I have been curious to know whether Franzen's work holds up to his reputation. I've yet to read The Corrections but Freedom is an outstanding work of...moreI have been curious to know whether Franzen's work holds up to his reputation. I've yet to read The Corrections but Freedom is an outstanding work of new fiction. Freedom is bold in its contemporary depictions of family life and relationships. Franzen (in his writing) is an expert psychologist, his insight into the way people perceive themselves, their lives, their actions, and the way others view them never feels short of spot on. Even the portrayals of the female psyche are arresting in their authenticity. The story is not one of extreme circumstance but rather an all to familiar tale of a family in the 21st century. To recommend a book that encompasses "today" or "what life was like while I was in college" (much of it takes place between 2004-2007) I might point any inquisitor in Franzen's direction. The cultural references, the relevant issues (the war, the environmental movement), it's all there but never feels forced. Instead, it enriches the story and gives a larger context to more fully understand the characters and the circumstances they find themselves in. I would also like to note that after finishing the novel I think the title is perfect. I wasn't keen on "Freedom" originally (as a first impression) but I think, in the end, he got it right. It broke my heart, in the good ways that literature does. It may seem like a large undertaking at 560 some odd pages but I read it in all of 5 days.
One of those "hit the nail on the head" moments (Franzen articulates them so well):
"This was what was keeping me awake at night," Walter said. "This fragmentation. Because it's the same problem everywhere. It's like the internet, or cable TV--there's never any center, there's no communal agreement, there's just a trillion little bits of distracting noise. We can never sit down and have any kind of sustained conversation, it's all just cheap trash and shitty development. All the real things, the authentic things, the honest things are dying off. Intellectually and culturally, we just bounce around like random billiard balls, reacting to the latest random stimuli." (218)
I know many that would argue Persuasion to be the finest of all Jane Austen novels. I really liked Persuasion and, in fact, find Anne Elliot to be my...moreI know many that would argue Persuasion to be the finest of all Jane Austen novels. I really liked Persuasion and, in fact, find Anne Elliot to be my favorite Austen character thus far in my reading of her catalog. I truly admire Austen's command of correct language usage and mechanics (true craftsmanship) and the force with which she propels her stories (much less passive than I feel it is most commonly portrayed). However, I'm just not a huge Austen fan. I can't get really into it (I know, it's blasphemy) but I'm not *"the a girl who spends most of her free time home alone with cats and a pint of ice cream comparing and contrasting various Austen [film:] adaptations." Although, I enjoyed Persuasion as a quick read (and enjoyed it much more than P&P) I've just never been able to connect with the material in a very meaningful or moving way.
This book is ordered roughly chronologically, organized in "Seasons" to sort of tell the story of Rimbaud's young life. Each "season" begins with biog...moreThis book is ordered roughly chronologically, organized in "Seasons" to sort of tell the story of Rimbaud's young life. Each "season" begins with biographical notes about Rimbaud's life, followed by the work from that time, and then the remaining letters to and from Rimbaud from that time period as well. Reading Rimbaud in this way has been very interesting as the progression, formulation and focus of his work shifts and adapts accordingly.
Child-poet, Rimbaud stopped writing altogether at around the age of 21 and died at 37. Unconventional, vagabond, bohemian, French, Rimbaud serves as an influence to modern literature and is hailed as "the father of symbolism."
One must be absolutely modern. -- Farewell
I say you have to be a visionary, make yourself a visionary. A Poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their quintessences. Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman strength, where he becomes all men the great invalid, the great criminal, the great accursed--and the Supreme Scientist! For he attains the unknown! Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone! He attains the unknown, and if, demented, he finally loses the understanding of his visions, he will at least have seen them! So what if he is destroyed in his ecstatic flight through things unheard of, unnameable: other horrible workers will come; they will begin at the horizons where the first one has fallen! -- Letter to Paul Demeny(less)
A breathtaking read. Comprehensively rich and detailed in its examination of ecosystems from microscopic to epic proportions. Wilson weaves the overar...moreA breathtaking read. Comprehensively rich and detailed in its examination of ecosystems from microscopic to epic proportions. Wilson weaves the overarching thesis ("I will give evidence that humanity has initiated the sixth great extinction spasm, rushing to eternity a large fraction of our fellow species in a single generation. And finally I will argue that every scrap of biological diversity is priceless, to be learned and cherished, and never to be surrendered without a struggle" (32)) into a captivating series of vignettes--through geological history, evolutionary processes, trends and methods, and snapshots that, however comprehensive and detailed, only begin to skim the surface of the complexity of an ecosystem on any scale.
