This book was given to me by some dude who was trying to bang me.
I wish I was kidding.
And now that I've managed to finish reading this monstrosity, I...moreThis book was given to me by some dude who was trying to bang me.
I wish I was kidding.
And now that I've managed to finish reading this monstrosity, I have to wonder whether I should be insulted that he was trying like hell to get with me, because obviously his taste and judgment are questionable. For one thing, he told me this book is good. It isn't. And for another thing, after a conversation we had about the book I'm writing, he said that my book sounds like this book. It doesn't. At all. The only similarity between the two is that they're both futuristic dystopian sci-fi novels.
But I digress.
Where do I even begin in venting my spleen about this ungodly piece of crap? Should I start with the fact that I hated every single character because they were all outrageously annoying and had not one redeeming quality among the lot of them? Or should I start by pointing out that Burgess's writing is juvenile at best, and execrable at worst? And that's being polite. Or maybe I should start by mentioning that reading this book is like being locked in a small room with a dozen mental patients. No, really. Not only are all of these characters completely indecisive and irrational, but they're also entirely emotionally unstable, such that they change thoughts and opinions and moods not just multiple times on each page, but sometimes in the same sentence.
Apparently, in the future, they'll be able to make dog-men and pig-men and whatever the hell else in big Vats-o'-Science, but psychiatric medicine will be completely unheard of.
Look, I get it. Burgess is trying to make a medieval Icelandic saga cool and new and accessible to the next generation of readers. And that would be commendable, except...not like this. Dear god, Mel, not like this. Just because you're writing for teenagers doesn't mean you have to write like you are one. And when none of your characters have matured emotionally past the age of about fifteen, that doesn't make them easier to identify with, it just makes them annoying and unlikeable, and it makes the story hard to read. If I had read this book when I, myself, was fifteen or sixteen, I would have been insulted that this is the sort of garbage meant to appeal to me--a badly-written behemoth full of shitty, unrealistic dialogue, two-dimensional characters, overblown violence, and painfully awkward sex scenes--and I would have chucked the thing in the trash about a quarter of the way through.
I guess I must have gained a bit more patience over the years--not much, mind, just a bit--because I did manage to make it all the way through Bloodtide, although I still think it's a horrendous pile of suck. And while I'm not insulted, as such, and can't even work up the energy to be properly miffed, I am disappointed. I'm disappointed that this is the kind of swill being offered to a new generation of readers. I'm disappointed that all anyone seems to be interested in anymore is pandering to their baser urges, their preoccupation with sex and violence, in order to turn a quick buck. Whatever happened to the young adult books like I used to read? Books that made you think, that made you feel, that changed you? Shouldn't that still be what we strive to offer our young people? Shouldn't we want them to read books that will help them grow into better people? Not this. This is like polishing a turd and calling it art, and then we wonder why this is how we feel about our successors most of the time.
So here's my advice: don't read this book. If you're a teenager, don't read this book. If you're an adult, don't read this book. And if you're an adult, for the love of god, don't get this book for any of the teenagers in your life. Not even if you hate them. There are so many other books that are a better use of time and brain power, that will make you--no matter who you are--better for having read them, and I would be happy to recommend a few of them, if need be. Just please, please, don't read this fucking book. It will hurt your brain and give you the Dumb. No joke.(less)
This handy little ebook weighs in at only 6* pages, and is a quick, useful read for skeptics everywhere.
To be honest, it will probably prove more help...moreThis handy little ebook weighs in at only 6* pages, and is a quick, useful read for skeptics everywhere.
To be honest, it will probably prove more helpful to those acting in a professional capacity than, say, your ordinary armchair skeptic. It is very much geared toward journalists, bloggers, and others of that sort who are active in trying to debunk the myths pervasive in our society. In this case, the focus is on climate change--that is, fighting the misinformation spewed forth from the ignorant blowholes of climate deniers--but the underlying principles laid out here could undoubtedly be applied to other subjects as well, such as pseudoscience, religion, or even politics.
