea. Not the best implementation; more like a 2.5. Too much politics and Louis XIV, not enough Le Notre; too cerebral, not enough emotion or senFine idea. Not the best implementation; more like a 2.5. Too much politics and Louis XIV, not enough Le Notre; too cerebral, not enough emotion or sense of Versailles as a place, particularly in the second half.
I wonder if Nancy Mitford's biography of Louis XIV (over 40 years old) was really the best source to use. The illustrations were well-selected, though. It was interesting how many of them involved cupids.
Strongly recommended to anyone who plans to study the Middle Ages in depth, whether as a university student or as a hobby. An excellent overview of maStrongly recommended to anyone who plans to study the Middle Ages in depth, whether as a university student or as a hobby. An excellent overview of major sources and historiographical approaches through the thirteenth century. The only real drawback is that it lists sources but doesn't provide footnotes or endnotes explaining which information came from where....more