The reading itself is intense, the information pours thick from the pages, but Wilson's terrific writing style allows the story to unfold (wide-eyed, wonderful, awesome) rather than listing pages and pages of data as would be found in a textbook (the amount of info may actually rival some).
It's thick enough I question how many people would actually read it in its entirety upon my suggestion, but I feel as though I couldn't recommend it highly enough. In combination with the contemporary trend of food industry literature (including Kingsolver, Pollan, Schlosser, etc.) that I have also been reading, the context Diversity of Life has added to my own background knowledge further intrigues, enriches my personal thoughts and beliefs.
Honestly, I think I found the book compelling because I find Temple Grandin so, so fascinating. The writing itself is nothing extraordinary, fairly ru...moreHonestly, I think I found the book compelling because I find Temple Grandin so, so fascinating. The writing itself is nothing extraordinary, fairly rudimentary, and quite often choppy. But the ideas portrayed are incredibly intelligent and original. She strays from regurgitating popular animal behavioral theories and gives a unique, personal insight into the temperament, behaviors, and lifestyle of different animal species.
Dr. Grandin is a high-functioning autistic woman with a Phd in Animal Science. She is the author of numerous books, invented the squeeze-box at age 18 (hug machine), humane livestock facility designer, an animal and autism advocate, professor at the Colorado State University... and the list goes on...
The Immortal Game is a fascinating and quick read. It begins with the earliest known origins of the game whose rules have hardly altered for 5 centuri...moreThe Immortal Game is a fascinating and quick read. It begins with the earliest known origins of the game whose rules have hardly altered for 5 centuries and continues to baffle and intrigue us, giving its players insight into everything from (as the title indicates) war, science, the human brain, and teaches the player about herself. Why Chess? Why this game? Chess takes place at the meridian of absolute freedom and unlimited possibilities and total structure:
"It all starts out simply: in the first move, White is limited to twenty options ... Black has the same possible twenty moves with his first response. But with chess the number of legal moves is only a small part of the equation. Because while there are only forty possible first moves per pair of players, there are actually 400 possible board positions inherent in those moves... Think of it as chess chemistry: each player moving just once can yield any one of 400 distinct chess "molecules," each with its own special properties. In the second move, the number of possible chess molecules shoots up almost past belief: for every one of those 400 positions, there are as many as 27 options that each play has for a second move ... the total number of distinct board positions after the second complete move (two moves per player) is 71, 852 ... After three moves each, the players have settled on one of approximately nine million possible board positions. Four moves each raises it to more than 315 billion...The number of unique chess games is not literally an infinite number, but in practical terms the difference is indistinguishable ...10 to the 120 power ... In conversational English, it is a thousand trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion games. By way of comparison, the total number of electrons in the universe is, as best as physicists can determine 10 to the 79 power.
Mind blowing, right? Bobby Fisher, Benjamin Franklin, Chess Geniuses and the mental illnesses, paranoias, and deterioration they suffer, multicultural, ancient, it's really very fascinating. And, although chess seems more intimidating than ever, the book definitely sparks the interest to start playing some "real" chess.
Wouldn't it be amazing to become a decent chess player and make it a point to play when traveling? How neat to experience the kind of personal vulnerability, scheming, communication, and wit with complete strangers without verbal communication in Amsterdam, Budapest, Tokyo, Reykjavik or wherever we find ourselves?! An astounding universal language... (less)
I liked it a little less than Pride and Prejudice. I like the concept, but the fruition is not nearly as clever. As the title promises, it's the telli...moreI liked it a little less than Pride and Prejudice. I like the concept, but the fruition is not nearly as clever. As the title promises, it's the telling of Austen's Pride and Prejudice with the addition of: Zombies--unmentionables, Zombie battles, ninjas, warriors, and the like, the story itself is virtually left in tact although much is omitted. It is interesting and at times hilarious but I wasn't blown away by it. My opinion? It was enjoyable enough and easy to get through. (less)
I thought there were a lot of smart, astute observations although Bloom, possibly being the most well-read person alive today, has no qualm with telli...moreI thought there were a lot of smart, astute observations although Bloom, possibly being the most well-read person alive today, has no qualm with telling you exactly what he thinks is good and what is garbage and what you should read and why and how you should read it. As a premise, this sounds nosy and elitist but I didn't find it off-putting. I actually found a lot of great insight in his short explications. More than any observation about a work in particular, it was Bloom's personal experience and observations that I found most intriguing.