At any rate, that's why I didn't give it more than two stars; because it's very narrow, and it's simply not going to do much for those of us who aren't into writing articles, or blogging, or whatever. However, it is still worth taking a few minutes of your time to read, regardless. There are several enlightening points, such as this:
"When people hear misinformation, they build a mental model, with the myth providing an explanation. When the myth is debunked, a gap is left in their mental model. To deal with this dilemma, people prefer an incorrect model over and incomplete model. In the absence of a better explanation, they opt for the wrong explanation."
If nothing else, keeping these things in mind may help you the next time you find yourself in a "debate" with someone who thinks they have all the answers because of a book of Bronze Age fairytales, or because Fox News told them so.
*There are technically 9 pages, but I don't count the cover, copyright page, or references.(less)
I wish I could figure out how to explain how I feel about this book. Alas, I fear it defies explanation. Reading Letters is a very personal experience...moreI wish I could figure out how to explain how I feel about this book. Alas, I fear it defies explanation. Reading Letters is a very personal experience. I won't say it's a spiritual one--that, of course, is the sort of nonsense up with which Hitchens would not have put. However, it is a singular experience, unique to the individual, I think, and either you feel it or you don't. But I hope that everyone comes away with something, at least, some new perspective on the world, some insight into themselves, and if nothing else, I hope everyone, when they're done, will remember this:
Everybody can do something...the role of dissident is not, and should not be, a claim of membership in a communion of saints.(less)
Sword and sorcery and lesbians? Engaging starving orphan eyes--please, sir, I want some more!
No, really. I want more. W...moreSword and sorcery? Yes, please!
Sword and sorcery and lesbians? Engaging starving orphan eyes--please, sir, I want some more!
No, really. I want more. Where the hell is the sequel? I need to know if Carys and Arabella ever get it oooon. I mean, um, declare their deep and abiding love for one another. Yep, totally meant that. Heh.
Okay, let me get serious. Not that I'm not serious about the girl-lovin', of course, because...well. Have you met me?
Anyway, here's the deal: I can't pretend this book is perfect. If I'm honest--and I always am, whether you like it or not--it could use some work. You can definitely tell it's self-published, because it suffers throughout from a lot of simple typographical errors, missing words, confused syntax, that sort of thing, as well as a handful of formatting flubs that I feel confident would have been caught and corrected by any half-competent editor. And I say that in no way intending to belittle or disrespect the people mentioned in the acknowledgements section whom the author had proofread for him; I'm sure they did the job to the best of their ability, but the fact is that there is a difference, clearly, between what can be accomplished by an amateur compared to what can be accomplished by a professional.
As further evidence of this point, my biggest complaint about this book is not the basic typos, or the rest of the aforementioned, but rather that large portions of the narrative read like a summary. I will be the first to admit that Show, Don't Tell is NOT an ironclad rule of writing, as some would have us believe; it's more of a guideline, which some writers would do well to follow less strenuously. But I feel that having the guidance of professionals at a reputable publishing house would have helped Eaton to strike a happy medium, because what we have here is what should have been a 400+ page epic crammed into a mere 224 pages, the result of which is a book that feels more like an outline rather than a finished work.
And that pisses me off, quite frankly, because you know what? This book has a hell of a lot of potential. I didn't really get into it until about page 70 or so, but after that I started being pretty impressed with Robert Eaton as a writer. Despite the brevity of this book, he managed to lay the foundation for a really intriguing magical saga, with at least three concurrent storylines, and evoked some pretty badass imagery while he was at it. It would almost sneak up on me sometimes. I'd be like: reading, reading, reading--oh, hey, that's pretty cool!
And while we're on the subject of things sneaking up on me, can I just take a minute to discuss the subtle mindfuckery that goes on in this book? I don't want to give too much away and spoil the story, but let's just say that the person you think you're supposed to be rooting for ends up being, well, not. And someone you assume is only a bit player and basically disregard for at least a third of the story, if not closer to half, actually ends up being of central importance to the plot. The effect is that, by the end of the book, you're left going, "Hey, wait just a goddamn minute!" You totally don't see it coming. Or at least I didn't. I read a lot, and I'm used to seeing the same old tired tropes trotted out over and over and over again, so I thought I knew what was going to happen. I was wrong. And that, I think, is pretty fucking cool.
