I will say this right now: I usually don't go in for memoirs. They usually seem too self-indulgent and, for me, most memoirs typically lack the "so whI will say this right now: I usually don't go in for memoirs. They usually seem too self-indulgent and, for me, most memoirs typically lack the "so what" factor that I desperately need when I'm reading. This book is definitely a memoir more than anything else, but it's brimming with "so what".
So there's this idea in yogic circles that the act of laughing - by itself with no external stimulus - will actually make you feel better. Bear with me for a second. I guess laughing and feeling good are so inextricably linked in your brain that it's hard to have one without the other. People will on occasion congregate in yoga studios and just laugh for an hour or so, and swear up and down that afterwards they feel fantastic.
A.J. Jacobs starts this experiment as a cultural (i.e. non-observant) Jew who is effectively Agnostic. In the course of trying to follow the bible as literally as possible, he starts praying several times a day and in general trying to be a more spiritual person. And after a few months he describes concrete, positive changes in his personality that come, initially anyway, from just going through the motions.
Another thing this book does very, very well is to address the phenomenon of cafeteria-style religion. It's a derogatory term used by very religious people to criticize not-as-religious people, as if they're picking and choosing what they want out of religion and leaving the difficult parts, uh, under the heat lamp. Can you consider yourself to be a religious person if you're ok with gay rights or evolution? After all, that stuff is supposedly covered in the bible. Can you be truly religious if you don't keep kosher or observe the sabbath? If the bible is the word of God, who are you to ignore any part of it? I won't spoil the book by talking about his conclusions in this direction. I will say, though, that his conclusions are worth reading.
I guess this is the part of the review where I have to say bad things about the book so that you'll take this review seriously overall? Well, I'll make some concessions to that. It does get pretty self-indulgent at points. He's got what they call a strong personality, which can sometimes make the reading a little difficult. That is, since it's a memoir it's hard to tell sometimes whether you don't like a passage because you don't like what the guy is doing or because you don't like the writing. I've heard that his other book is difficult to read for this exact reason.
Overall, it was a very worthwhile book. Funny and very interesting, especially for people who like to think about the nature of faith and religious practice. ...more
I'd like to think that all but the most blindly jingoistic citizens are at least a little uncomfortable with the government taking so much liberty witI'd like to think that all but the most blindly jingoistic citizens are at least a little uncomfortable with the government taking so much liberty with our, uh, liberties these days. The war on terror makes a great campaign tool I guess, but with it comes the ugly stepsisters of, among other things, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and private security contractors. And this is what "Spook Country" is about.
Gibson is great at taking cultural developments and following them through to gigantic, plausible conclusions. Not only that, but he does it in a way that makes for good reading. In 1984, 23 years ago, his book "Neuromancer" arguably predicted and influenced the development of the internet. For heaven's sake, he invented the word "cyberspace". The man has a fantastic imagination.
"Spook Country" does the same sort of thing, starting from the general vibe created by the politics of the war on terror. Gibson builds a very plausible picture of the intelligence community in which the government's own (real and documented) lax attitude towards the law leads to a situation in which quasi-legal intelligence contractors (c.f. Blackwater) run ragged over civil liberties and the country isn't at all safer for it.
The plot revolves around an errant shipping container that various shady people are very interested in. The container is a sort of focal point that brings the three main characters together. There's:
(1) Milgrim, addicted to anti-anxiety pills and pressed into service by a not-so-intelligent intelligence operative of questionable legitimacy and legality; (Milgrim is, I think, a pretty hilarious allegory for the American electorate. )
(2) Hollis Henry, a journalist hired by a ludicrously rich entrepreneur to investigate the container; and
(3) Tito, a member of a large Cuban-Chinese family that, during the Cold War, developed itself into a boutique intelligence contractor and that are currently contracted to do some container-related syping.
Hollis Henry is a dead ringer for Cayce Pollard from "Pattern Recognition", and in fact "Spook Country" is fairly similar in tone and plot to that book. Not quite a sequel, but not at all separate either. It even features Hubertus Bigend in a reprise of his role as creepy rich dude. Really I only see this pseudo-sequel thing being a problem if you didn't like "Pattern Recognition". Otherwise it's just a good opportunity to hear more of Gibson's ideas about our current society, and I think Gibson's ideas are worth hearing.