Bad writing is all one; great writing is scandalously diverse, and genres constitute authentic divisions within it.
This notion makes me think of a lot of the food literature I've read in the last two years. All fast food is the same. It's all processed corn, but real diversity and delicacy comes from species variety in local and heirloom farming, careful preparation, and mindful consumption.
"[It:] makes me wish I could be more myself. But that, as I argue...is why we should read, and why we should read only the best of what has been written."
Good literature makes you wish you could be more yourself. The number of books an individual can read (no matter how avid) is finite much like the number of meals you can eat is finite... three meals a day for (x) number of years... If you only get (x) amount of books, food, or whatever shouldn't we consume mindfully? Do and have and be and read only the best we can while we're still doing it?
"We read deeply for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough; that we need to know ourselves better; that we require knowledge, not just of self and others, but of the way things are. Yet the strongest, most authentic motive for deep reading of the now much-abused traditional canon is the search for a difficult pleasure..."
"To read in the service of any ideology is not to read at all."
Bloom assumes a lot about your literary background, but even if you haven't read most of the books he speaks about, but don't let it intimidate you.
P.S. Bloom is obsessed with Shakespeare to say the very least. (I'm not saying it's not justified... but that it's a little overwhelming. Just sayin.)(less)
I really just can't help but enjoy and be influenced by Pollan's writing. It truly has changed how I view food, business, politics, our generation, an...moreI really just can't help but enjoy and be influenced by Pollan's writing. It truly has changed how I view food, business, politics, our generation, and health. Again, as with The Omnivore's Dilemma, the text is information dense while remaining accessible, conversational, and applicable to the reader. (less)
At 1072 pages, The Executioner's Song is the longest novel I've ever read. It took me all of 12 days to take it down, which, if you were to ask me, I...moreAt 1072 pages, The Executioner's Song is the longest novel I've ever read. It took me all of 12 days to take it down, which, if you were to ask me, I would say is respectable. Much like Capote's In Cold Blood, The Executioner's Song is a work of creative non-fiction and an account of a small town murder and the legal processes leading to the execution of the killer. Mailer tackles the execution of Gary Gilmore in the state of Utah.
It's account happens to take place in and around my hometown, a place with very little (if any other) literary (or otherwise) reference and/or exploration. Imagine my surprise to see this rich story weaving intricately (remember it's 1072 pages, room for a lot of detail) in and around an area I am so profoundly familiar with. I don't know how to explain it; what a trippy feeling, what an amazing connection to a book that I have never been able to make before. Reading the dialect, geography, culture, ideology of my hometown bottled up in these pages so eloquently (Pulitzer 1980) was hypnotizing. Even crazier still was reading it after leaving Utah where I have spent most of my life. The distancing element + the accuracy to which Mailer recounts the geography and culture of the story = for me, a once in a lifetime feeling.
Throughout Book 1 of The Executioner's Song, I was absolutely captivated by the narrative of Gary, Nicole, and the story of their relationship.
Book 2 delves more heavily into the legal proceedings of the case, the sentencing, and mayhem that followed--at times Book 2 felt a bit exhaustive. Interestingly, however, Book 2's exhaustive detailing is giving the reader exclusive insight to how the book has come to be, self-consiously. All of the aspects: transcribing, the handling of letters and information, the selling of letters and information, media outlets and publicity, story rights, etc., all of it manifests itself -- and you hold it's pages in your hands. By reading the book you complete the unspoken third leg of the story and bring profound relevance to hundreds and hundreds of pages. Neat.
It comes highly, highly recommended (from me) a truly captivating read. (less)