So far, I can't decide whether I like this or Gilead better, which is the highest compliment I can give. They're both so full of beauty and compassion...moreSo far, I can't decide whether I like this or Gilead better, which is the highest compliment I can give. They're both so full of beauty and compassion for what people go through in everyday life. I love them. (less)
Although I adore the topics Murakami tends to tackle along with his tone and style, I always come away from his novels feeling as though plot-wise, so...moreAlthough I adore the topics Murakami tends to tackle along with his tone and style, I always come away from his novels feeling as though plot-wise, something was missing. For example, Hard Boiled Wonderland was a wonderful wild ride until I got to the end and said, "That's it? That's how it ends?" Fortunately, After Dark doesn't leave me with that sense of wanting more (even if he doesn't resolve all plot points). I finished this book in a sitting, and came away feeling a bit sad and fortuante. This book focuses on one night and the people whose lives intersect over that period. One could almost imagine this being adapted by the late, great Robert Altman, if he was, you know, Japanese. It was a beautiful and enjoyable read, but didn't necessarily have the epic scope of something like Wind-up Bird Chronicle. In the end, I'd recommend this for people who have read his work and enjoyed it. If you haven't encountered Murakami yet, I'd start with his short-stories (or Wind-up Bird, if you're willing to tackle a book of that length). (less)
Bukowski can be a breath of fresh air, and Post Office reminds me that the best writing results for allowing an individual voice to flow. Often people...moreBukowski can be a breath of fresh air, and Post Office reminds me that the best writing results for allowing an individual voice to flow. Often people try to emulate Bukowski in the way they try to emulate someone like Raymond Carver. But it can't necessarily be done.
Post Office tells the story of the 12 years he worked for the goverment delivering mail, and it's told with wit and humor, and a touch of the sadness in life. The language is simple and sparse, but effective. And it's a quick read (I read it in three or four hours in the course of an afternoon). Recommended for anyone looking to cut through literary poetic bullshit and get a good slice of life piece. (less)
This book starts out well, giving an interesting evokation of a gay man's youth in the Midwest, small town America, but when the main character enters...moreThis book starts out well, giving an interesting evokation of a gay man's youth in the Midwest, small town America, but when the main character enters boarding school, it veers off course and I lost interest. In the end, White's story supposedly autobiographical comes off as a bit difficult to believe, as though halfway into the composition he decided his goal was not to write a realist rendering of his life, but to shock and be sensationalist. Perhaps in the time it was written, there was some point to this, but reading it in 2008, it has a rather ridiculous effect.
Another problem I had with this was the prose style. For some reason American writers of this period (Philip Roth, John Updike, etc) tend to all sound the same to me, use the same voice, have the same opinions, and stylistically I find it dull. It's almost like they were taught there is only one definitive way to write and that's it. This book reminded me of Goodbye Columbus. If you're into that kind of thing you'll enjoy A Boy's Own Story. If not, it's best to skip it. (less)
This is the first Johnathan Kozol book I've read and it went by very quickly. The man writes with conviction and compassion although it borders on sen...moreThis is the first Johnathan Kozol book I've read and it went by very quickly. The man writes with conviction and compassion although it borders on sentimentality at times. That would make sense, of course, given that his subject is the education inequalities of children in poor neighborhoods, and while he doesn't get too deeply into the political aspect of these inequalities, he captures well-rounded portraits of the children in the hopes perhaps that his audience will take notice and care for their plight. In this way, it seems (as it says on the cover) to be his most personal book. I look forward to reading others as he has a straightforward and clear style that gets his point across without any unnecessary divergence or wordiness. I would recommend this book for educators and people interested in social justice. (less)
Ordinarily I'm not a fan of post-apocalyptic novels. It seems a bit too easy to say, see how crazy the world is after a plague, or a nuclear holocaust...moreOrdinarily I'm not a fan of post-apocalyptic novels. It seems a bit too easy to say, see how crazy the world is after a plague, or a nuclear holocaust, and scare the shit out of an audience; however, with The Road, Cormac McCarthy focuses more on the relationship between a father and son, adding a human element generally missing from other end of the world tales. His prose style is tight and evocative (I particularly enjoyed his description of the father filling the bathtub with clean water when he sees the flash of light off in the distance and his response to his pregnant wife in the background). The book is obviously a bit of a depressing ride in many ways, but ultimately, it celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit and the determination to survive at any cost. (less)
Mark Twain once made that comment about classics being books that everyone talks about but no one reads, and it might be no truer than with Proust mon...moreMark Twain once made that comment about classics being books that everyone talks about but no one reads, and it might be no truer than with Proust monumental Remembrance of Things Past. I spent '07 trying to get through Volume 1 and I'll spend '08 on Volume 2. I love Proust at his best, and there's certainly a great deal here for Lit Majors or Professors to talk about, mull over, write papers on, etc. but the problem is that I'm neither these days, and my enjoyment is limited to passages that make me see life in ways I never had before.
This is what Proust is best at. He takes the most mundane experience and elevates it to the level of poetry. He obssesses over a gesture and glint of sunlight on a cupboard door and he makes us feel it, takes our breath away. Of course, when he gets into French politics and the society of his time, my attention wanes, and he completely loses me to when he writes of women's personalities.