Here's a quote that I think is fairly representative of the point of the book:
"A nation,” he heard himself say, “consists of laws. A nation does not consist of its situation at a given time. If an individual’s morals are situational, that individual is without morals. If a nation’s laws are situational, that nation has no laws, and soon it isn’t a nation. … Are you really so scared of terrorists that you’ll dismantle the structures that made America what it is?"
Overall, I'd say it was very worthwhile. I smiled while I was finishing the book. It was interesting, clever, and well worth reading. ...more
If you open up the "20th Anniversary Edition" of GEB, you'll see that the first thing Douglas Hofstadter does in the introduction - the very first thiIf you open up the "20th Anniversary Edition" of GEB, you'll see that the first thing Douglas Hofstadter does in the introduction - the very first thing - is grouse that nobody seems to understand what his book is about. Not even its publishers or readers who just absolutely love it. A quick glance at the back cover will give you the same impression - even the glowing, two-sentence blurbs are hilariously vague, all of them variations on the theme of "Well, that certainly was ... something! Yes, quite a wonderful something indeed."
So how are you supposed to know whether to pick it up? Or put less delicately, how are you supposed to know whether reading all 740 dense, sprawling pages is worth your while? The short answer is: "Read this book if you like to think about thinking, as well as to think about thinking about thinking." The long answer makes me nervous - since the typical review of this book apparently misses the point entirely, I feel like I'm starting out on thin ice. Oh well, I'll take a crack at it anyway.
At its heart, this book is about whether you can start with simple parts and from them, build a system which is so complicated that it becomes more than the sum of its parts in a significant sort of way. For example, scientists have a very clear understanding of how a single neuron functions. They even have a fairly good understanding of how neurons operate in groups to take on specific tasks, like wiggling your pinkie finger. But there are around a hundred billion neurons in a human brain and the structure quickly becomes preposterously complicated - groups of groups of groups of neurons, all acting in interconnected ways to produce conscious thought. How do we get something as complex as human consciousness out of something as simple and well-understood as a neuron?
The answer Hofstadter likes is that the brain operates on many different interacting levels, and that conscious thought is a product of the complex interaction between all these levels. So in order to understand something you're reading, you depend on individual neurons operating in basically deterministic ways to move signals around your brain, but you also depend on groups of neurons in your vision centers to recognize text, as well as other groups of neurons on other levels to understand that text, and other groups of neurons on other levels to fit that new understanding into the context of the previous sentence, and so on. All of this applies equally well to artificial intelligence, which is Hofstadter's field. It's just that an electronic brain would be built from transistors and subroutines instead of brain tissue.
The title is a little misleading - this book is not at all about how when you get right down to it, Kurt Godel, M.C. Escher, and J.S. Bach are totally interrelated, man. Their work is just useful in getting deeper down into that idea of interacting layers that produce complexity. For example, Kurt Godel was a mathematician who proved that in any self-consistent formulation of number theory, you could generate theorems that, while "true", were not provable in within that formulation. Basically, he showed that any formal mathematical system is necessarily incomplete in specific ways. Here's the part where things start to get craaaaazy: If you build a "well-formed" number theory labeled X, then X can be used to generate a proof of X's self-consistency only if X is inconsistent. The reverse is also true. And all this relates back to how a system can be more than the sum of its parts.
These are definitely interesting ideas and very worth reading about, but whether GEB is worth reading is a harder question. It's a very well-written, well-researched book. I love that the author goes (way, way, way) out of his way to spend time explaining difficult ideas, rather than to assume a dull or disinterested readership. But sometimes that tendency to dig deeper can start to obscure the central point of a chapter. I think that's why so many people lose track of what the book is actually about - there really are a ton of fascinating ideas that are all given equal weight.
The book hops between two different formats. The first is your standard, well-written, popular discussion of complex scientific, artistic, or philosophical ideas. In fact, Hofstadter is very good at this part. He excels at getting the reader interested in - and even excited about - some traditionally inaccessible stuff. The second format is a series of short dialogs between fictional characters, interspersed between every chapter, that help to allegorically enforce the ideas in whatever chapter.
