Hands down my favorite Dickens' I've read yet! It's got love, sacrifice, revenge, revolt and other exciting verbs! I'm a big fan of a solid marriage b...moreHands down my favorite Dickens' I've read yet! It's got love, sacrifice, revenge, revolt and other exciting verbs! I'm a big fan of a solid marriage between character development and action. A Tale of Two Cities is well-wed. Some criticize Dickens for his trite stories and overblown caricature-esque characters. Yes, the man wrote some less-than-perfect books. He wrote them for a wide-ranging public and he wrote for money. High-minded prose eloquently crafted may garner praise, but it doesn't always pay the bills. But here you get the author at his finest, plotting a riveting tale and creating sympathetic characters with empathy up the wazoo. The great descriptions of the rebellion are interesting, but it's the dual nature of the revolutionaries that I really love. Dickens makes you feel for their plight and then twists it around, so that the tortured become the tyrants and your fondness turns to loathing as you witness their despicable deeds. "Feel" is the operative word there. Dickens put a lot of feeling into A Tale of Two Cities.
Oliver Twist could stand on the strength of its colorful characters alone. Dickens used his insightful eye to take in and store away all the images he...moreOliver Twist could stand on the strength of its colorful characters alone. Dickens used his insightful eye to take in and store away all the images he was seeing in London's poorer neighborhoods back in the days when his own family found themselves in and out of the debtor's prison, always on the verge of utter ruin.
However, the book is more than just interesting characters. It's a wonderfully enthralling tale to boot, seldom slowing down for long stretches. Certainly there is melodrama, but even the most harden heart has to melt just a little for poor little Oliver, his slender shoulders so often put-upon.
The author is sometimes criticized for these characters' outlandishness or dramatic flights of fancy. Cantankerous comedy and theatrical bombast aside, surely colorful personages parade about from page to page, but if that's what Dickens saw on the streets he so often tread in his youth, how can he be blamed for describing them so realistically? More valid in my mind are the criticisms again Dickens' female characters. His heart-of-gold prostitute Nancy feels a bit flat, her lines too scripted. But perhaps this is an unfair, modern sensibility seeing something old and haggard within something that was not so hackneyed in its day? And since Oliver Twist was one of the author's very first works the condemnation should be tempered in consideration.
People label this sci-fi? Odd. I took all that to be just the main character's necessary escapism, mainly brought on by his traumatic war experiences,...morePeople label this sci-fi? Odd. I took all that to be just the main character's necessary escapism, mainly brought on by his traumatic war experiences, as silly as some of them are portrayed.(less)
I'm going to make an unpopular statement right now: This is the best of Kurt Vonnegut's novels. Okay Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five fans, fling...moreI'm going to make an unpopular statement right now: This is the best of Kurt Vonnegut's novels. Okay Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five fans, fling your dung at me, I understand.
The characters, setting, plot, all of it comes together in a well-wrapped tale in which a man fights the truth of his own identity under the pressing weight of the author's imposed moral law that states you are what you pretend to be. In Mother Night, the story of an American spy working undercover within Germany during WWII as a Nazi propagandist, Vonnegut intentionally portrays his main character with so much ambivalence that by the end you're not sure whether to root for or against him.
Vonnegut's oft used theme, the struggle within, is at its strongest here where the main character is pitted against a real monster of an antagonist: the preponderance of evidence against himself. In other Vonnegut books I understand and sympathized with the self doubt his characters felt, but in some cases their struggles felt light to me. I should add that I read most of the author's works when I was a fresh-faced twenty year old with few cares in the world, so I don't think I understood his subject matter, that of the life-wearied, often middle-aged person whose accumulated weight of stress, daily concerns and self doubt brought on by crises endured through a life rife with experiences with horror, love, hate and, worst of all, ennui. So perhaps one day, maybe when I turn 50, I will reread Player Piano and it will rocket from my least favorite to most favorite of all of Kurt Vonnegut's wonderful novels, but for right now Mother Night stays there. (less)
From a hole in the ground came one of my favorite characters of all time, the very reluctant and unassuming hero of the story, Bilbo Baggins. As a chi...moreFrom a hole in the ground came one of my favorite characters of all time, the very reluctant and unassuming hero of the story, Bilbo Baggins. As a child, The Hobbit sparked my young imagination, causing wonderful daydreams and horrible nightmares. As a teen, the book made me want to become a writer of fantastical tales...or go shoeless, live in a hole and smoke a pipe. As an adult, Tolkien's novel maintains within me a link to my childhood, safekeeping cherished memories and evoking everlasting emotions. I have read this fantastic tale a number of times, watched the 70s cartoon movie version countless times and am counting down the days with unabashed eagerness until Peter Jackson's new live action film comes out. I will continue to read The Hobbit again and again, for the road goes ever, ever on...
