My mind warped and wobbly after reading page after page of Miller's hallucinogenic musings on life, I almost didn't make it through to the end, nor di...moreMy mind warped and wobbly after reading page after page of Miller's hallucinogenic musings on life, I almost didn't make it through to the end, nor did I think it would be a worthwhile read.
The overwhelming theme of Tropic of Cancer is sex and Miller cultivated women like a hunter collects animal heads. He could be inspired to give flagrant descriptions of female genitalia in awe-inspiring, virgin deflowering terms or as something to steer clear of due to latent diseases floating around. I found these descriptions of women reduced to body parts maddening, yet I could understand his perspective considering his scorn of societal norms and belief that humans should be reduced to their baseness and true instincts. Given his reliance on prostitutes for most of his sexual encounters, I'm not terribly surprised his viewpoint was as warped as it was. His multitude of descriptions of his sexual exploits, although mechanically rendered for the most part, would seriously have made me uncomfortable if I was somewhere other than the privacy of my home while reading it. The kind of discomfort one feels when a sex scene comes on and your parents are in the room...awkward and weird. But, I'm most happy that I wasn't riding public transportation while reading this, as I am apt to do. I was fearful that lurid men with roving eyes would spot the exposed woman on the cover and, naturally assume that I was into the same kinky stuff that Henry Miller was spouting, leading to some strange propositions.
In between these semi-indecipherable passages, were prosaic chapters of Miller's day to day life in Paris, closely intertwined with the seedy, unkempt underbelly of the city; prostitutes, venereal disease, lice, and drunken louses. Pretty day to day ordinary stuff with the occasional up close and personal description of stuff only your gynecologist should know (except Miller didn't visit a gyno or any doctor that I know of for that matter). Miller spews venom on religion, government, as well as humanity on a grander scale, all while retaining the title of "outsider"; he existed within the outside parameters of society, hustling for his next meal or place to stay (usually a bedbug infested hotel or dirty back room). What was this guy thinking? He gave up a nice, warm home in NY to go squat on the streets of Paris. Albeit, he could have picked a worse city to be homeless in, but is it possible he had allusions that it would be nicer than it was? Or was he just pretending he didn't care about living arrangements for the sake of his art?
He also supposedly pioneered the stream of consciousness style of writing, which never fails to completely mess with my sense of time and place within the narrative. I'm not entirely sure that he didn't just invent this so he could write novels completely plastered.(less)
Maybe I'm just really cynical, but I didn't see how this story was so extraordinary. The notion of living "off the grid" is certainly not a new concep...moreMaybe I'm just really cynical, but I didn't see how this story was so extraordinary. The notion of living "off the grid" is certainly not a new concept, particularly during the '60s when people were living on communes or in the desert to protest the establishment.
Perhaps the story is so poignant because Chris seemingly had a perfect life, with parents that supported him financially, an education and unlimited potential, yet he chose to reject it all. He was not a political prisoner nor was he even an outcast or part of a larger political movement. He was bored, he was idealistic, he was adventurous and independent; he made mistakes and probably had no intention of surviving in the woods indefinitely, hence his lack of preparation. Like any other young, idealistic kid, he couldn't see his own mortality and acted impulsively.
Perhaps this explanation is too simplistic, but I don't think there was much more to it than that. He resisted authority and people telling him what to do, and seemed to ignore anyone's advice to perhaps prepare better for his trek into the wilderness. The reality is, he never got further than about 6 miles from civilization.
I think the author felt a kinship to Chris based on his similar experiences as a youth, however, I'm not sure the story was compelling enough to warrant both a book and a movie. (less)
I didn't feel like this book had any lasting value after I finished reading it. Kind of like eating lunch at McDonalds.
I found several of his observat...moreI didn't feel like this book had any lasting value after I finished reading it. Kind of like eating lunch at McDonalds.
I found several of his observations to be interesting, although not comprehensive enough to delineate a full cause and effect relationship. For example, his explanation as to why the NY crime rate decreased so rapidly in the mid-1990's, a combination of cleaning up graffiti-covered, garbage encrusted trains as well as ticketing people for small crimes like jumping turnstiles. That seems plausible as a partial explanation, but I think there were definitely other factors to account for such as increased police presence overall in NY under Giuliani as well as incarceration of many of the top drug kingpins that accounted for much of the violence that came along with the drug trade. I suppose his argument states that all those factors came into play, but the "tipping point", the small things that caused a big effect, were the clean-up and ticketing efforts. I'm just not certain that the effect is that cut and dry.
Also, I HATED the Sesame Street/Blue's Clues anecdotes used to explain the Stickiness Factor. There was no conceivable reason, in my opinion, to minutely detail all the research that went into making these shows only to later simply say the message stuck with Blue's Clues because it was repeated 5 times in one week?