Overall, this approach is very good at getting you to understand the complicated ideas Hofstadter is getting at. I found that my problems with the book weren't with the subject matter, which was fascinating and enjoyable, but with the author. Ol' Dougie H. loves this material. He loves it so much that he tries to infect you with his own personal sense of wonder and whimsy at how complex and beautiful art and life and science are. And of course he's right, but that's not the point. If he trusted you to feel these things for yourself, the book would be maybe 200 pages shorter.
As it is, his constant pedagogical wordplay and artful brain teasers started out fun but after page 400 they started making me tired. Also, those forced injections of wonder and whimsy start to take on the flavor of little plugs for the personal fantasticness of Douglas Hofstadter. For example, his discussion of the language processing functions of the brain is interesting, but did he really have to bring up the fact that he's fluent in Russian and translated Eugene Onegin? In a short book or a movie, cleverness can be fun and exciting. In a 740-page tome, not so much.
I strongly recommend this book to a very narrow set of people. If you think you'd be interested in the subject matter AND you wouldn't mind playing simple word or math games in the service of understanding it AND the inner workings of a computer scientist's marvelous brain seem interesting to you, then definitely read this book. I enjoyed it and found it very fun and informative, overall. But if you read this review and you get the feeling you probably won't like this book, you're probably right.
It's hard to sit down and write about the plot of a Pynchon novel, since each one is about everything that a human being ever thinks about. The, uh, jIt's hard to sit down and write about the plot of a Pynchon novel, since each one is about everything that a human being ever thinks about. The, uh, jumping-off point of this novel is that during WW2, Brittish Intelligence realizes that a map of German V-2 rocket strike sites in London exactly matches a map of American G.I. Tyrone Slothrop's sexual conquests. But that's only an issue for maybe 25 or 50 pages of a 760-page book. "Gravity's Rainbow" deals with war, with how much control you have over your own life, with what it means to be the citizen of a country, and with colonialism. I don't think Pynchon is a big fan of colonialism.
Any monkey at a typewriter can write a novel that uses the atomic bomb as a metaphor for human hubris, or the inexorable and terrible march of progress, or ... well, it's a metaphor for lots of things. Pynchon uses instead the V-2 rocket as a metaphor for everything all at once. He likes it ... well, he likes it because it's way more obscure, but also because at the time it was uniquely supersonic, so you hear it *after* it kills you. That raises a lot of interesting questions about how much people take for granted, and how little control we can actually exert on our lives. Pynchon also plays with what that phenomenon does to our notion of linear time. Here's a good excerpt:
--------------- "'Temporal bandwidth' is the width of your present, your *now*. It is the familiar 'delta-t' considered as a dependent variable. The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are. It may get to where you're having trouble remembering what you were doing five minutes ago, or even - as Slothrop now - what you're doing *here*, at the base of this colossal curved embankment... "Uh," he turns slackmouth to Narrish, "what are we..." "What are we what?" "What?" "You said, 'What are we...,' then you stopped." "Oh. Gee, that was a funny thing to say." ---------------
This is a hard book to read, but well worth the effort. One of my favorites....more
The Nation of Islam tends to be the punchline to jokes in popular culture. Louis Farrakhan gets a bad rap for being anti-Semitic. I picked up this booThe Nation of Islam tends to be the punchline to jokes in popular culture. Louis Farrakhan gets a bad rap for being anti-Semitic. I picked up this book so I could learn actual facts and make my own decisions about such things.
This book deals with the history of Black Islamic Nationalism in the United States in general, and the Nation of Islam (NOI) in specific. The NOI is presented as a legitimate response of African Americans to centuries of white racism and opression. It's a very respectful and well-reserached book, and I feel like I now have a measure of understanding and respect for a religion that most people - white and otherwise - consider to be weird and threatening.
"A Storm of Swords" is a brutal, brutal book. And the book is part of a brutal, brutal series by George R.R. Martin called "A Song of Ice and Fire". W"A Storm of Swords" is a brutal, brutal book. And the book is part of a brutal, brutal series by George R.R. Martin called "A Song of Ice and Fire". Whether you should read the book - or the series - is a tough question. A decent answer might take me a few paragraphs.
