After a few heavy-handed, not-very-fun books I wanted something light, so what's lighter than pulp?
In the darkest heart of Africa, Tarzan encounters...moreAfter a few heavy-handed, not-very-fun books I wanted something light, so what's lighter than pulp?
In the darkest heart of Africa, Tarzan encounters a lost film crew who stumbles upon the Valley of Diamonds. Cannibals, an insane geneticist, apes who play the roles from Tudor England's history, mutants, and an unabashedly naked savage girl named Balza all become entwined.
I'd read this book a couple dozen years ago and it was fun to revisit. I'd forgotten the tendency for Tarzan to get matter-of-factly morbid as well as his very, very dry sense of humor. Actually, ERB infused a lot of humor into the book, which helped the absurd elements of the story go down easier. (Some parts were so absurd that the author notes how characters can't believe what's happening. And it's true—Gorilla London was a little much...) At the end of the novel, Tarzan spends a few days in Hollywood, crashes a party, and is asked to try out for the role of "Tarzan" in the next Tarzan movie. This chapter was easily the best-written part of the book. ERB captured the feel of 1930s slang and flashbulb-lit starlets, and I think they actually made a more interesting foil for Tarzan than the gorillas.
It did make me want to reread some of the earlier Tarzan books (this book was written during the not-as-good-as-the-older-ones part of the Tarzan series) in order to spend more time with the character. Truth be told, Tarzan doesn't enter the plot until about a third of the way into this book, so I felt a little short-changed.(less)
Melville's novel is a wonder, plain and simple. It does so much; though one should expect a book of its size to do so. (Let alone a book with Moby Dic...moreMelville's novel is a wonder, plain and simple. It does so much; though one should expect a book of its size to do so. (Let alone a book with Moby Dick's reputation.)
Anyone with a passing knowledge of American culture and literature should know what this book is about, so I will not repeat the plot at length. (In short: Sailor/narrator Ishmael signs onto a whaling vessel captained by Ahab, a man obsessed with killing the white whale that took his leg.)
Instead, let me tell you the plot for how I came to finish this book today. After reading two disappointing novels, I thought the only way to cure my literary let down was the reread something I enjoyed in the past. When I was preparing to move to Slovakia, I loaded the Kindle with numerous classics, one of which was Moby Dick. I had read it before — actually during the last month or so of my undergrad. I enjoyed it and promised myself to revisit it someday. "Someday" finally happened.
Moby Dick is notoriously dense; it's alternate title is "The Whale," appropriate on several levels. The book is not for every reader. But, for me, it's a delight. Melville's use of language, symbolism, references, allusions, monologue, poetry, prose, and essay are simply delicious. Ishmael sees the whole world through one lens: that of whaling. You get the impression that Ahab's obsession with killing the white whale is equal to the passion Ishmael has for whaling and being on the ocean. Everything is filtered through the life of the whaler, so that it almost seems like the world was made just for this occupation. Clearly, the events Ishmael goes through in the story effect him greatly (and how could they not?!!) and he pulls the reader into his world and mindset.
One of the fun elements of the book is all of the references and allusions Ishmael (Melville) uses to tell his story. Not a page goes by without a nod to some Biblical character, far-flung location, mythological event, religious ceremony, scientific tome, or cultural artifact. He loads the book with these, like tiny treasures hidden throughout the book.
I also adored the symbolism and almost black and white characters in the book. Moby Dick wears its symbolism on its sleeve, even taking a chapter to describe what the color white could mean and what Moby Dick himself might mean. But it's done so obviously, so explicitly that it seems subversive (if that oxymoron makes any sense at all). Ahab throws so much hate on the whale, but towards the end of the book, I started to think this hate is actually directed at himself. Other characters seem to play out these dual roles: projecting one characterization, but slowly revealing more sides to themselves, often in conflict with who they thought they were. (And poor Starbuck — aside from Ishmael himself [who is barely a character, just an observer-philosopher] he may be my favorite, making the book all the more tragic.) Like all the books I fall in love with, there are the themes that play out in various ways, explored through various people and scenes. Moby Dick has no shortage of ideas running through it — among them tolerance and brotherhood, the futility of humanity, logic and piety versus absurdity, and what happens to someone when they are broken by an event, and, most interesting to myself: the conflict between fate and free will.
Does it drag in places? Yes. The story starts and stops among the many chapters in order to make room for Ishmael's poetic philosophies and musings as well as his notes on whaling culture and history, and his own theories on the natural history of whales. The more poetic stuff, I loved; but the "this is how we whaled" and "what's inside a whale" stuff did grow tedious. There was a long stretch in the middle of the book where it seemed Melville would never tire of Ishmael's musings on whale anatomy or the qualities of rope.