Worth all the hype? Yes and no. Yes, because he caught the attention of a mass audience who more than likely would not otherwise have been interested in these topics unless they were presented in an easy to follow, oversimplified format. No, because I think he leaves the reader hanging without any solutions for how to start their own "epidemic". It's too much like a self-help book without the actual help.(less)
I quickly became enamored with the characters created by the author—the love affair came on strong like a drunk French guy who took me out to dinner a...moreI quickly became enamored with the characters created by the author—the love affair came on strong like a drunk French guy who took me out to dinner a few times, charmed the pants off me (literally) and then dumped me unceremoniously the next day without warning. Why Zadie Smith did you do this to me, I pleaded to an uncaring world, why did you come into my life and then disappoint me so?
The story takes place over an elongated timeline, trailing two men from diverse backgrounds who met during the war and now have an unspoken bond. Archie, a white guy from England, eventually marries Clara, a Jamaican woman originally from...Jamaica. Samad is a frustrated Muslim from Bangladesh whose disappointment with cultural schizophrenia manifests itself in his affair with a white woman. The story is complex, richly detailed in cultural norms both abroad and within the particular UK subgroups (Raggastani anyone?), and quite funny.
Zadie tackles some extremely important themes: cultural assimilation, immigration, aging, etc...I think she does an amazing job of intersecting these themes throughout the novel, contrasting Samad's conflicted attempts to become a faithful Muslim with his son's desire to become less "English" and more religious, and Irie's desire to straighten her hair and smooth out her curves with Lycra speaks to her lack of a place in a culture that "tolerates" more than accepts her.
The problem with this story started more than halfway through—at the 320 page marker, I could see it coming but tried to ignore the numerous warning signs, why isn't he picking up his phone? Oh, he must be busy—and continued through to the bitter end. And, much like the elusive French guy, Zadie couldn't give me a reason why.(less)
I enjoyed nothing about this book and it has been too long since I read Catcher in the Rye to appreciate Salinger as an author.
It gets two stars for b...moreI enjoyed nothing about this book and it has been too long since I read Catcher in the Rye to appreciate Salinger as an author.
It gets two stars for being funny and sarcastic in parts (particularly the scene with Zooey and his mother in the bathroom), but otherwise was completely pointless and pretentious. I can't imagine actually enjoying this book unless you were in the throes of active teenage angst.(less)
After a six month love affair with Anna Karenina, including one LONG plane ride overseas (round-trip) where I was able to kick off about 300 pages whi...moreAfter a six month love affair with Anna Karenina, including one LONG plane ride overseas (round-trip) where I was able to kick off about 300 pages while my husband watched one bad movie after another, and several distractions later, I am finally done with this behemoth of a book!
I, like many other reviewers, found the prose very easy to follow, perhaps due to the exceptionally, by all accounts, good translation of this particular edition.
In essence,the story details the love affair of a Russian noblewoman, Anna, who, rather than carry on her affair in secrecy, decides to make her feelings public and leave her husband and son. In doing so, she compromises her role in Russian society and becomes a "marked" woman, ostracized for her unwillingness to live a lie in order to preserve her comfortable, if inherently boring, life. Putting the scandalous elements aside for a moment, I found Anna's willingness to abandon her family a decision that was motivated out of desperation and immaturity, something that could not have been avoided given her youth and noble bearing that predicated an arranged marriage. To spend her life tethered to a man that was completely cold and unemotional, given her passionate nature, was a fate that she was not prepared to surrender to.
Tolstoy does a brilliant job of giving his readers insight into what the characters are thinking, especially since so many of their actions seem to be motivated, on the surface, by the desire to do what's socially acceptable. Without Anna's inner monologue, how would we know what motivated her suicide or Levin's inner conflicts regarding the meaning of life?
The complex world and hierarchy of the noble class bears a greater understanding of Russian history than I have, but suffice it to say Anna's actions were not at all condoned by the ruling class, if only because she neglected her wifely duties and ran off with her lover as opposed to keeping her affair under wraps.
My only complaint about the novel was the near-constant musing on pastoral/agricultural matters by Levin, who bordered on the obsessive with his concerns about Russia's economy. The character of Tolstoy, masquerading as Levin, had a lot of strong beliefs about Russia and utilized the novel as a soapbox in which to air his grievances about society and culture. I also felt that Levin's character was too wishy-washy in his principles and vacillated between extreme atheism and belief in Christianity without having a strong basis for this change in his beliefs. Levin, in his original introduction in the novel, is a dark horse; isolated and eccentric, his entire life revolves around his land and pioneering new, more cost-efficient methods of farming. This pastoral bubble he exists in bursts upon his brother's death when he must confront his fears about dying and, perhaps, languishing in isolation and despair. In a sharp turn of events, Levin finds himself married to Kitty, his one and only love, and once again questioning the purpose of life. A consummate critic of religion, Levin has another change of heart upon witnessing his son's birth and wife's life or death struggle with childbirth and decides, ultimately, that there is no other explanation for his existence on earth other than God. This is after he has contemplated suicide on multiple occasions due to his existentialism. For such a hardened and pragmatic individual to have undergone a complete transformation seemingly overnight....doesn't ring true to me.