In the acknowledgements, Eaton states that he wrote this book as a hobby. Well, if this is what he turns out for a hobby, I would love to see what he could produce if he approached a book as a serious, concerted project. And what I would really enjoy seeing is if, at some point, he had the time and inclination to expand this book into the epic it deserves to be, with deeper explanations of the lore involved, the magic and how it works, and those bare bones sections fleshed out to tell a more comprehensive and elaborate story. But I realize, of course, that what I want to happen and what is actually going to happen have never exactly been similar, so I will content myself with a sequel. Please write a sequel? Pretty please?
Hero, as I said, is not perfect. But it is entertaining. For me, it was like reading a Baldur's Gate game. Which is awesome, of course, because I fucking love those games. (And I just found out via the magic of Wikipedia that there are actually Baldur's Gate/Forgotten Realms books as well, and now I'm peeing myself with glee, oh my god. But I won't say that reading this book is like reading those books, because clearly I have never read them and am therefore unqualified to make that assertion.) So if you're a fantasy fan, and especially if you're a fantasy fan who also likes the Baldur's Gate games--or probably any D&D-based game, really--then it might be relevant to your interests to give The Hero Always Wins a quick read. The open ending--which is not to say cliffhanger, per se--may prove a bit frustrating, but with any luck, we can look forward to seeing more (SEQUELSEQUELSEQUEL) from Eaton in the future.(less)
This book is a collection of fourteen short stories and nine poems. Rather than trying to write a condensed review judging the entire book by its cons...moreThis book is a collection of fourteen short stories and nine poems. Rather than trying to write a condensed review judging the entire book by its constituent parts, I instead jotted down my thoughts about each story individually. Hopefully this helps give a better idea of what this collection has to offer.
MS. Found in a Bottle -- What a terrible choice to start off the book. I know this story won Poe a $50 prize way back in the Wayback, but frankly I think it's lame, and I would personally never have chosen it to lead off this collection. I mean, maybe it was really awesome and edgy and fear-inspiring back when Poe wrote it, and I, as a jaded modern reader, simply don't have the capacity to appreciate it, but I just don't think it's very good. It's kind of pointless, it's a little absurd, and it's decidedly not scary, though it tries very hard to convince you that it is.
Morella -- This is a bit of an unsettling story, though I wonder if it's for the reasons Poe intended. I suppose to know that, we would first have to decide what he was really saying here. Is this just a story meant to prey on Victorian fears, about a woman who dies in childbirth and lays a curse on the husband who never returned her affections? Or is it a story about a sort of vampire; a woman who, in her dying moments, figures out how to transfer her consciousness, her soul, into the body of her infant daughter and, in essence, become her? Or perhaps the child was already dead, and by passing into the empty vessel, Morella enabled a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think maybe the possibilities are creepier to think about than the story itself was.
Ligeia -- I'm not entirely sure what happened here. Perhaps it's because I read this story while in a stupor caused by my monthly battle with parasomnia, but I just couldn't figure out whether Ligeia was some kind of vampire, or if this was a case of ghostly possession, or what. Maybe dude was just balls-out insane and hallucinating, I don't know. At any rate, I thought it was a stupid choice for this story to be placed directly after Morella, considering how similar the two stories are. I would really like to know who got paid to put this thing together, and whether I can have his (or her) job. I could do better than this, apparently, after four days of no sleep.
The Fall of the House of Incest: or, Don't Fuck Your Sister Because You'll Go Crazy and Die -- Yep. That's basically it. Typical Victorian fare about the joys of premature burial. While I wouldn't necessarily say it's still relevant--after all, by the time you get put in a tomb or a coffin these days, there is a 0% chance you're still alive--it is absolutely still horrifying to think about.
