A great deal of this mystery remains a mystery to me. Many of the reviews associated with this book are spot on when they discuss the large list of chA great deal of this mystery remains a mystery to me. Many of the reviews associated with this book are spot on when they discuss the large list of characters with sparse characterization, fast-paced plot in an almost old-world atmosphere (much of the dialogue takes place in committee notes or between a few gentlemen over their port and cigars).
The action is unclear, the motive more so, and the mechanism of the mystery feels exactly as Amis himself described it - a puzzle. And, like most puzzles, it is wooden. This is my least favorite Kingsley Amis novel I've read so far....more
This book has less to do with Wrigley Field than the title suggests. In fact, it has virtually nothing to do with Wrigley Field. Will writes as if I kThis book has less to do with Wrigley Field than the title suggests. In fact, it has virtually nothing to do with Wrigley Field. Will writes as if I know everything I want to know about Wrigley already, and want to read a collection of idiosyncratic stories and off-hand musings about the Cubs, Chicago, and baseball in general.
Because I love baseball and I particularly loved Men at Work, the gentle rambling tone of this book caught me by surprise. I'm no architectural dilettante who expects discussion of construction techniques or what have you, but there is no discussion of the actual building beyond off-hand quotes about how architecture is more about defining space than building, or where the batting cages are, or the (expected) renovations to be completed soon, or how the ivy was planted. Where is discussion of Wrigley's construction? Where is even a picture of the place? What if I've never visited, and have no idea what it is like to be there? Will very casually has written a book solely for people who have ever visited the ballpark (which, he tells us, is about the population of a small nation) and already might be expected to nod their heads at every page.
Instead, this book is a history reminiscent wandering that occasionally renders history, and is probably the shoddiest thing that Will has written since the fifth grade. The fact that this earned three stars is simply due to the fact that I love baseball and I love Will's writing, even in such disorganized, off-hand, obviously-put-together-from-his-randomly-jotted-thoughts-over-his-lifetime way. It really has earned about a 2.5 rating in my estimation, which captures the middle ground between "It was OK" and "I liked it".
I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason this book exists is because George F. Will really wants to be like Bill Bryson. A collection of history and random thoughts, I wonder if Will kept something like a "Cubs" journal in which to jot down his thoughts, and then sicced his research team and assistant onto it. Probably all in a week's work for him.
The true saving grace of this book is his reasoned, eloquent, and succint argument about the importance of the sport and beer, which come toward the end of the book. While I appreciated the places his thoughts took him in terms of the history of baseball and the club itself, the book itself is testament to his central thesis - in that the Cubs organization literally bills itself as a team that fans can watch and enjoy, win or lose, and the inconsequential quality of play on the field has little to do with its economic success as a brand. I found Will's breakdown of the writings of significant studies about the Cubs organization to be the most interesting portions of the book, and the fascinating section on our tribal fandom bears truth to the limitations of our national experiment in diversity.
All that said, a nice little book to read (while) on vacation....more
One of the enduring human quests is to distill meaning from experience; What is love, suffering, the world itself? What is good? What is evil? What doOne of the enduring human quests is to distill meaning from experience; What is love, suffering, the world itself? What is good? What is evil? What does it all mean? With no measuring stick to measure one's experiences against those of others, we are all blindfolded in a room with an elephant, and all we can do approximate or estimate, using others' approximations as a guide. Thus, literature, poetry. This book. Artistic expression aids in our own articulation of what meaning we make of the world from our own perspective.
In this way, Dorrido Evans - the central character - wields poems to give expression to his own thoughts and feelings. We all do this, to varying degrees: Basho and Issa and Homer and Catallus distilled in their own words our thoughts, and we quote them to make ourselves understood. The danger is in knowing that we each will never be truly understood, and that is the root of the tragedy and source of the timelessness of this novel. Interpreting our words and actions is in some way our principal way of navigating society and creating meaning for ourselves. Sometimes a book comes along and seems to grasp the ineffable, if only in a few moments of startling clarity, and this is certainly one of those books.