So. The basics. I was going on a trip and I needed some airplane fiction. A couple friends had recommended the series to me, and at first blush it seemed pretty well-suited to some of my dorkier sensibilities: "People hitting each other with swords, you say? Court intrigue and spooky monsters? Giant, psychic wolves? Don't mind if I do!" Martin is a decent writer with a good imagination, so it's easy to get sucked into this world he's created. But these books are largely dark and heavy. This is not the breezy airplane reading I was looking for. More on this in a bit.
Broadly, the books are set in a place called Westeros, populated by feudal types who are all vying with each other for political power. It has the same general thrust as Frank Herbert's "Dune", in that the narrative perspective shifts between a bunch of different characters who are all strategizing against each other. But unlike "Dune", everything is shades of gray. You'll start out thinking that somebody is a good guy or a bad guy, but then good guys get forced into miserable moral conflicts, bad guys end up having good reasons for being bad, and everybody is consistently frustrated in basically all their plans. Oh, and all this inter-family squabbling has everybody distracted from what ought to be their real focus: maybe there's an army of demonic ghouls from the wintry north who want to do terrible things to every living person in the world, and maybe those ghouls are getting ready to head south en masse. Not bad, right?
Let me elaborate a little on what I said before about "dark and heavy". In these books, each season lasts several years. The first book starts at the tail-end of a long summer, which means everybody is gearing up for maybe a decade-long, murderous winter. And look, things weren't all that great in summer. It's an obvious metaphor for everything else that happens in the books. People start out with hard lives, then their lives get ruined, then their ruined lives get ruined-er, then they die, then their relatives' already-hard lives are ruined, and so on. Martin has a knack for introducing new characters, getting you to really like them, and then killing them off in horrible ways. Or hey, maybe they don't die and you just end up caring deeply about characters who never get even the tiniest bit of redemption. I am not exaggerating about this: basically no character gets what they want, ever.
Those are the themes consistent to the three books I've read so far. War is hell. People die. Life is hard. Shining knights and little kids can be monsters and cold-blooded killers. And Martin never wants you to get complacent about this. It's the same grinding, brutal lesson over and over again and at basically every opportunity. There's something weirdly compelling about how bleak everything is. Popular fiction is overflowing with characters who resolve their problems quickly and inevitably. It's masochistically refreshing to find that easy gratification absent here. At least, that's what I say when I'm feeling generous. There are other times though - like right after the grisly murder of a likable character - when it seems like maybe George R.R. Martin never got enough hugs when he was little.
Should you read a book like that? I'm not selling this book very hard, am I?
Martin is an extremely compelling writer. Some of that compelling-ness (?) comes from genuinely good writing, in which well-developed character are put into interesting, fully realized environments and situations. (One caveat here: Only a few of these well-developed, three-dimensional characters are women. Of the minority of female characters, a fairly large portion of them have some sort of "if only I wasn't a girl, I'd totally have control over my life" issues. This is probably lame.) Some of that compelling-ness, though, comes from addictive, TV-style emotional manipulation. (Martin was a TV writer after all, and it totally shows through in his writing.) Just as every episode of "Battlestar Galactica", "Heroes", "24", etc. has a cliff-hanger before every commercial break, most chapters in these books end with some sort of cliff-hanger. And then because the narrative shifts perspective so often, you're left hanging for five or six chapters while Martin returns to other supporting characters, moves their sub-plots along, and sets up their cliff-hangers. More often than not, once you finally return to the original tense situation, the tension is prolonged or enhanced instead of being resolved. Some people - probably the same people who love that sort of episodic TV - love this style of writing and eat it up with a spoon. I find myself hating it, but I seem to be reading these books anyway.
It strikes me that most of this review has centered on the story mechanics. Martin's methodical, cliff-hanger-y way of telling this story has been just as much a part of my experience as any character or sub-plot. People like these books because of the intrigue and adventure and all the medieval hoo-hah, but the hoo-hah is hard to appreciate if you have to do it in spite of the story mechanics.