William Wilson -- Called it. I'm not sure if it's another possible example of my privileged modern viewpoint--I've seen all these tropes before--or if it's that Poe was, well, a hack. I've heard the accusation before, and I can kind of see why. Poe had a tendency to be a bit cliched, a little purple, but then, maybe it was just the time period. Maybe to him, modern writers would seem like a bunch of barely literate plebeians vomiting words onto paper or mashing violently at our keyboards. But at any rate, the story itself is decent. It's interesting to think about--a man dogged and tormented by his own conscience. And if a man could kill his own conscience, as if it were a separate entity from him, would he indeed die as well? After all, sociopaths exist, however unfortunately, and one of the hallmarks of sociopathy is lack of conscience. Perhaps the fate of Wilson is meant to be taken figuratively, as an indictment on the quality of life if one had no conscience. In that respect, could a person truly live? Food for thought.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue -- Oh hey, a murder mystery. I'm down with that. I really enjoyed this story, though perhaps much of that enjoyment was because it's one of the few where the answer is, as Tim Minchin would say, decidedly not magic. It's a little bit exposition-y, true, but I can deal with that. I'm a sucker for a good old-fashioned denouement of this variety--probably because I'm so very bad at them myself. I always wanted to write a murder mystery, or a detective novel, that sort of thing, but I just don't have the mind for it, alas. Apparently I'm more of a "several thousand words of introspective angst" sort of writer. Oy. At any rate, my only problem with this story is that I'm not sure whether it offers an accurate portrayal of orangutan behavior. I know that they do have amazing strength, and I know that they can become violent if agitated, like chimpanzees, one of which ripped a lady's face off here in Ohio a few years ago. (No, seriously. It ripped her face off.) However, I'm just not sure that an orangutan would do much of what Poe claimed his fictional orangutan did. Probably Poe had never even seen an orangutan, except perhaps in drawings, and I don't think he knew very much about them at all. But then again, neither do I, so--pot, kettle.
The Oval Portrait -- Probably the shortest of Poe's short stories, but effectively so. Is this a story about a man whose obsession spurs him to paint the life of his young bride into a portrait? Or is it a warning not to succumb to our obsessions and lose sight of what's truly important, lest we lose the things that are dearest to us? You decide.
The Masque of the Red Death -- Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The old saying always creeps into my head whenever I think of this story, about a prince and his courtiers who hold a great masked ball while the rest of the country sickens and dies of a mysterious plague. But where Nero was a blundering, ineffectual narcissist who didn't know, at least at first, that Rome was burning, Prince Prospero is far more sinister. He deliberately shuts himself up in the abbey with his lords and ladies, intending to wait out the terrible plague, and leaves his subjects to their own devices--meaning, of course, he leaves them to suffer and die. But you cannot hide from death. Even the rich and the privileged are not immune. Darkness and decay and the Red Death hold dominion over all.
The Pit and the Pendulum -- Is there anybody who doesn't know this story? Even people who have never read it know about it, and with good reason. This scenario is one that really sticks with you, as it must have stuck in the minds of generations of readers, until it became a part of the greater American consciousness, this idea of such prolonged horror, the maddening, interminable wait as the specter of a gruesome and seemingly inescapable death looms over you. Honestly, I don't know that anyone could keep their head in such a situation, especially not enough to devise and implement a plan like the one our anonymous narrator does. But somehow it works--the exigence makes your awareness of the gradual, unalterable decent of the pendulum that much sharper. About the very end of the story, however, I'm not so forgiving. I guess Mr. Poe never heard the phrase deus ex machina.
The Tell-Tale Heart -- Nothing is more terrifying than a madman who thinks he's sane. In this story, the narrator is so tormented by an old man's pale blue eye that he's driven to murder, yet the most chilling part of the story is his repeated insistence in his own sanity. Each example he gives, however, proves him more insane than the one before. In the end, it's nothing more or less than his own madness--the same madness that drove him to kill an innocent man--that causes his downfall.
The Black Cat -- In this tale, a formerly kind and sensitive man takes to drink and becomes a monster who mistreats his wife and his pets. When he lets his irrational anger get the better of him and lashes out at his once-beloved cat, a specter of the wronged animal proceeds to torment the narrator. But is it really his murdered pet seeking vengeance, or is it only his own conscience that drives him to madness and ruin?
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar -- Hypnotism can suspend the laws of nature, apparently. Good to know. I'll be sure to remember that when I'm creating my zombie army in a final push for world domination. In all seriousness, though, I think Poe really missed the boat on this one. He took what could have been a really interesting concept and reduced it to its lowest common denominator, intending only to horrify and, failing that, to gross out the reader, rather than exploring the truly chilling conundrum of such a scenario--was Valdemar truly caught in that mysterious moment between life and death, or was it only his physical body that was suspended, serving as a prison for an echo of the consciousness that once lived there, a ghost in the shell?