Truth be told, I see the completion of this book as a challenge to myself and I enjoy it in small doses, but I don't imagine there are many out there who could sit down and read the whole work cover to cover in a month or two. It's a bit to wearing and wearying. (less)
Continuing with my rereading of the Harry Potter series, I finished the fourth book again on Sunday night. I first read this in late '03 in one sittin...moreContinuing with my rereading of the Harry Potter series, I finished the fourth book again on Sunday night. I first read this in late '03 in one sitting on a couch in my old bedroom and was held in rapture by the most complex plot Rowling had yet put forth in one of her books. On reassessment, I didn't enjoy the ending as much for the convoluted exposition she uses to explain the mysteries she'd opened earlier in the novel, but I was still moved by Cedric's fate and the speech Dumbledore makes about uniting in the face of a common foe. Overall, it's still a pretty great read, but at the same time, this book doesn't benefit as much as the others from knowing how things turn out in the Deathly Hallows. (less)
Most people agree that Prisoner of Azkaban is where the Harry Potter series really begins to take off, and I find myself among this camp, as JK Rowlin...moreMost people agree that Prisoner of Azkaban is where the Harry Potter series really begins to take off, and I find myself among this camp, as JK Rowling learns to build suspense in this book and raise the stakes (this being the book before she finally decides to kill off one of her characters).
The plot, for those of you who don't know, focuses on the hunt for Sirius Black, a prisoner who has escaped from the wizarding prison of Azkaban to supposedly kill Harry Potter, and we learn during the course of the story about Black's relationship to Harry's parents and Lord Voldemort. Unlike the previous two books, which basically held to a similar structure, there are exciting twists and turns in the plot of the third followed by an unexpected ending (some might say a revelation) that had me very excited to read the fourth book when I'd finished.
As I read this book before the film version was made, I had forgotten some of the details, and rereading it now really brings home the fact that the scriptwriter did an excellent job in condensing a long book and in some areas improving upon Rowling's original ideas (the Knight Bus with the shrunken head would be an excellent example of this, although withholding the explanation that Lupin et al. created the Marauder's Map seemed a glaring omission), and this was the last time I didn't feel somewhat short-changed by the adaptation.
My recommendation for skeptics of the series would be to watch the first two movies to get the necessary background and then dive into the third book. From this point on, the series became excellent.(less)
Last night, I finished the first novella in this book, Calvino's The Nonexistent Night, and as Calvino stands among my favorite novelists, I can't say...moreLast night, I finished the first novella in this book, Calvino's The Nonexistent Night, and as Calvino stands among my favorite novelists, I can't say a bad word about it.
The story revolves around a suit of armor with nothing inside except the nonexistent knight of Charlemagne's army, Agilulf, who (dis)embodies chivalric perfection. With tender wit and subtle humor, Cavlino traces the adventures of Agilulf as he travels throughout Europe and North Africa to prove the chastity of a virgin he'd saved to earn his knighthood fifteen years prior after another knight contests that the woman couldn't have been a virgin since she was his mother.
Of course, you can get all of that from reading the back of the book. What you don't get is the ways in which Cavlino pokes fun at the act of war as senseless and futile without being mean or vicious about it (you catch more bees with honey, right?) or the way in which the plot is resolved with a clever Shakespearian twist of mistaken identities unmasked.
At 140 pages, it was a quick and quirky read, light-hearted and fun in the way it deals with some weighty philosophical topics, although not necessarily a classic in the vein of The Baron in the Trees or If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.
The Cloven Viscount, on the other hand, isn't quite as interesting as the first novella. It's a rather simplistic parable about the nature of good and evil in the human soul. An Italian Viscount goes off to fight in the crusades and is blow into two halves by a cannonball. One half is pure good, the other pure evil, and eventually in order for the kingdom to exist in peace these two halves need to be rejoined to form a full person. Although it's a fun read, the idea is rather simplistic and has been summed up in other reviews here.(less)
The first time I read this book, I was entirely underwhelmed. I had enjoyed Sorcerer's Stone, and felt that this was a rather tiresome and less intere...moreThe first time I read this book, I was entirely underwhelmed. I had enjoyed Sorcerer's Stone, and felt that this was a rather tiresome and less interesting rehash of the same thing. The novelty of the series had worn off, but I figured that since I'd finished the first two and there was a third out, I'd keep going (and thank god, the third was fantastic, or I would have given up on the whole thing).
The second time around, having finished the series, I realized how integral this book is in the overall scheme of the Harry Potter world and I've enjoyed it much more. Don't get me wrong, it's still the weakest Harry Potter book, but we get a bit of Voldemort's backstory and the idea of the horcruxes is introduced (even if they go unnamed here); we also get a taste of the theme of Harry's choices and a glimpse at the sorting hat/sword of Gryffindor that becomes so important in the last book (although they initially don't seem so).
Finally, there is one moment at the very end when Harry manages to trick Lucious Malfoy into giving Dobby a sock, thereby freeing him, where Harry says something along the lines of "You're welcome, as long as you never try to save my life again," which becomes particularly moving in light of what happens in Deathly Hallows. I couldn't help but feel a bit choked up.
Before I'd reread it, I would have given it two stars, but in light of the overall series, I've bumped it to a three. (less)