Lord of the Flies meets Day of the Triffids in the inimitable style of the world's greatest living novelist. Whether an extended metaphor for the huma...moreLord of the Flies meets Day of the Triffids in the inimitable style of the world's greatest living novelist. Whether an extended metaphor for the human condition or a devastating political statement, Blindness is a novel of great power that places all of our assumptions about culture and morality on the table and then sets the roulette wheel in motion. Saramago draws the reader into the narrative so that one experiences the story rather than merely reading it. From time to time, he directly addresses the reader, who is then forced to acknowledge existence outside the narrative and to apply the insights of the narrative to that existence. As always, there is a symbolic and sympathetic dog, in this case, "the dog of tears." As always, Saramago's characters are more three dimensional and interesting than one would expect of actors in a narrative with allegorical aspirations. In "the doctor's wife," he has created an amazing heroine who is more than our guide through a world of blindness, more than a symbol of hope in a world gone mad. She is strong but human, intelligent and kind, realistic yet hopeful, ethical and pragmatic, loyal but independent. She is the kind of woman one would want to marry (I was lucky enough to find someone like her) and the kind of person one would want to be. Blindness is not an easy book to read, but it is a book that enriches readers by making them see themselves and the world more clearly.(less)
Standage rambles through history with a look at those beverages that have characterized certain places during certain ages. The six glasses of the tit...moreStandage rambles through history with a look at those beverages that have characterized certain places during certain ages. The six glasses of the title contain (in rough order from oldest to newest) beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Despite the author's rather bland style, he does a credible job of explaining the importance of the various beverages in history. Writing about the prohibition of wine in Islam on page 88, he asserts, "Only wine made from grapes had been explicitly banned, presumably on the basis of its strength; therefore, grape wine ought to be allowed, provided it was diluted so that its strength did not exceed that of date wine." But in the Qur'an, Sura XVI:67 groups date wine and grape wine together and mentions them positively as intoxicants. The intoxicating effect later became a problem (v. Sura II:219 and Sura IV:43). Drinking wine was also linked with divination, gambling, and idolatry (v. Sura V:90 and Sura II:219), so unmixed grape wine was not the only beverage banned, and the ban had reasons beyond overindulgence. On page 158, Standage explains that coffeehouses in England were called "penny universities," since anyone could engage in conversation in them "for a penny or two, the price of a dish of coffee." If I remember correctly, the referenced penny was a cover charge to keep out undesirables, and the coffee cost extra. Standage's liquid history is fun and informative. I especially enjoyed the chapters on cola.(less)
Comic books form a major segment of my good memories of growing up. Our family doctor diagnosed my need for glasses by watching me attempt to read a c...moreComic books form a major segment of my good memories of growing up. Our family doctor diagnosed my need for glasses by watching me attempt to read a comic book while he was on a house call to see my mother. I was four. Glasses made the comics even better. I could now read the small print -- the letters from readers pointing out anachronisms or discrepancies in the Superman plots and the inventive replies of the editors attempting to resolve the difficulties. My favorite part of the day was when my father got home from work, with a comic in his back pocket, pretending that he'd forgotten it was there. Saturdays often included a trip to the drugstore with my grandfather for a hot donut and a limeade at the marble counter of the soda fountain and my choice of one comic book from the rack. At one point, I created a lending library of comics for neighborhood children who could "borrow" them for a limited time with the payment of a small fee and security deposit. I've never let my mother forget that by throwing away my first edition copies of Tales from the Crypt (in a misguided effort to protect me from harmful influences) she had squandered more than the cost of my college eduction. Thanks to Chabon for bringing back such wonderful memories of the important part played by comics in my life. I enjoyed the book in the same way that I enjoyed the comics -- it's plot driven with only enough character development to advance the narrative. Over the years, I've developed a love for more challenging literature, but that doesn't prevent my enjoyment of a simple story well told. If you'll excuse me, I now have to retire to my secret lair to change into my costume -- SOMEONE NEEDS MY HELP! (less)
My negative reaction to this book is probably due to one of two factors: as an academically trained historian of religions and folklorist, I know too...moreMy negative reaction to this book is probably due to one of two factors: as an academically trained historian of religions and folklorist, I know too much about the subject of mythology to be able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride, or Gaiman doesn't know enough about the subject to produce a credible novel based on mythological themes. I'm going to go with the latter hypothesis. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and by authoring this poor book, Gaiman has demonstrated gaps in his understanding of religion and mythology wider than the mouth of Fenrir and a hubris outspanning Yggdrasil. The novel simply doesn't work, but in the work there are character sketches and the beginnings of several potential short stories that are worth exploring. Maybe the author just attempted to do too much, but I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as his Neverwhere.(less)
Although Irving has succeeded in writing a novel with Dickensian characters and themes, he has failed to write a Dickensian novel. This failure is due...moreAlthough Irving has succeeded in writing a novel with Dickensian characters and themes, he has failed to write a Dickensian novel. This failure is due in part, of course, to Irving being something other than a Victorian novelist. The intertextuality of this work forms a wall of Dickens between the reader and Irving's novel rather than a bridge between the two. Perhaps a more subtle use of allusion rather than an over-the-head-with-a-two-by-four application of intertextual reference would have worked better. There is also the issue of humor (its presence in the works of Dickens, even the darker later works, and its absence in the Irving novel*) that serves to distance the two writers more than one would expect in what appears intended to be an homage to Dickens. Nevertheless, Irving has created a memorable work filled with enough delightful characters and universal moral issues to fuel productive book discussions. The novel is not, however, for those squeamish about detailed descriptions of rather gruesome medical procedures.
*Unless the bizarre incident with the torpedo is Irving's attempt at humor . . . (less)
The author has written an excellent anti-war novel that explores the experiences of soldiers in World War I diagnosed with "shell shock," the PTSD of...moreThe author has written an excellent anti-war novel that explores the experiences of soldiers in World War I diagnosed with "shell shock," the PTSD of that incredibly brutal war, and the experiences of those who treat them. The novel blends historical characters (i.a., the soldier poets Wilfed Owen and Siegfried Sassoon) with fictional characters in a surprisingly effective way. It explores not only the moral issues associated with waging the war but also the moral dilemma of the doctors charged with curing the damaged soldiers in order to send them back to the sausage factory of the trenches in France. It is the first volume of a trilogy, but it stands alone as an excellent novel of the war, now almost forgotten, that shaped the world in which we live (alas!). (less)