So, why 5 stars if it falls into those ruts? I debated a long time on this, finally deciding that the parts were greater than the sum. That the beauty outshines the flaws. That it inspired and delighted more than it bored. And that, inevitably, I will read it again. (less)
This is not a great book by any means, though giving it two stars might be a little unfair.
After 2666, I wanted to read something a little lighter, a...moreThis is not a great book by any means, though giving it two stars might be a little unfair.
After 2666, I wanted to read something a little lighter, a little more fun, and a lot shorter. Remembering this book fondly from my ERB-saturated teenage years, I thought I'd try it again.
The book follows the pot-boiler adventures of Gordon King, a doctor who gets lost in the jungles of Cambodia, fights tigers, and gets involved with the politics and intrigue between two ancient cities that still exists as Angkor may have 1,500 years ago. I'd forgotten the adventure takes place in Cambodia, not to mention most of the other elements of the plot. In fact, all I really remembered was it was a pulp story that took place in the jungle and the character arc of one of the antagonists, the Leper King. (I liked the idea of a leper king so much in my teen years, it found its way into the pulpy adventure comics I wrote and drew at the time.)
How did it hold up? I have mixed feelings. The Leper King was still a fun idea, and the concept of forgotten kingdoms buried in the jungles of Cambodia was fun to picture. (Though I sincerely wonder how much research on Cambodia ERB did before putting pen to paper.) But there were so many leaps of convenience and coincidence that it drained some of the excitement. There were some fun thrills and intrigue, but when my suspension of disbelief was pulled too far, it killed the fun.
Burroughs had a great imagination, and a very large vocabulary. (I think my once voracious appetite for his books was, at least, a partial influence on my use of "big words" today.) But he was not always the greatest of wordsmiths. Consider this clunker:"The night when she returned, Kangrey found her patient very weak, but she did not guess the cause of it since she could not know that in the mind of the pale one was implanted the conviction that his only hope for eventual escape from the jungle had lain in the protection that the stolen weapons have afforded him." I know the man was probably paid by the word, but c'mon...
All in all, it wasn't a terrible book to revisit—it was short and sweet—but I don't think I'll be making a third trip to the Land of Hidden Men anytime soon. (less)
I've been meaning to revisit this book for some time. I read it about 20 years ago, and I remember really enjoying it then. The story was compelling a...moreI've been meaning to revisit this book for some time. I read it about 20 years ago, and I remember really enjoying it then. The story was compelling and I liked Bradbury's style. Also, the super-sweet cover with the painting from the movie adaptation seemed totally fitting and helped fire the imagination a bit, too.
But now, reading it again two decades later, I have mixed feelings. It took me a long time to get into it and to stop reading Bradbury's prose as exceedingly purple. His poetry is delicious stuff, but here, in a whole novel, it seemed like too much. I started to roll my eyes at the stilted dialogue that matched the rhythm of the rest of the text. Then would come a really nicely written paragraph or two, then more clunky chatter, then back to ruminations on light and dark and tattoos and electricity and time. Eventually I told myself to read it like it was a fable and then it was easier to consume.
I can't say it's not still a compelling story. My memories on the details were fuzzy when I started, so in many ways I was reading the book fresh with all the twists and turns renewed. (In fact, all I really remembered was there was an evil carnival and the villain tattooed the heroes faces on the palms of his hands—a detail one could garner from the cover.) But occasionally the writing would get in the way of the story, or worse: the simple good vs evil heartbeat felt a tad corny. Maybe I'm too used to seeing the world in gray to drink in Bradbury's book without choking on a few drops. (But then, I reread F451 a few years ago and had no problems then, so maybe it's just this book.)(less)
I don't think every reproduction in this volume deserves 4 stars; occasionally the images seemed pixelated. Instead the book gets this rating from me...moreI don't think every reproduction in this volume deserves 4 stars; occasionally the images seemed pixelated. Instead the book gets this rating from me for 2 reasons:
1) The sheer volume of images is amazing. There must be about 400 pictures in this tome, most of which take up a two page spread. Every other page is in color, and the publishers were gracious enough to make sure the majority of the black and white images were originally printed in just black and white. This is a full book.
2) Most shunga comes with Japanese text squiggling around the edges of the scene. This book translated much of the original words revealing a great deal of humor that takes some of the pornographic edge off of the explicit drawings. The feeling of "this is just how every day life is" pervades the text, and draws the reader's attention to mundane acts like distracting a kid while trying to romance your spouse, or stealing away for a quick tryst while one's boss takes a nap, or just feeling feisty while the cherry blossoms are out.