The Cask of Amontillado -- For me, the most chilling, most terrifying stories are not the ones about the supernatural, but rather the ones that highlight the very worst of humanity. As in this tale, wherein Montresor is so offended by some perceived slight from Fortunato that he leads the drunk and ailing man into the catacombs beneath his house and walls him up there. Montresor leaves Fortunato to languish and suffer and die, alone, in the dark, and not once does he demonstrate even a glimmer of doubt whether he has any right to condemn the man, nor does he seem, even for a moment, to consider whether anyone truly deserves such a horrible end, regardless of his trespasses. And how many people like that are out there, in the real world? The answer is what makes this one of Poe's most effective stories, in my opinion, because the truth is that, for every mature and rational person who realizes that they don't have the right to take the life of another human being, there is another person who honestly believes so strongly in their own supremacy, that their own sense of ego is so sacrosanct, that they feel no compunction about harming or killing someone in cold blood. In reality, madmen and cutthroats lurk around every corner, and that is far scarier than any story about ghosts or ghouls.
Hop-Frog -- Nobody tosses a dwarf! Am I the only one who thinks Poe intended this as a thinly-veiled allusion to people who mistreated their slaves? Hop-Frog and Trippetta are abducted from their homes, shipped off to a foreign country, and are under complete control of the king and at the mercy of his every whim. Sounds familiar. The king, despite being a "joker", is also a cruel tyrant who forces Hop-Frog to drink even though he knows how it affects the dwarf, and who abuses poor Trippetta when she dares beg the king to spare her friend. In the end, it's this last offense that invokes the wrath of Hop-Frog and leads to the gruesome demise of the king and his sycophantic ministers, but what is the message here? Don't be cruel to those under your dominion or else this may happen to you? Or, people who abuse those at their mercy will get what's coming to them in the end? Perhaps both.
The Poems -- I'm not generally much of a poetry person, to be honest, and when I do enjoy it, it tends to be of the post-modern variety. Or maybe that's post-post-modern. Or post-post-post--you know what? Basically, if your poem rhymes, I probably think it sucks. Let's just put it that way. So, needless to say, Poe's poems aren't really my cup of tea. However, For Annie is actually pretty good; it's a total creepfest, and I do recommend that you read that one. And then you should read Lenore, The Raven, Annabel Lee, and The Bells, if only because they're classics.(less)
I really wish Goodreads allowed half-star ratings, because I just don't think four stars are adequate to indicate how much I truly enjoyed this book....moreI really wish Goodreads allowed half-star ratings, because I just don't think four stars are adequate to indicate how much I truly enjoyed this book. The King in the Window is a wonderful, imaginative work of children's literature, and I honestly can't believe it doesn't seem to be more popular. I had never even heard of it, myself; I only discovered it by accident while going through the books my aunt had set aside for charity. The title caught my eye first, of course, so I read the first page to see if it sounded like the sort of thing I'd be interested in and I thought, hey, this seems like it could be fun, I should read it before we give it away. And I'm so glad I did, too, because it turned out to be even better than I expected.
The story is about Oliver, an American boy stuck in Paris, who has few friends: Neige, the older girl with whom he is in love, but who is currently not speaking to him; Charlie, who is separated from him by an ocean; and the mysterious Zindaine, who is mentioned but never seen. Oliver attends a rigorous French école, where he does poorly because he doesn't understand his demanding coursework. He is ridiculed by his classmates and treated badly by his strict teachers. And he even feels isolated at home. He is infantilized by his mother, who spends so much time running away from her problems at home that she can't see Oliver is growing up. His father, on the other hand, seems to be standing still; a journalist who has become obsessed with the exclusive that could be the break he needs, he has withdrawn from his family and become a shadow haunting his office and staring into the computer for hours.
