Perhaps no novel in the English language portrays with more insight, feeling, and sympathy the complex relationship between two very different, yet in...morePerhaps no novel in the English language portrays with more insight, feeling, and sympathy the complex relationship between two very different, yet inextricably linked, characters. Whatever the larger messages of the novel may be, it has always been this relationship alone that's been the core of the novel for me. Though concisely told, it is told convincingly and completely. The central characters jump to life from the page. Their story is captivating through every word of the novel. And, ultimately, the relationship explored is astoundingly moving without being sentimental. Of Mice and Men may be the only novel that has brought me to tears.(less)
David Brooks is, for lack of a better term, David Brooks. He has two schticks. First is conservative politics presented in a manner palatable to the r...moreDavid Brooks is, for lack of a better term, David Brooks. He has two schticks. First is conservative politics presented in a manner palatable to the readership of The New York Times and the viewers of the PBS News Hour. Second is pop anthropological commentary on perceived cultural phenomena. Bobos in Paradise falls into the latter category. "Bobo", a long common term in French of identical meaning, is hipspeak for bourgeois bohemian -- liberals with $$$ and status. The problem, however, is that David Brooks is not hip. (Except perhaps among bobos.)
Brooks' writing emphasizes the big picture but forsakes many of the details that comprise it. This makes Bobos in Paradise an uneven book. At base, observation of the obvious, with a few legitimately thoughtful, and more than a few legitimately funny, turns. (less)
Sullivan does an extraordinary job of examinining the core American views re: gay marriage. Though they are, likely for organization, slotted into but...moreSullivan does an extraordinary job of examinining the core American views re: gay marriage. Though they are, likely for organization, slotted into but four categories, they adequately represent the philosophical and political spectrum from far right to far left. These four "takes" are explained with the requisite depth, precision, and thoughtfulness one would expect from the most qualified historian, political scientist, and/or philosopher -- an accurate, well-supported picture of each approach and, whether from right or left, powerfully countered in each instance.
The substantial downside of this book is Sullivan's own take on gay marriage, crafted as a departure from "established" views. Sullivan's title -- "Virtually Normal" -- is, in this regard, telling. His approach, at its core, treats gay marriage as a legal entitlement through which gay couples can, via partaking in the equivalent of opposite-sex marriage, become "normalized" members of society. Sullivan's approach is transparently borne of a desire to appeal to moderate Republicans, paired as it is with a contention that gay marriage may (and should) be achieved so as to ruffle no one's moral feathers.
"Virtually Normal" is not a novel; it's nonfiction. And, ultimately, Sullivan's views are to be examined, critically, as one man's logical bases for the propriety of gay marriage -- a garden-variety textbook thesis. Judging Sullivan on this score, I disagree in spades.
While I am not taken aback by Sullivan's views re: the prevailing takes on gay marriage, it is shocking that a gay author and, for present purposes, scholar could hold a view so dismissive of the intellectual and amorous diversity of his own community. And, frankly, of the straight community. While marriage may be a state-endowed entitlement, even under a "straight-only" rubric it does, and should, encompass a broad range of views and realities.
Reproductive extravaganzas. Childless marriages. Open marriages. Ill-thought marriages destined to failure.
Were Sullivan to observe his own community, it's difficult to imagine he'd not see and understand a range of views even broader. In the early stages of gay unions, American citizens' motivations are extraordinarily free-ranging. One set of motivations concerns an issue Sullivan is expressly, and notably, quick to dismiss -- queer counterculture. The views of the queer counterculture re: gay marriage, and marriage generally, are highly pertinent to the private freedoms of American citizens. Gay marriage is a privilege of a people, new to a right, to craft that right pursuant to a cornucopia of ideas they deem relevant, whether legally new or taken for granted. Queer counterculture (or, really, the embodiment of diverse forms of queer expression) is not anathema to the idea of marriage. But it should be free to define it pursuant to its own terms, if it partakes of the right in the first instance. There is no harm to marriage in a notion of it that is broader than or different from marriage inaptly deemed "traditional".