I was not at all prepared to like this book, for a number of reasons. I tend to shy away from narratives that are written in the parlance of the time...moreI was not at all prepared to like this book, for a number of reasons. I tend to shy away from narratives that are written in the parlance of the time period in which they were set, and rely heavily on colloquialisms for the majority of the dialogue, I just find it difficult to follow (unless I am prepared to Google all the words that don't make sense to me, and many times they don't even turn up). Also, I wasn't sure that Toni Morrison would be my cup of tea initially. I kind of thought that she would write from a perspective that I couldn't relate to because I was born white, in the suburbs, and am basically clueless as to what growing up African-American in this country is all about.
Despite all my preconceptions about this book, I thought it was amazing. Slavery, as it has been depicted in various movies about the South, has been present, but in a nonthreatening manner, not really confronting the realities of people as commodities to be bought and sold. It's sad, really, to think this part of history is totally brushed under the rug because it's something that, frankly, we are ashamed to talk about so, instead, we treat it like something insignificant or take no accountability for it being part of our shared collective history as Americans. It's really a huge cop-out.
In any case, Toni Morrison does a really superb job of integrating the horrors of slavery with the horrors of living with a malicious spirit. Sethe recounts never being able to forget the unspeakable acts that she had to endure as a slave, and the agony of these memories haunting her existence. Especially when the spirit of the child you murdered so they wouldn't have to endure life as a slave comes back in semi-human form to live with you. My heart kind of stopped momentarily and then started up again, double speed, when Beloved, the dead girl's spirit, arrives on Sethe's doorstep.
As the book unfolds, more memories of abuse or "rememories" as Sethe refers to them, come forth; Sethe's having her breast milk stolen by her owner's nephew, Paul D's recollection of having to wear a bit in his mouth, and walking in the woods seeing various people hanging from trees that had recently been lynched. These stories are recalled totally unsentimentally, almost like you were telling someone what you did the night before, it's kind of like wtf?! How can they be so blase about all this? It makes sense though, because everyone had witnessed so many horrible things being done to others or had horrible things done to them personally, at some point they just became desensitized to it all. One of Sethe's commonsense warnings is that you learn not to love anything too much, in case it gets taken away or sold.
At the end, you are kind of left with this overwhelming sadness. I mean, there was not a lot of resolution, the damage had been done. Tons of people were either left dead, permanently scarred emotionally, or stuck in poverty because of slavery. How could people treat other humans like animals, actually, worse than animals for the sake of free labor? What was the justification? On the other hand, I am glad that Toni Morrison wrote this story, if only to raise people's awareness of this period in history that most would like to forget. I think it was important to create very real, and unforgettable characters, who would remain in our conscious for a long time.(less)
**spoiler alert** I was scared shitless by this book. I could not go to sleep right away after reading this without making a concerted effort to quenc...more**spoiler alert** I was scared shitless by this book. I could not go to sleep right away after reading this without making a concerted effort to quench my anxieties before shutting my eyes, all while repeating, "This couldn't really happen, no..." over and over again. I went into reading this without really knowing what I was getting myself into. So, midway when the narrator glibly announces, "We couldn't have babies," my jaw kind of dropped and just hung there for a few seconds, the drool collecting in a small puddle on the couch, before I came out of my temporary stupor.
The idea that an entire group of people would be bred with the purpose of being used for spare parts, well, it's repulsive. I'm sure I'm not the only one finding it repulsive and morally repugnant, but we are led to believe that there are many in Ishiguro's fictitious world that don't object. There are strange undertones of subordination among a group of people who might be able to instill change, but for some reason remain strangely passive. We are led to believe that these guardians are somehow morally superior to their students, whose remaining lives will be spent donating organ after organ until their bodies simply shut down.
Even more disturbing are the lack of familial ties that the "clones" have—who are these people who simply gave birth to children simply to donate them to science—or any link to anywhere other than the school. Their lack of objection to an uncertain fate was maddening....I kept wanting to scream, "You can run away...just get on a plane and go," but it seemed that something deep within all of them was resigned to their fate as donors, their sole function in the world.