Although marred by a few pages of repetitive and meaningless chatter and a few clumsily written scenes, on the whole this novel is a thoughtful and meaningful meditation on our myriad - though uniformly quixotic - journeys through life. The narrative structure is both off-putting and well-purposed, which is both extraordinarily frustrating and extraordinarily pleasing. It is startlingly poetic and careful with words in places (and equally the opposite in others), which allow the reader time to give pause and weight to the searching, timeless stylistic and narrative choices Flanagan has made.
Humans do quite a bit of meaning-making from our disparate experiences, and Flanagan is in tune with the sensual and metaphysical approximation of love and duty and purpose and loss and all the rest. The Australian soldiers and their Japanese captors in the POW camp all view their experiences in different ways, each seeing their experiences through the moment and over the years with their own, private sources of strength and pillars of reason. What is clear from Flanagan's work is that the world is not necessarily something we create or can make sense of; it simply is. ...more
I wish I could say that this is overwrought and pretentious (which is at times certainly is), or that the characters are stereotypes (they are: a) theI wish I could say that this is overwrought and pretentious (which is at times certainly is), or that the characters are stereotypes (they are: a) the un-centered gay, witty, smart - though he loses every game of Scrabble - younger brother; b) the drug-reliant, local musician older brother; c) the dying, all-knowing, waif-like girlfriend/wife; and d) the toughened, chic-shop store-owner friend/boss with violent early life and a maternal sex-drive (yes, you read that right); e) other minor/assorted characters that provide timely context for the others' lives), or that the plot is essentially a matrix of monotonous, never-ending fixated-on-one-idea thoughts about the two-or-three seminal events/experiences/dreams/goals. I really do wish I could say that.
I just did.
That now said, I do think that The Snow Queen is a true meditation on the spiritual of the everyday, and the characters sometimes transform from stereotypical to archetypical roles, and they become chiseled and meaningful. Some of the thoughts that roil through Barrett's head are positively transcendent, but Tyler is lost in self-pity in a way I don't fully understand and - frankly - loath. Liz and Beth quite obviously are one-dimensional foils for the true romance of the novel: Tyler and Barrett's brotherhood. As archetypes, Cunningham creates a familiar bond that is interesting and thoughtful. How many brothers remember their parents telling them - separately, uniquely - to look out for the other? This relationship in the novel is the closest one to reality since, after all, my Brother will probably be my only peer who has actually known me from birth.
However, there is something lost in the writing, lost in the swimming asides, the gaping parentheses (more on this later) that punctuate the inner monologue of each character. Maybe Cunningham wants us to read it as we think, leaping between what is in the forefront of our consciousness with tangential glances to each side along the way. The self-pitying, stubborn fight to establish self-worthiness (of larger purpose? of cosmic meaning?) is a little tired, however, and the brothers are so aimless in pursuit of their blurry aims (fame? books? the perfect song? time to oneself?) that I'm frankly just annoyed with them. As a result, the characters do little to evoke interest from me.
That may sound a little harsh and unfair, since one of the central dramatic elements is that Beth - Tyler's fiancee - is dying of cancer. But my father died from cancer, and although I was too young to understand the thousands of ways my mother had to watch him waste away, or care for him, or raise two boys in a normal household with the unwelcome normalcy of death at the door, she did so in a way that was brave, unselfish, and heroic in her fierce love for him. She still speaks about him all the time, often in front of my stepfather; this often makes me uncomfortable until I remember that he met her later in life, and they found something in one another that was a different sort of love. That makes him very much a father to me as well.
But I digress. My point here is that these sorts of things require bravery of normal people all the time, but I was somehow not moved by Tyler and Barrett's experience, perhaps simply because it was different from my own and different from my mother's (disclaimer: she recommended this book to me). How I came to be in the heads of these very ordinary people going through a very ordinary - difficult, yes, but ordinary - experience was not enlightening, not moving, not deserving of the work of a Pulitzer-prize-winning author. The only tragedy in the book is the tragedy Cunningham doesn't make me feel! The visceral loss of a loved one is blunted by the parade of other nonsense that shuffled through his main characters' thoughts, and this makes the book slightly gloopy.