This is the lonely and depressing existence Oliver leads. Until the night of Epiphany, that is, when he suddenly becomes the King of Windows and Water through a series of accidents. Or so he thinks, at first. That's one of the things I enjoyed most about this book: the quality of Gopnik's foundation-building and the subtlety of his foreshadowing. Unlike most authors of children's novels, who tend to lay everything out in front of you and give you all the information you need as quickly as possible, holding only one or two things back, Gopnik instead plays his cards close to the vest, and every time you think you're starting to figure things out, he throws something else on the table and shakes things up again. Details that were mentioned earlier in the book, but that you didn't pay much attention to at the time, turn up again later on and end up being more important than ever. It's a method that makes for an ever-evolving and unpredictable story that keeps you guessing right up to the very end, and it is awesome. I love it when I can't put a book down because I can't wait to find out what happens next.
But this book is more than just a lot of fun; it's also educational. While kids are reading about Oliver saving the world from the Master of Mirrors, they can also learn a little about French culture, a little French history, a little of the language, and even a little bit about quantum theory. Along the way on his journey, Oliver visits the Louvre, Versailles, Sainte-Chapelle, and the Eiffel Tower. He meets Molière, Racine, and the Duc de Richelieu. He learns about quanta, about multiverse theory, and also about important distinctions in language: the difference between irony and sarcasm, simile and metaphor, and rhetoric. Important stuff for a kid to learn about, considering there are so many adults who don't even understand things like irony. (Hint: it's not like rain on your wedding day.)
I think the best thing about this book, however, is the message, which I think can be summed up by these two paragraphs:
...Seeing Charlie's face, newly lit with courage, Oliver knew at last what the golden lie was that Mrs. Pearson had promised to tell him about when he was ready. The golden lie was the greatest lie of all--it was the lie you told others about your own courage, in order to make them courageous. And what made it golden, Oliver saw, was that it was shiny, reflective. Your pretending to be brave when you weren't made other people braver than they really were--and their bravery bounced back on you, as Charlie's was doing now, and made you brave. The golden lie was the lie of courage when you didn't have it, which meant that you did, which made you brave.
He found his crown on the floor and, tattered and creased as the paper was by now, he put it on. He understood that to be a king at all it is necessary to act like a king even if you do not feel like a king, and that to be a good king you must first accept your crown, and wear it proudly, come what may. Courage is measured in what you do, not how you feel. Everyone is always afraid. The brave, he knew now, just lie about it better than the rest of us.
Now, some people may object, claiming that this encourages kids to lie. But I disagree, and frankly, I think to say that is to entirely miss the point. What this teaches is not that it's okay to lie, or that some lies are good, or whatever. After all, by the time a kid is old enough to read this book, they're old enough to have already learned that there is a difference between bad lies ("No, Mom, I didn't steal $20 from your purse") and acceptable lies ("No, Mom, that dress doesn't make you look fat"). Rather, what it teaches is this:
Courage isn't something you're born with. It's not something you gain magically, or that comes to you when you learn to stop being afraid. It's not something that some people have and other people don't. Anybody can be brave. Any old kid looking out his (or her!) window can be a king; you don't have to be extraordinary to change the world. All you need is to care about something enough to want to make a difference.
An important message, I think, and one that's far better than the messages kids are picking up from the television every day.
So I suppose it stands to question, if I feel so strongly about this book, why I don't just go ahead and give it five stars. And the thing is, as much as I enjoyed it, I definitely feel there were parts of the story that could have been explained better. There were certain concepts, particularly toward the end of the book, that were not necessarily hard to comprehend so much as they were hard to visualize. Now, I understand that Gopnik was probably trying to control the word count on what is already a rather lengthy children's novel (416 pages, as opposed to the 350 or less that is more common, in my experience). However, if I, as an adult, have trouble following or picturing certain aspects of a story, then imagine how the book's intended audience must feel.
Also, frankly, the very end was pretty sloppy. First of all, by the end of the story, Oliver has been running around Paris for, what, three days without checking in with his parents? His father may have known what he was up to, but since neither of them bothered informing Oliver's mother, why didn't she say anything about it? Am I the only one whose mother would have had several litters of kittens and at least one entire cow had I gone gallivanting around a major city--or any city--at the age of twelve without showing my face at home for three days? Especially after I'd already been caught lying to her about where I'd been and skipping school. My mother would not have given the barest fraction of a shit whether I'd been in the company of some famous, award-winning author, or even the President of the United States himself; if she had found out I'd cut school without her express permission, she would have shot fire out of her nostrils! No joke. And I find it a bit too unbelievable that Oliver's mother didn't have a similar reaction.