I've been reading these books - despite how depressing and brutal and manipulative they are - because I want very much to see what happens to all these people and how the story ends. Like I said, Martin is a talented writer who creates interesting characters and situations. But then he abuses you with that talent. It raises interesting questions about what we want from entertainment. Is a book or TV show "good" just because it stresses you out?
So in the end, I don't even know if I want to keep reading this series. Except I probably will, but then I'll resent myself for doing it. I don't know, guys. Books about knights and monsters are fun, right?
There's satire and then there's books in which everybody is horrible. "Absurdistan" is one of the latter, I think. It's about Misha, an emotionally crThere's satire and then there's books in which everybody is horrible. "Absurdistan" is one of the latter, I think. It's about Misha, an emotionally crippled, morbidly obese Russian oligarch who wants only to move to New York to be with his girlfriend. He can't though, since his obese Russian oligarch father once killed an Oklahoma businessman and now the INS won't give Misha a visa. His quest for a US visa brings him from Russia to Absurdistan, the (made-up) pearl of the Caspian Sea, where he may be able to get Belgian citizenship for himself and by extension a travel permit.
Absurdistan as a country is just how you'd expect it to be, given its name: corrupt, politically ridiculous, split by war between two indistinguishable religious factions, and full of oil and Halliburton contractors. So yes, there is a satirical aspect to the book - in "Abusrdistan", all of the ways in which people are horrible to each other come directly from current events. Shteyngart (the author) does a great job of riffing on the current administration's approach to global conflict, including a fairly fantastic excoriation of LOGCAP. There are some very funny, au courant bits in there.
So when I write all this down, it sounds like a fun and relevant book. A Bush-inspired version of "A Confederacy of Dunces", I guess. Still, I didn't really enjoy reading it. For one thing, I lack whatever gland or emotional kink it is that allows people to follow and enjoy the antics of Paris Hilton and other irresponsible, rich, famous people. I just can't bring myself to care. Since the main character in the book is this type of person, I was immediately at a disadvantage. For another thing, I need to be able to like at least one person in a book I'm reading, even if it's a "satire". If everybody sucks there's nothing to keep me caring about what happens. Everybody in this book sucks.
This book gets two stars instead of one because (a) there were some fun and funny parts, and (b) I can easily see how other people might really enjoy it. But I didn't really enjoy it....more
I'm not sure I have anything more to say about Murakami than what I've already said in my review of "After Dark". He's a unique writer and his style tI'm not sure I have anything more to say about Murakami than what I've already said in my review of "After Dark". He's a unique writer and his style takes getting used to. The best way to start reading him is to pick up a collection of his short stories (like this one) and then once you've decided that you like those, start in on one of his novels.
Interestingly, Murakami considers himself a short story writer, and finds it difficult to grind away every day on something cohesive like a novel. So all in all, I'd say this book is an excellent starting point for deciding whether you like him or not. And since some of his short stories (like "The Year of Spaghetti") end up becoming the beginnings of a novel, it's a natural choice for a Murakami starter.
I see little point in trying to review every single story in this collection. Instead, I'll just recommend "Dabchick", "A Perfect Day for Kangaroos", "Birthday Girl", and the book as a whole....more
The central issue in this book is the notion that we can manufacture products and infrastructure that are really, actually good for the environment inThe central issue in this book is the notion that we can manufacture products and infrastructure that are really, actually good for the environment instead of simply being "less bad".
Here's an example of what on Earth that could possibly mean. In making paper, you have two options. (1) You can cut down a tree to make clean, high-quality paper, but on a large scale this involves massive deforestation and the annihilation of ecosystems. (2) You can recycle old paper. However, paper fibers get shorter and shorter the more they're recycled, requiring more and more environmentally-questionable chemicals (bleaches, stabilizers, etc.) to produce a product of less quality than the original. The authors call this "downcycling", which means just what it sounds like it means. Finally, the chemicals involved in the creation of either kind of paper remain in the environment long after the paper fibers themselves decompose.
So option (1) above is clearly bad, and option (2) is what they call "less bad". As an actually "good" alternative, they made their book out of some sort of inert plastic polymer that can be indefinitely recycled. The pages are as papery as plastic can be, and overall the book feels the way a book should. Maybe a little heavier than your typical 180-page book, but sturdier and waterproof. (I got hoisin sauce all over mine and it wiped right off.) Apparently, if you send this book back to the manufacturer it can be recycled into other books with close to zero loss in overall quality.