Like a true, 21st-century novel predicated upon an educated readership, each with a host of quotidien problems, this book feels like it was written for a particular consumer. Any reader might connect to something in this novel: mindless lust, lustless sex, loss of a parent, sickness, poverty, lack of success, difficulty finding love, recovering from inexplicable break-ups, pedantic friends etc. These are parts of all our experiences, and thus prosaic - but the essential meaninglessness of their experiences and somewhat baldness of obvious (and unstated) problem (middle age, anyone?) is a little tired (by the way, see how annoying this parenthetical interruption is!?!?).
(I realize that my last paragraph just threw 21st century novels under the bus. Sorry guys. No slight intended. Keep writing, I'll read.)
This book wins the award of the millenium for the most ironic title. I have to defer to this review for more adequate analysis - I found it to be spotThis book wins the award of the millenium for the most ironic title. I have to defer to this review for more adequate analysis - I found it to be spot on.
While I read this book quickly - it is only a page-turner due to vague promises of character development, but never delivered - I found it to be a chore and ultimately unrewarding. With a few gems about how getting older and growing out of adolescence is - in our current day and age - a lifelong process, the meaning of friendships forged in adolescence, and general observations about human behavior and search for purpose and meaning, the characters are largely superficial and unbelievable.
Following the intertwined lives of a group of teenaged friends that all attended an arts camp together, Wolitzer roots the characters in their teenage personas their entire lives, as if they were molded indelibly and permanently by their somewhat shared experience. Multiple narrators and jumping around in time and through their lives also confuses the issue as well, and the monotone delivery of each characters' inner thoughts and aspirations made me question what made each character different after all. In fact, many of them are simply cardboard cutout characters that are doomed to have the same characteristics throughout their lives as they do when their are privileged teenagers.
In addition, many of them have different pasts, but they do not really have enough in common to stay friends over the course of their lives. For example, although Ethan and Jules are friendly and seem to have a deep, platonic love for one another that provides drama for their romantic lives (not with each other), it isn't exactly clear why they are friends to begin with.
A conceit that I found intriguing was the over-sexualization of these characters experiences (who thinks about the "thinness" of a lover's saliva?, or the memory of how tongues touched once forty years previous?), as if they were adolescents throughout their lives. Perhaps this was intentional, and if so it was an interesting angle to take (after all, she is trying to show how their adolescent experiences were formative - but come on, not teleological), but it also opened the book up to an unfortunately adolescent worldview that was monotonous and frankly uninteresting. Even though adolescence is a dynamic time that imprints certain behaviors and world views on our lives, does it really have as much of an effect as Wolitzer suggests? The treatment of Goodman is especially troubling; what family truly cares so much about a drug-addicted asshole who rapes a girl then flees - and then funds his foreign adventures for the rest of his life? It is a reprehensible situation they find themselves in, and those narrative choices remain troubling for the rest of the book. And as for a stand-in for narrative tension, Goodman is a ridiculously cliched and undeveloped to found the book upon.
While following the lives of friends to see how their friendships change over time, I question why any of these characters had anything in common to begin with - in effect, Wolitzer has them become friends simply because they were at the same place at the same time once. A chance encounter? Who knows, but it is one I wish they never made....more
Tthis is an, admittedly, odd story that, in the author's own words "doesn't do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do." And it doesn't.Tthis is an, admittedly, odd story that, in the author's own words "doesn't do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do." And it doesn't. But it does create a new world, it does create a character with shattered depths, it does create action by which the reader can meaningfully feel impelled, and it does create a sense of pause in our traditional story-reading world. Because this is different, it causes the reader to look at the world differently.
While reading this book, I felt like I wanted it to end so that I could know what happened. What it meant. But now that it is done, I want to read it again, to see Auri's world through her eyes once more to gain a different perspective (there is a little of Auri in us all, after all, in knowing that things have their proper places). But how different is Auri's perspective on my own life when the echoes of this quote ring through my ears?:
"So yes, in some ways, these would be enough. But how awful would that be? How terrible to live surrounded by the stark, sharp hollowness of things that simply were enough?"