This graphic novel tells the story of the rivalry between paleontologists O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope during the gilded age, when dinosaurs wer...moreThis graphic novel tells the story of the rivalry between paleontologists O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope during the gilded age, when dinosaurs were still a fairly new thing and the bone beds out west were just being discovered. Both men compete to find and name the most dinosaurs, as well as discredit each other's work. As the battle rages on, paleoartist Charles R. Knight (he's the one who did the dinosaur murals in the Field Museum) tries to produce the most accurate representations he can. [As it turns out, Cope is all for Knight's work as it makes the dinosaurs come alive in the public's eye. Marsh on the other hand felt that the public had no business seeing fossils or paintings of the living things.:]
The artwork is simple, stripped down and clear. (The cover art was by Mark Schultz, who's old-school illustration style is not representative of the style inside.) The writing is nice, and there are a few great lines. The creators provide several pages at the end explaining what was "fact" and what was "fiction" in their retelling of this true rivalry.
Still, the book never really amounts to more than what it is: a comic about rivalry and paleontology in the late 1800s. And that's fine.(less)
This was okay. A nice story, but not much to chew on. I had hoped for more, but I think this was Gaiman's 1st novel, so maybe I need to try American G...moreThis was okay. A nice story, but not much to chew on. I had hoped for more, but I think this was Gaiman's 1st novel, so maybe I need to try American Gods and then decide what I think of him as a writer. (less)
A young man takes a few days off of work to catch beetles by the seaside. As the day turns to dusk, he asks a local from the nearest village if there'...moreA young man takes a few days off of work to catch beetles by the seaside. As the day turns to dusk, he asks a local from the nearest village if there's a place he can stay for the night. The man guides him to a sand pit; a shack sits at its bottom. The insect-collector thinks he's just there for the night, but it soon becomes clear that the villagers have no intent on letting him leave the hole. He's stuck there with a kind, but quiet, young woman and forced to dig at the always shifting sand.
I have to say that what this book most reminded me of was a Twilight Zone episode. I don't mean a particular episode, but it had the same kind of feel—an ordinary person finding themselves in a weird situation that seems to defy logic. The author really did an excellent job of describing the young man's thoughts—outlining every train of thinking as he realizes his predicament, plans escapes, tries to understand the woman, tries to analyze the sand and how it works. The situation may be unbelievable, but the thoughts were not. Often, as I read the book, a question would pop in my head—"Well, what if...?"—and it usually would be answered a page or so later.
The prose itself is very visceral and detailed. You're never allowed to forget how pervasive the sand is, how oppressive the environment is, and how the character's bodies react to it, how much of their life becomes trying to maintain sanity, cleanliness, and health with sand sifting and blowing everywhere.
Symbolic and philosophical asides dapple the story but don't overwhelm it. I thought the writing was a perfect balance of mood, plot, and philosophy. Four stars may be a bit generous, as there were times the man's situation just felt depressing and I wasn't sure if I wanted to keep reading. But on the whole, it was very well done. I will be seeking out more books by this author.
(Murakami fans may be interested to know that Abe is one of his inspirations.)(less)
Calvino takes different aspects of human nature, urban planning, fears and dreams, or existence itself, and builds an entire city on the foundation of...moreCalvino takes different aspects of human nature, urban planning, fears and dreams, or existence itself, and builds an entire city on the foundation of that idea. These are the cities Marco Polo describes to the emperor, Kublai Khan.
There's a lot of cities described here (all with women's names). At first I found them whimsical and without much gravity, but as the book progressed, the descriptions seemed to take a more substantive turn—sometimes going dark, sometimes curious. I found I liked the book more and more the deeper I read. (less)
Well written; informative and witty. Lerner spends the 1st half of this helpful book describing writer personalities she frequently encountered while...moreWell written; informative and witty. Lerner spends the 1st half of this helpful book describing writer personalities she frequently encountered while working as an editor. Here she mentions quirks she notes as getting in the way of writing and suggests how to overcome them. The 2nd half of the book describes the steps that authors, editors, and other publishing industry workers take to make a manuscript a book. An honest peek into the world of bookmaking that was also great fun to read!(less)
A nice little graphic novel that begins as three disparate stories with similar themes (that of a person trying to not be themselves). Eventually the...moreA nice little graphic novel that begins as three disparate stories with similar themes (that of a person trying to not be themselves). Eventually the three stories combine to reveal that they all were connected. It has a very autobiographical feel, mainly brought on by one of the stories being told in first person. But it becomes clear that, as true as some of the stories are, this is fiction. (Which was kind of nice. I have a feeling a lot of what happened in the 1st person childhood part was based on the author's actual life, but fantasy elements about the Monkey King keep this from being the ho-hum, self-pitying autobiographical comic I hate.)
The drawing was crisp and clear, sometimes seemingly over-simplified, but always attractive and easy to read. It's a good book that just verges on 4 stars, but it fell short in being as complicated or thought-provoking as I would have liked. (Then again, this is a children's book, so its audience would need a less complex story.) Good read.(less)