(I want to stress that this argument hasn't changed my overall view of recycling. In the absence of "good" options it still makes sense to pick the option which is least bad. I'll continue to downcycle my junk until it's possible to, uh, upcycle, even if that merely postpones the apocalypse instead of preventing it.)
This is a microcosm of what this book is actually about. Right now, we as a society are locked into a false choice between the standard capitalist notion of "progress" and the standard environmentalist notion of "sustainability". This book presents a third option that goes a long way towards reconciling the two. Rather than choose between progress and sustainability, why not design/engineer sustainability into products, buildings, and infrasrtucture?
The authors argue that this extra design effort can be economical for businesses when you consider the overall cost of manufacturing. They give the example of a manufacturing facility they designed in which the effluent water from the factory was actually cleaner than the influent. It took some extra money to design, but now the business doesn't have to pay regulatory fees or worry about how to dispose of its liquid wastes. Overall, that initial design effort saved them money.
I guess this review is getting a little long. Here is the punchline. Environmentalism and industry don't necessarily have to be arch-enemies. (I guess Captain Planet brainwashed me a little...) Intelligent systems design can create an industrial environment which is actually beneficial to local ecology. This book gets four stars rather than five because I wish it was longer. I wanted more details about specific things that have been/can be done in the service of this idea. Instead, the book is short and talks in broad strokes for a more skeptical audience than me.
When the movie version of "The Golden Compass" came out, friends of mine got very, very excited because they'd read that book as a tweenager and lovedWhen the movie version of "The Golden Compass" came out, friends of mine got very, very excited because they'd read that book as a tweenager and loved it. So when I saw a copy for $4 I snatched it right up and read it in a couple days.
The first book in the series is just what you'd expect. There's a plucky young girl who, by dint of her pluck, gets plunged into the middle of a Grand Adventure involving terrible danger and quasi-magical beings. And hey: "The Golden Compass" is totally fun to read! It goes quick, and there's a fairly high Awesomeness Quotient to keep you interested. For example, there are sentient polar bears with opposable thumbs! They wear armor and will totally kick your ass all around town if you mess with them! And get this: They're called "Panserbjorne"! Absolutely perfect. Easily the best fiction innovation since the Klingon. Definitely read this book before / instead of watching the movie.
As a side note, there was a lot of criticism from religious folks when the movie came out. That criticism is understandable when it's directed at books 2 & 3, but is totally unfounded when it's directed at the first book, or at the movie.
I'm sorry to say that only the momentum generated by the first book is what got me through the other two. Pullman succumbs to exactly the same problem as Orson Scott Card in his Ender's Game series - buoyed by the fantastic success of the first book, he tries to make following books "important" instead of "good". That is, Pullman has some pretty plain ideas about organized religion - especially Catholicism - and he doesn't really beat around the bush with them in books 2 and 3. The Catholic Church is portrayed as evil, God is portrayed in several unflattering ways, and The Fall is presented as the best thing to ever happen to humanity. Sigh. I can see how sullen 14-year-olds would groove on this, but it's not original thinking and gets very old very quickly. Also, the third book - "The Amber Spyglass" - wins the award for Least Satisfying Ending To A Trilogy Ever, Including The Matrix.
My advice to you is this: Read the first book in the series because it's super-fun and exciting. Then, no matter how curious you get about how things turn out, resist the urge to read the next two. ...more
This is a world history of how civilizations developed. It's not a subject which is addressed in school, but it's a colossally important subjecct anywThis is a world history of how civilizations developed. It's not a subject which is addressed in school, but it's a colossally important subjecct anyway. How did humans make (or not make) the transition from hunters-gatherers to farmers? How does this transition relate to the ability of some societies to conquer others?
Very readable, very interesting. Did you know that 15,000 years ago, there were giant kangaroos in Australia? Giant kangaroos!...more
I told the guy in the bookstore (whose name is also Daniel) that I wanted a book that would open my brain up. He didn't think too long before he pointI told the guy in the bookstore (whose name is also Daniel) that I wanted a book that would open my brain up. He didn't think too long before he pointed me towards this short weird book.