While this is an extreme case of someone who is virtually self-sufficient, alone with her own world-view and thoughts, and possibly living with OCD - or impressive naming abilities - how much are we often like her? Despite the "action" of the novel - her week-long work of taking care of her world so that the perfect gift can be given to her visitor (whose name neither she nor I will state) - the action of taking care of the things and our own well-being in our lives is always fraught with personal rules, fear of the outside, and, in our own way, the patient attention we pay to the things and other people in our lives. Perhaps we all ought to take more care and understand that creating value in daily objects and activities and motions and interactions would be well worth our while.
I do not advocate we all live like Auri, but perhaps we should pay attention to things around us like Auri does? Perhaps we'd find more meaning - self-creating, autonomous - in these objects, rather than the meaning simply handed to us didactically? It is this thought, as much as it is this sliver of Rothfuss's impressive world-building, that gives this five stars. ...more
One of the more moving novels I've read in a long time - although I've probably written that over and over again in my Goodreads reviews. As an epic tOne of the more moving novels I've read in a long time - although I've probably written that over and over again in my Goodreads reviews. As an epic tale in the tradition of Icelandic sagas, Laxness recreated the hardships, unquestioned sufferings, endurance of discomforts beyond my imagination - although it is fairly clear that the comforts we enjoy in modern life are not needs nor are they particularly pressing. In fact, reading this made me realize that being cold and wet for an afternoon or a few hours doesn't really compare to being cold and wet for days at a time; nor, for that matter, entire seasons.
Especially since I had just visited Iceland before reading this, the land, its people, its heath, its moors, its night, and its sod crofts were vivid in my mind as I read (in the comforts of my home, of course). This national epic is informative, in terms of how capitalism and socialism grew in certain out-of-the-way places (like Iceland), but it also is a deep examination into what it takes to be successful as an independent man in the face of inexorable natural forces. Farmers, in the end, always get screwed unless they have some particularly ingenious advantage or fortuitous circumstance.
This is a novel that spears you with the poetry and depth of its river-wide narrative, encompassing a whole community in the tale of one man seeking to lead an independent life on a sheep croft. I've learned a lot about sheep in this novel, but more about the durability and frailty of human nature, about pride and resilience, and a re-imagined history of Iceland before and after the Great War. The rangy narrative style gives it a certain elastic and organic feel, as if the novel itself is breathing in and out over the years. Time is fluid yet seasonal and predictable. There is an omnipresence, yet space between the reader and the characters. An altogether enjoyable, meandering tale that will stick with me for years. I am very sure I will never complain about being cold again....more
This is a remarkable book, with a cast of characters that gyrate through history with mysterious attraction and force. Susan Barker's research, pacingThis is a remarkable book, with a cast of characters that gyrate through history with mysterious attraction and force. Susan Barker's research, pacing, sense of time, place, and detail are all on display here to make this a fantastic and compulsive read. This is a book that makes the reader reluctant to close at night and madly plan to continue reading the next day. Fortunately, the pleasure of reading this book was extended since I had few opportunities to read this in large chunks, and this gave the book's mysteries a much-needed prolonged exposure.
The closest analogue to this book is David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, and it does not unfavorably compare. Similar in that a set of characters are connected and are reincarnated in various roles throughout history, it is different in that it is restricted to China and Chinese culture. This is a strength of the book, rather than a limitation; Chinese history is relatively unfamiliar to the Western reader, and the richness of the story comes from its depth, rather than a global scope.
Without giving away too much, the plot can be summed up simply, but with tantalizing scantness: a taxi-driver with a speckled past and intriguing family works in Beijing around the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. Mysterious letters have been delivered to him that detail his past incarnations throughout history. The narrative of this taxi driver is the modern incarnation, and his life takes abrupt, uncontrollable turns as he and the reader learn more about both his "current" and "past" history. Exquisitely revealed hints tie these incarnations to his current life. It is testament to Barker's ability to pace multiple story-lines and construct the mystery of identity that the closing pages are ultimately satisfying....more