Furthermore, speaking of mothers, at the end of the book, Neige's mother is...well, I don't want to have to put a spoiler warning on this, so let's just say she's out of ambit. (Bonus points for Young Wizards reference, y/y?) And since Neige doesn't have a father, that means she's on her own until she can get her mother back, if she can get her mother back, and who knows how long that will take. Does anyone else see the problem with a thirteen-year-old girl being on her own for an indefinite period of time? Does France not have a social services department? Tsk-tsk, Mr. Gopnik, a silly and avoidable oversight.
It's for these reasons that I cannot, in good conscience, give this book a full five stars. However, I do not think that this should at all deter people from reading it.
The King in the Window is inspired and imaginative in a way that reminds me strongly of Neil Gaiman in his ability to create worlds within worlds and to make it believable. Despite being a children's novel, and though it is unequivocally a work of fantasy, The King... is a strikingly credible story about an ordinary boy who does something extraordinary. It's fun, and it's touching, and it's exciting, and it's funny, all in a way that I think should make it enjoyable for readers of all ages.(less)
You know who Al Franken doesn't like? Ann Coulter. Also, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and pretty much anyone who gets their...moreYou know who Al Franken doesn't like? Ann Coulter. Also, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and pretty much anyone who gets their paycheck from Faux News.
Oh, and the Bush administration, et al.
I can relate, which is why I snickered, giggled, and guffawed my way through reading this. It's not often that a book actually makes me laugh out loud, but Lies, despite fast approaching its 10th anniversary, is a still-relevant and utterly hilarious look at Bush II and other rightwing nutjobsmoronssociopathslunaticsmouthbreathersliars aw, fuck it.
You see, unlike the current virulent strain of conservatives, I'm actually able to remember the previous administration and what a horror show of dumbfuckery and corruption it was. Kind of like how they, once upon a time, were able to remember Clinton and tried to blame him for Dubya's shortcomings. Yet now that Obama is president, somehow the left are all monsters for pointing out that he, too, had a predecessor and that said predecessor was kind of a fuck-up. I guess it's only Democratic presidents who have to be accountable--for themselves, and for everyone else as well.
At any rate, Franken touches on this phenomenon of foisting responsibility for your failures onto the previous administration, while at the same time taking credit for all the positive things, even when that credit isn't yours to take. But let's face it: Bush is old news, except where his legacy--tax cuts for the rich, squandering a surplus, racking up a record deficit by putting two bullshit wars on a credit card--lives on. So my favorite part of this book wasn't reliving the comedy of errors that was his ill-gotten reign. No, my favorite part was the thorough ass-handing he gave Coultergeist, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and Hannity (who used to be King of Idiot Mountain before Glenn Beck came along and stole his crown), among others.
Nobody--and I mean nobody--deserves to be torn to pieces* like these singularly awful fucks. And Franken does it with the same reasoned calm, humor and, most importantly, facts with which he recently shut down some doofus testifying at a Senate hearing about Teh Ee-vil Gays, or some such nonsense***.
I won't pretend the book is perfect. It wanders off the point in a few places, I felt, and Franken's humor falls a little flat in others, such as the play about the waitress and the tax attorney. (I'm not sure if it really ever was legitimately a play, or if it was just something Franken worked up to drive his point home, but either way it was simply reiterating points he'd already hashed out and wasn't all that funny.) Also, I could have done without his repeatedly referring to his corporate speeches as "wildly successful", "enormously popular", etc. We get it: you're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you. Let's move on.
Despite its flaws, however, Lies is highly entertaining. And it's worth a read just to see the likes of Coulter and O'Reilly exposed as the lying liars they are. (And childish, hypocritical bullies, to boot.) If you're left-leaning like me, I definitely recommend a glance through the relevant chapters--for great justice! Or, you know, laughs. Whatever.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be over here eagerly awaiting the release of I Fucking Hate Those Right-Wing Motherfuckers! What do you mean it's not a real book? Shut up and get writing, Franken!
*Of course I mean that figuratively**, so don't fucking start with me.