Overall, I think Ishiguro was trying to point out the similarities to our society—how access to health care can make certain members of our society "disposable", particularly when lack of resources determines who lives and dies—and the ethical and moral conundrums that arise when human genetics are manipulated.(less)
I've been led astray before. I started Infinite Jest an infinitely long time ago, with every intention of devouring the mammoth volume in a reasonable...moreI've been led astray before. I started Infinite Jest an infinitely long time ago, with every intention of devouring the mammoth volume in a reasonable time frame. Although I didn't quite make it all the way through, DFW made a big impression on me—his rampant use of footnotes, his intricately woven descriptions and his near-constant thrashing of my intellect, for which I have not forgiven him yet.
I realize that DFW also inspires many gushingly praiseworthy reviews from Goodreads reviewers.
So, when I came across this little charmer, it seemed like a good alternative to beginning with the most epic of all DFW novels.
Ummm, yeah....except several of these essays were actually much much more abstruse than any one chapter of Infinite, and I couldn't, or more likely didn't, want to overtax my brain with that much thinking for fear it would explode. Essays in this vein included an astute analysis of a tennis match as well as an essay on TV watching. Skipped both, unregretfully.
DFW succeeded in writing a beautifully descriptive, howlingly funny and keen sociological analysis of participants at a midwestern state fair; I will always wonder if the people he chose to write about ever picked up his books. I am guessing the toothless carnie that replied, "Fuck you want" to DFW's inquiry about his boredom level wasn't exactly storming Borders to get a copy.
Same goes for the Celebrity Cruise story. I nearly expelled the liquid I was trying to swallow out through both nostrils when I tried to picture DFW lying in wait for the cabin steward, looking over his shoulder at every opportunity and jumping out from corners trying to catch her in the act of cleaning his room.
But, as others have noted, the consummate outsider status comes through in many instances throughout the novel. Whether that made DFW a more astute observer of people and places to make up for what he was lacking in his own life or if his humor was just a stand-in for intense mental turmoil, we'll never know. (less)
Although a bit tedious at times, Dominion is a series of powerful arguments against the assumption that man's cognitive superiority to animals is corr...moreAlthough a bit tedious at times, Dominion is a series of powerful arguments against the assumption that man's cognitive superiority to animals is correlated with his ability to use them for any purpose he sees fit regardless of how it harms or causes them pain. One of the main assumptions that he challenges is whether or not animals have a "conscious," a hotly contested topic among intellectuals, many of whom think that without the ability to reason or speak, animals are functionally brain dead and, therefore, unworthy of any kind of efforts to spare them pain or suffering. Scully argues that, as humans, we have a greater responsibility to ensure that we aren't causing unnecessary suffering and, he goes on to argue, with limited boundaries and laws safeguarding animals, not much will change.
The fact that Scully was a former speechwriter for President Bush seems at odds with his strong belief in animal rights, but his Conservative background seems to inform his arguments, which reject sentimentality for logic and dispel the myth that all animal advocates are patchouli stinking drum circlers. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.
But, as someone who has always instinctively winced at pictures of animals being tortured, farmed or experimented upon yet has trouble putting these principles into practice in my own life, it was nice to read something that wasn't all ultra-preachy, you'll burn in a fiery pit of hell condemnation kind of book.
One quote that stood out to me was Scully's observation that people can't morally justify caring about animals and people—there must always be a hierarchy:
Anything we give the creatures must be extra, the unwanted scrap from our moral table.(less)
My neck is sore and strained from sitting in an uncomfortable position, too late at night, to read this book cover to cover in less than two hours. Th...moreMy neck is sore and strained from sitting in an uncomfortable position, too late at night, to read this book cover to cover in less than two hours. There's not much to say other than this book is a collection of stories detailing Tucker getting drunk, puking, shitting, and fucking, not necessarily in that order, and not simultaneously (but sometimes all at once). The main reason I continued to read, is because, at the end of each chapter, you are left wondering if things can and will get worse. They do (predictably, a word Tucker uses frequently). I can definitely see this book being required reading to enter a fraternity, and more likely to appeal to men than women. (less)
I purchased this book initially because I have a fascination with private schools, old money, and the ensuing dysfunction. Although I did attend an al...moreI purchased this book initially because I have a fascination with private schools, old money, and the ensuing dysfunction. Although I did attend an all-girls Catholic school for one year before they shuttered up and went out of business, however, it wasn't boarding school, which I had always envisioned to be full of bored, rich people who wore overly formal clothing and enjoyed tormenting the less fortunate.
From what I can remember about this book, the author did tend to rely heavily on the use of stereotypes to define her characters. To be fair, I'm not sure I was expecting much beyond that, and this book met my expectations. It was not a classic work of literature, nor was it trying to be. However, it was entertaining, and the plot was fairly predictable.
It was kind of like an understated Gossip Girl.(less)