Appendix-ish type reviews
The Hobbit, the 1977 animated film version by Rankin & Bass This may be the movie I've watched the most in my life. This is the one I can quote from start to finish and annoy the fuck out of my friends. I try to refrain, but when John Huston bellows out, "I am Gandalf and Gandalf means ME!!!"...well, I just can't help myself. Crazy-off-his-rocker Brother Theodore as Gollum still astounds me with the sheer depth of his guttural growl. Sorry voice-straining Serkis, but this is the real Gollum, the creepy muthah that kept me up nights. Though Rankin & Bass's version skips over the whole Beorn scene entirely, coming in at 90 minutes, they actually managed to pack in quite a bit of story. Certainly it is truncated (to absurdity during The Battle of Five Armies), but at least it's not overblown, as appears to be happening with Peter Jackson's unnecessarily long trilogy of this single book.
The Hobbit, or There And Back Again (An illustrated book by Rankin & Bass) Though it's a few pages shorter than the regular paperback version, this marvelous part-text, part-illustrated version seems to be unabridged. It includes screenshots taken directly from the 70s cartoon, plus where the movie skipped over parts of the book they've included extra illustrations, admittedly of mixed quality. It's a little strange to see the same characters rendered differently sitting side by side...
...but nonetheless, it's always fun to see how artists interpret the work, especially when it's a work dear to your heart.
The Hobbit, a film version by Peter Jackson It's never fun to see an artist tear the heart out of a work. Peter Jackson was given too long a leash when New Line stretched this one book out to three separate movies. Instead of one movie packed with awesome, we get three that, so far, have been watered down and dragged out. Extra scenes are added and add nothing: Really, a sleigh ride chase scene with a super minor character? And honestly, can Richard Armitage (as Thorin Oakenshield) act with any other part of his body besides his eyebrows? (less)
Give me a few friends, a stretch of pleasant hills and an ominous wood. Let us romp in the remnants of innocence, free of the fear pumping through the ve...moreGive me a few friends, a stretch of pleasant hills and an ominous wood. Let us romp in the remnants of innocence, free of the fear pumping through the veins of the greater world. Give me the first half dozen chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring and I will gladly make a little heaven on earth out of it.
After finishing The Hobbit as a young boy, I needed something else, something a little more mature to meet my growing needs. Lucky for me, Tolkien had done just that in the form of his epic The Lord of the Rings. Fellowship..., the first book in the trilogy, is my favorite of the three. I fell in love with the four little friends striking out on their own, having adventures and misadventures that, within the context of the beginning of this first book, haven't yet taken on the worldly importance they will later on. They skip along having a merry old time, stumbling into relatively minor troubles, all the while clueless that they possess the world's most powerful evil magic. I love that innocence. It reminds me of past days when my friends and I would grab stick-swords and hike through the woods, slashing at the trees that had become our goblin and ogre enemies. I could relate to the sense of foreboding Frodo and friends felt when finding themselves lost in a cold, eerie hallow with a creeping mist swirling about them. I knew exactly what it was like to run afoul of a truculent farmer and his vicious dogs. I could relate entirely to the first half of the first book, before the lords and wizards entered and it all became alien. Enjoyable as the journey to Mordor was, nothing could compare, no, nothing could even come close to touching my heart the way those first few chapters did.