Viewing gay marriage with an eye toward transparent contrasts within the gay community, the freedoms of those already free to marry are unchanged. But the freedoms of those newly free or, whether straight or gay, of a "non-traditional" mindset are only expanded. In Sullivan's stifled peddling of his views re: gay marriage, he appears ignorant of the traditions of American thought that underly the views -- right and left -- that he describes in "Virtually Normal". Quite simply, a broad definition of freedom, to be defined in particulars as it evolves, relevant whether right or left, is shrunken by Sullivan. In the end, Sullivan is far far too willing to toss aside the experience and insights of his own community -- often shared with straight counterparts -- to argue for a view of gay marriage that is infinitely more restrictive than it is free. And, in the end, infinitely more restrictive than it is American. (less)
Most Americans are assigned to read this novel in high school. Few American high schoolers have the wherewithal to appreciate this novel in full. I ce...moreMost Americans are assigned to read this novel in high school. Few American high schoolers have the wherewithal to appreciate this novel in full. I certainly did not. It is on a shortlist of novels that should, every 5 years starting at age 25, return to any American's required reading list.
First things first: The opening of The Great Gatsby -- its first 3-4 pages -- ranks among the best of any novel in the English language, and so too does its ending. Both for their content and for their prose, the latter of which is stunning and near perfect throughout the novel.
As for that between the novel's opening and conclusion, two things first. (1) History is fairly clear that the term "the American Dream" did not exist at the time Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, and regardless it almost certainly did not exist in the popular consciousness. (2) Few great American novelists after Fitzgerald have not attempted to write "the great American novel". Most of these efforts are absurdly long and often tortured. The Great Gatsby, on the other hand, is relatively short, fluid, and of seemingly effortless yet pristine expression. At a point in history where Fitzgerald's express focus could hardly have been a tale regarding "the American dream" per se or the writing of "the great American novel", Fitzgerald nevertheless crafts the definitive tale of "the American Dream", as well as, his successors' endeavors aside, "the great American novel". Period.
In not so many pages, Fitzgerald paints a brilliantly cogent picture of the potential pleasures, joys, and benefits an individual might deem achievable -- uniquely so -- in an America filled with possibilities. Paired with that picture, Fitzgerald besprinkles The Great Gatsby with the numerous pitfalls and evils that both stand as a barrier to what's imagined achievable in America, and threaten to accompany that which is achieved. Neither the quest for, nor (if possible) the achievement of, the American Dream is a thing untainted. Nor, in Fitzgerald's view, can it be.
Fitzgerald, frankly, writes all that need be written on this subject; whatever his successors' ambitions may be. And he writes it in prose so perfect, so impressive, and so beautiful, I occasionally find myself at a loss to name a novel in the English language constructed with greater skill, and apparent ease thereof.
In short: The Great Gatsby is an inimitable wonder of American fiction. And, for lack of a better word, an "application" of the English language that has few equals. The novel is astounding. (less)
Flaubert's protagonist Frédéric Moreau is not a likable character. Connected in various ways to characters variously connected to the French Revolutio...moreFlaubert's protagonist Frédéric Moreau is not a likable character. Connected in various ways to characters variously connected to the French Revolution of 1848, Frédéric, like most of the novel's other characters, is a distant, dispassionate observer of the political upheaval around him. Frédéric, like most of the novel's other characters, does however pay scrupulous attention to his own fleeting needs, whether love, sex, money, status, or otherwise.
At the core of the novel is Frédéric's obsession and relationship with an older, married woman, Madame Arnoux. While Frédéric's infatuation long appears the idealistic heart of the novel, untainted by the people and goings-on surrounding it, reality has a way of bringing it back to earth: short on idealism; short on heart.
Flaubert is not without sympathy for his characters. He simply refuses to romanticize a single one; instead laying their very real frailties and flaws bare. All the while, Flaubert writes with a mind to detail in his prose that astounds and that, in its own right, tells a better part of the story by giving the reader insight as to where the characters' actual attentions (and intentions) are, despite any self-serving claims to the contrary.
Sentimental Education is numerous novels in one. A coming of age tale. A romance. A history. And a tale of politics. It is ultimately a send-up of Parisian society, flowing through each of these settings, as Flaubert denies his characters an easy place in any one aspect of the narrative, but artfully focuses on the ease with which his characters fall victim to their own selfishness.(less)