**No I don't.
***Actually, the doofus was Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, and he testified during the DOMA hearings that children are better off with opposite-sex (i.e. straight) parents. However, the study he cited to support his position actually found that it's more beneficial for children to be raised in a nuclear family--a nuclear family being a two-parent household, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Oops. Here is a video of the Franken v. Minnery smack-down.(less)
Apparently, Queen Margot was originally published serially in several newspapers and magazines of the day, and I imagine that it was basically the 19t...moreApparently, Queen Margot was originally published serially in several newspapers and magazines of the day, and I imagine that it was basically the 19th century French equivalent of a soap opera. It certainly reads like one. But guess how many fucks I give? None! Not a single fuck.
Don't get me wrong--I'm really not the kind of girl who enjoys that sort of thing. Space operas, yes. Soap operas and generally similar things? Not so much. But come on, how can I not love this book? Courtly intrigues! Dastardly plots! Clandestine love affairs! Poisonings and assassinations and duels, oh my! Queen Margot is a fast-paced, high-spirited, romping adventure revolving around the 16th century French court.
Let's not kid ourselves, though. Obviously dear Alexandre took liberties with history and blurred the line between fact and fiction. But again, the number of fucks I give is holding steady at zero. After all, I didn't snatch this book off the shelf at the library because I thought it would be a comprehensive and historically accurate account of the life and times of Marguerite de Valois. If that was what I wanted, I'm sure there's no shortage of texts available to me. But no, I chose this book because it combines so many of my favorite things: history, batshit royals, intrigue, daring heroics, and swashbuckling adventure. (Oh, and a pretty epic bromance, but I didn't know that until later. Bonus!*) I figured it would keep me entertained during the long hours at the hideously boring and uneventful job I was working at the time, and I was not disappointed.
So, here's the thing: if you like historical fiction, you'll probably like this book. And if you like The Three Musketeers and other similar type stories, then you'll probably especially like this book. Just don't go into it expecting it to be anything other than what it is. Queen Margot is a fun, ridiculous, over-the-top adventure story that doesn't take itself too seriously, and if you can appreciate it as such, then you will, I hope, enjoy reading it as much as I did.
*Your mileage may vary. As another reviewer points out, there is a pretty squicktastic moment toward the end.(less)
I have a confession to make: I didn't enjoy On the Road quite as much as everyone else seemed to enjoy On the Road. I'm not sure whether it's because...moreI have a confession to make: I didn't enjoy On the Road quite as much as everyone else seemed to enjoy On the Road. I'm not sure whether it's because people had forever been telling me how oh-my-god-amazing it is, and thus I went into it with really high expectations--too high, in fact--or if it's because I'm just not a fan of Kerouac's style. Either way, I'm sure it makes me a terrible person, but there it is.
So it begs the question why I didn't simply pass on by when I spotted Book of Dreams on the shelf while raiding my local library. The thing is, I love the idea of other people's dreams. They fascinate me. Myself, I dream almost exclusively about people who never were and places that don't exist, or places to which I've never been (which amounts to about the same, in the end), whereas other people tend to dream about those around them, their loved ones, about the things going on in their lives. They dream about their hopes and their fears and their desires. To experience another person's dream is like having a window into their soul.
Book of Dreams does indeed offer the reader a window into the very private world inside the mind of Jack Kerouac. (Or not so private, perhaps, all things considered.) But that's about all the book can boast, unfortunately. One would expect someone's dreams to be written in stream-of-consciousness or similar style, naturally, but this goes right past SOC into a poorly punctuated, run-on, rambling mess that is extremely hard to follow. Reading it actually gave me headaches until I realized that the trick is to skim through the lines really quickly and just get the gist of the material. Focus on the shape of things, the feeling of it, not the finer details.
Because of this, however, I only really learned two things from this book:
1) Jack had a lot of dreams about failed or abortive trysts with women.
2) Jack had a lot of dreams about queers. (His word, not mine.)
Paging Dr. Freud...
So anyway. Unless you're a dedicated Kerouac fan, or really into dreams and dream interpretation--even more so than I am, that is--I would recommend leaving this one on the shelf. If you must, read On the Road instead; it's about basically the same exact stuff, except it makes more sense, is marginally less rambling, and is easier to follow.(less)