Appendixy type reviews of Fellowship…-related items:
Peter Jackson's film version: I waited sooooo long for this. It was like waiting for the Red Sox to finally win the World Series. And when it finally happened, boy was it sweet! Back in the mid-to-late 90s I was working in Hollywood and so I would get the lowdown on what movies were in production and even pre-production. It must have been about '96 or '97 when I heard there was an interest in making a film version of The Lord of the Rings. I promptly went SQUEEEEE!!! and wet myself. Then I heard Jackson was the one who'd potentially be directing it. My glee was tempered. I'd seen and much admired his haunting Heavenly Creatures, but I also new him as more of a Heavy Metal Magazine, comic gore, sci-fi kinda guy, and I feared such a person getting their sticky mitts all over my precious. But anyway, so now recall that this was '97ish and that the first installment didn't come out until 2001. That is a loooong time to wait for something you want in the worst way. I'd grown up watching Ralph Bakshi's partially finished version and longed for a completed one. And now it was coming, but it was being delivered by an unreliable messenger. Tingling with mixed nerves, I sat in the theater waiting for Fellowship to begin, my heart still somber after 9/11. I wanted to feel good again. I really wanted this to be good. Cate Blanchett's androgynously husky voice rumbled through the darkness…."ooooh, this is going to be good" muttered my soul. And it was. From start to finish, I love this movie. Certainly it has its faults. I felt like Jackson, with all the money and technology at his disposal, still managed to make a scene or two here and there look like it was shot on a VHS camcorder. I'll never be completely happy with the casting. Some of the scenes that were cut from the book were my favorite (the Old Forest deletion is a crying shame) and that's unfortunate, but expected. All in all, my complaints are far outweighed by the laurels I could lay upon this…considering the grand scope, let's call it, this achievement.
What is there to say? This is the end of a sweeping epic, one which held me firmly in its grasp as a child and still holds a place in my heart as an a...moreWhat is there to say? This is the end of a sweeping epic, one which held me firmly in its grasp as a child and still holds a place in my heart as an adult. I can't begin to touch upon it and hope to do it any justice, so I'll confine my comments to a mention of the very helpful appendix section at the back which answers some questions the read may have as well as filling in more of the background details, if you're interested. (less)
Contains the greatest "OH FUCK" moment in medieval literature!
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - listed here as written by Unknown, though I believe it...moreContains the greatest "OH FUCK" moment in medieval literature!
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - listed here as written by Unknown, though I believe it may have been penned by that prolific Greek author Anonymous - is a classic tale from Arthurian legend in which the code of honor attributed to chivalry is heavily ensconced.
There are many interpretations of the poem's meaning, and historically speaking it's often dependent on the reader's bias. For instance, Christians latched on to the sex aspect and pagans saw a Green Man parallel. Me? I just see it as damn good fun, just as I'll wager the eagerly listening common folk heard it told by their smoky peat fires so many hundreds of years ago.
Very witty stuff! Almost Wodehousian. Portuguese Irregular Verbs follows an uptight German Romance languages professor struggling for the respect he f...moreVery witty stuff! Almost Wodehousian. Portuguese Irregular Verbs follows an uptight German Romance languages professor struggling for the respect he feels is owed him and his 1000+ page book on Portuguese irregular verbs. If you like your wordplay humor in the dry British style with a light dash of slapstick and a touch of the absurd, this is the little slice of heaven pie you've been looking for! If you have a childish love of poking fun at pompous Germans as I do, well then, have another slice!(less)
Professor Dr. von Igelfeld gets no respect. It's no wonder, since the height of his academic career has been the publication of an impossibly long tom...moreProfessor Dr. von Igelfeld gets no respect. It's no wonder, since the height of his academic career has been the publication of an impossibly long tome on a very specific foreign language linguistic construct. So when he's mistaken for a vet and asked to preform surgery on a dachshund, a ridiculous dog if ever there was one, his ego wins the battle over common sense. Yes, dachshunds were indeed harmed in the writing of this book.
The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs is a fine follow up to Portuguese Irregular Verbs. Though it relies more on slapstick, it's in a Candide/Monty Python-esque sort of way and thus it's still quite clever and just as funny as the first in the series.
This short series by Alexander McCall Smith following the missteps of Dr. von Igelfeld, the well-intentioned but misguided professor o...moreReduced indeed!
This short series by Alexander McCall Smith following the missteps of Dr. von Igelfeld, the well-intentioned but misguided professor of romantic philology, slightly degrades from book to book. I loved Portuguese Irregular Verbs, but the following two books weren't up to scratch. They were close in quality, but lacked the witty essence of the first.
The problem with At the Villa… is that it goes over the top more than the previous two. The ridiculous situations are more Three Stooges than Oscar Wilde. Von Igelfeld's short sojourn to Cambridge University was nice (it being a personal favorite stop on a UK trip I made,) but then he's off to South America and things get unreal.
I still really enjoyed it though! It's got enough subtle and dry humor to entertain those who liked what they read in P.I.V., but generally the delicate stuff gets trampled under foot as Smith goes for the broader laugh.