Imagine that David Lynch and Haruki Murakami got punchy one night and decided to write a noir detective novel together. And Samuel Beckett stopped by to contribute a chapter or two? I recognize this sounds crazy, but it's hard to imagine that this book was written by a single person. There are so many thoughts crammed into every page, and they're typically surprising and convoluted and odd.
Let's start at the very beginning. Quinn writes pulpy detective novels under the pseudonym William Wilson. But really, he feels some significant connection to the protagonist of those novels, Max Work. And then one night, with nothing in particular going on, somebody calls him asking for Paul Auster, who is apparently a private detective. The caller desperately needs the help of Auster in order to prevent a murder. And Quinn at first is all like "I'm not Paul Auster", but then a little later he's all like "yeah, sure, I'm Paul Auster" and he jumps head first into doing some detective stuff.
Then the book kind of gets odd.
I feel pretty good about feeling confused, which means I tend to enjoy weird books and movies. And I will tell you right now that this book is confusing. Not in the same way that a Tolstoy novel is confusing, with everybody having like 3 names, or the way the first chapter of "Infinite Jest" is just totally opaque. The plot is crystal clear and it's very easy to tell what's happening, the above paragraph notwithstanding. "City of Glass" is confusing because Auster gives you so many things to think about on basically every page. He had a lot of ideas in his brain and wanted to share all of them with you. Sometimes this made the book feel disjointed, but most of the time it just felt rich.
You should read this book if you like weirdo detective stories. And you should probably avoid this book if you really need to be able to decide on the significance of every literary curve ball Auster throws. It's a pretty short book, but it will support a lot of pondering. Just don't expect a lot of resolution....more
I couldn't help it! I was determined not to care about this book since I really *really* didn't care about the last two. ButDon't worry, no spoilers.
I couldn't help it! I was determined not to care about this book since I really *really* didn't care about the last two. But then my roommate brought home a copy and I'm all "hey, why don't I take a study break?" Three hours later I had accidentally read around 300 pages and just decided to finish the book. Took me about 10 hours total.
And ... and I liked it! I think I feel ok about liking it. If I was giving it stars based on literary merit, I would give it like two stars. It gets four stars because it made me four stars' worth of happy.
I think I'm a literary sucker for stories about people who have terrible responsibilities thrust upon them and they just suck it up and get it done. That Harry Potter! He just wants to be a normal kid, but he can't! And for the most part he's so stoic about it! Overall the book was surprisingly exciting and actually pretty sweet. Endearing sweet, not awesome sweet.
I think the ending (of the book and the series) was very appropriate and left me satisfied: I'm glad I read it and I'm *really* glad there aren't any more coming after - just the right amount of escapist fantasy marshmallow fiction. Congratulations to Rowling for putting a satisfying cap on an alarmingly successful franchise, as opposed to publishing increasingly-sucky sequels. (I'm looking at you Matrix movies.)
I would say she cribs pretty heavily from Dahl and Tolkien. This is probably not a unique comment. Oh, also she borrows from Susan Cooper. A lot.
Here are reasons not to like the book. (1) There are things that people do that make no logical sense and it gets frustrating. (2) Even though not a lot happens at Hogwarts in this book, Rowling still follows her tried-and-true formula of easily avoidable conflict and obvious resolution. (3) There are like 100 extra pages worth of tedium in the middle that could be excised without substantially changing anything. (4) It doesn't stand on its own. If you haven't read the other six you won't really get what's happening at all. I read the sixth book when it came out and then forgot all about it (it was pretty forgettable), so I had a hard time remembering, for example, what a "horcrux" was and why I should care.
Now here are reasons not to care about those downsides. (1) Complaining about a lack of logic in Harry Potter is like complaining about a lack of realism in James Bond movies. (2) If you're reading #7 it's probably because the formula she used for #1-6 didn't really bug you. (3) The book went so fast for me that I only really spent an hour or so on those boring, pointless 100 pages. (4) What are you doing reading this book if you haven't read the others?
To sum up: If you liked the first six books ok on average, you'll probably enjoy the seventh. It's pretty interesting to be part of a shared pop-cultural experience that is book-borne. ...more