In Anna Karenina there are multiple examples in which one love is fostered at the expense of another. On the one h...moreAnna, oh Anna...what have you done?!
In Anna Karenina there are multiple examples in which one love is fostered at the expense of another. On the one hand the reader clearly sees the wrong being done and rails against it, but if a moment of further reflection is indulged, we wonder if we too might not have done the same. Should true love be grasped at any cost? What price is too high?
However, Tolstoy didn't just write a tragic romance, he had social issues he wanted to discuss...and discuss he did. Interesting? Yes. Especially interesting to Russians at the time? Absolutely. But the length of these diversions is distracting to the main plot and for that reason the whole doesn't feel as flawless a novel as some great novelists claim it to be. Perhaps they're right, but that's subjective opinion.
Melodrama occasionally rears it's head and some have called this nothing but a big old soap opera. Well if that's so maybe I need to start watching some daytime tv.(less)
Will I read Pride and Prejudice again? Yes, a thousand times, yes!
Near perfection! P & P is one of those rare gems that weds character, plot and l...moreWill I read Pride and Prejudice again? Yes, a thousand times, yes!
Near perfection! P & P is one of those rare gems that weds character, plot and language all in one harmonious marriage.
Austen's plotting is so very precise here. It's an absolute pleasure to behold. The timing is impeccable and there is very little, if any, fat in the prose to slow it down. Finding new clues to future plot twists and turns with each reread has reached the level of a sport for me now!
They say, write what you know. Austen knew the life of the upper class (more precisely, the lower ranks of the upper class). She knew all about sitting around in parlors waiting to one day possibly be wed. She knew the rules of engagement that her class and gender imposed upon her. And so she wrote about those things and wrote well, weaving complex love triangles in a realistic, down-to-earth style.
Some readers, often American, complain that Austen's work is tedious and unimpassioned. They are annoyed by characters that do not speak out or act when action would resolve the problems that arise in the social situations that make up the basis of Austen's stories. They lose sight of the fact that the early 19th century is not early 21st. Heck, it's not even the same country. To some living 200 years after Austen published, these sensibilities do not readily make sense. You must understand that the basis of Austen's writing is founded upon the mores of her time.
What makes P & P so exciting and intriguing is that our protagonist does push back, she does speak out. She does all those things we modern day readers wish she'd do. You just have to read very carefully to see it all happening. It's occasionally quite subtle, but it's there. A familiarity with early 19th century England, its language and customs will help unveil this novel's beauty and brilliance.
While I would not have wanted to be a woman living then, essentially tied down and utterly reliant on a wealthy man's whim for my happiness or even salvation, I try to at least enjoy the spectacle of something absolutely foreign to the way I live. Watching these people in the midst of arguing or courting is much like watching the controlled chaos of a boxing match. The principle parties are dueling like fighters looking to beat the crap out of one another, yet under strict rules by which they are bound. Break the rules and you may be disqualified. The constraints these people put themselves under in the name of civility may seem fanciful to us outsiders, but for a woman whose very livelihood depended on winning this bizarre game, it was very real.
(Reviews of film and television adaptations to come!)
If the total output of your entire career should include only one thing, make it something special.
Not only was To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee's on...moreIf the total output of your entire career should include only one thing, make it something special.
Not only was To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee's only novel, at one point she nearly destroyed it. That would have been a terrible loss, for - coming from an insular, white-New England upbringing - this book was a game changer for me and my young outlook on life and race relations. Having read it as a youth, it's coming-of-age or loss-of-innocence theme spoke to me while the idea of equal rights for all held by the "liberal" Southern Atticus Finch seemed heroic and opened my eyes to the closeted bigotry around me. I know I'm not alone in my reaction and the effects it had upon me.
Perhaps Lee didn't write another novel, because she took to heart the maxim "write what you know" and this was the one and only novel within her. It seems a shame such a good writer should have produced and be judged by only one book, but at least she made that one book something special. (less)
The trivial nature of these spoiled-brat characters parallels the current reality-tv celebrities of the day all too closely. I want to shake sense int...moreThe trivial nature of these spoiled-brat characters parallels the current reality-tv celebrities of the day all too closely. I want to shake sense into Daisy as much as Paris. If a book can anger you in that way so effectively, the writer's done his/her job. (less)