Consider this fairly typical segment of prose from poetic memoirist Helen Macdonald's chapter 25, in which she describes taking her hawk, Mabel, out fConsider this fairly typical segment of prose from poetic memoirist Helen Macdonald's chapter 25, in which she describes taking her hawk, Mabel, out for some exercise:
Flocks of fieldfares chak chak and dodge in the hawthorns by the cow field, breaking low when we get too near, bouncing over the hedge and away in thrushy strobes of black and white. It's nice to see them. Proper winter is here. And Mabel is fizzing with happiness, wagging her tail in barely suppressed excitement, tummy feathers fluffed over her grippy toes, eyes gleaming silver in the sun. If this hawk could speak, she'd be singing under her breath. (232)
This passage epitomizes much of what I like and don't about this often lovely memoir. The first sentence, with its rhythm and innovative language, glistens with energy. The prose unfolds in loose constructions (with plenty of periodic ones mixed in, but not oppressively so), jolting the scene forward in a way that imitates the energy and power and beauty of wild things. There's affectation -- the "And", a surfeit of modifier-rich (often over-rich) phrases, the personification -- but it's enthusiastic and honest. It brims with Britishness.
When I opened the book, I thought, Here's the inheritor to Annie Dillard, the American naturalist author whose Pulitzer-winning 1974 Pilgrim at Tinker Creek remains one of my all-time favorite books. Turns out, this isn't that. Yes, it has some of Dillard's lyricism and a lot of what the influential education professor Howard Gardner might call Dillard's brilliant naturalistic intelligence. Yes, it is profoundly literate and organized into efficiently elegant essay-chapters. It's got those great elements to its credit, and then it appends to it not one but two forceful narratives: the story of Macdonald's coming to terms with her father's sudden death and the story that T.H. White tells of his own hawking adventures in The Goshawk (plus links into a few other texts).
That all sounds like praise, and it should. My downgrading of this book from magnificent to merely very good has an undeniable personal element to it, and I say this as an avowed sneerer at reader-response theory. I loved the nature, the text-linking, the relationship with the hawk, and the parts about Macdonald's father, but I admit that I tired quickly of her own story. This is unfair, I concede. While I, as someone who has experienced the death of my own father, have empathy for her struggle to reconcile her world after the tragedy, the relentless skittishness wore me down. I rejoiced in the idea of her goshawk, Mabel, serving as an antidepressant, but I was simply battered down by the length of the arc. It's her life, and I have no right, none at all, to complain...but as a reader, experiencing a text, it wrenched me out of admiration and into a desire for those segments of her inner torment to be over. Again: not fair of me, but it was what it was, as far as the reading experience went.
This bothers me all the more because when it is good, this book is superlatively so. Chapters 14 and 15 are especially robust examples of the memoir-chapter as self-contained essay. Descriptions detonate out of small observations and large ones. As in Dillard's best moments, Macdonald surges into philosophy that avoids the obvious and cliche-ridden; it often seems just wrong, just too much, before resolving itself out of air into something tangible that gives a healthy splash to the imagination. What is literature for but to spark the imagination, after all? Consider this:
I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing -- not just from the world, but from people's everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. The rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. Eventually rarity is all they are made of. The condor is an icon of extinction. There's little else to it now but being the last of its kind. And in this lies the diminution of the world. How can you love something, how can you fight to protect it, if all it means is loss? There is a vast difference between my visceral, bloody life with Mabel and the reserved, distanced view of modern nature-appreciation. I know that some of my friends see my keeping a hawk as morally suspect, but I couldn't love or understand hawks as much as I do if I'd only ever seen them on screens. I've made a hawk part of a human life, and a human life part of a hawk's, and it has made the hawk a million times more complicated and full of wonder to me. (181)
Two conjunction-starting sentences aside (I'm sad to be so oversensitive to style, but I am), this is beautiful thinking that made me question and challenge, then come around, and still not be as much fully with her as fully intrigued and animated by her. This passage, in many ways, encapsulates her entire inquiry into love and loss, and into the existential quest. Does rarity constrain meaning? Is her relationship with the world important enough to justify the captivity of a wild beast? Similarly, I loved her disquisition on hunting with Mabel, with its counterintuitive denouement, "Hunting makes you animal, but the death of an animal makes you human" (196), which I suppose could sound like a platitude if it were not organically embedded in the narrative of the hunt. She excels in bursts of the Kantian three-part structure that Thoreau used so productively, starting with raw observation, moving into an explanation of what had just happened, and accelerating into a philosophical abstraction that glides far above the concrete event.
Like anything that operates on a high-wire, there's that jolt when the narrative falls off. Sometimes, for me, it is linguistic: when she tosses off she is "[something] as hell" three times over six or seven paragraphs (260+), I wonder where her editor was. When the skittishness noses its way in again and again (205, 208, etc.), I don't doubt that it's true but I wonder whether it all had to be confessed. Annie Dillard wrote a different book, about nature and beauty, and it's unfair to gauge this one by that standard, but I can't avoid the judgment that the memoir cuts into Macdonald's beautiful book maybe 5 or 10% too much. Judgment does matter.
Any book that spurs me to write so much about it must have done its job, don't you think? I do feel mean-spirited to complain about Helen Macdonald as memoirist when I so admire her as naturalist, hawker, writer, reader, historian, daughter, and thinker. As solipsist -- like most solipsists -- not so much. ...more
The first question that occurred to me when I stepped into this sequel to the excellent Wolf Hall was "Why was that book titled Wolf Hall? This one shThe first question that occurred to me when I stepped into this sequel to the excellent Wolf Hall was "Why was that book titled Wolf Hall? This one should be titled Wolf Hall!" Okay, well, Bring Up the Bodies is also an appropriate title here; the appropriateness of the title -- admittedly, a relatively minor thing -- is one of several crucial ways that this novel is in fact superior to its forebear. The essence of my review of both, however, is that these are two beautiful, important novels, both magnificent achievements.
This novel continues the story of King Henry VIII and his wife Anne Boleyn and court, as seen through the eyes of the impressively able Master Secretary (among his many titles) Thomas Cromwell. Mantel's Cromwell may someday edge out Machiavelli as a model for the political operative of the House of Cards generation. Let's hope not, though; despite plentiful principle on the part of the central figure, not to mention several of the other characters, this story is in large part the tragedy not only of Anne but of Cromwell as well.
Mantel, whose restraint characterizes her writing perhaps more than anything beside her command of history or character, trains her readers. Patience, patience, revel in the subtle details, notice the sly humor. She is like a chef who sneers at fast food and strong flavors and insists that we can be connoisseurs; she instructs us in delicacy. The meticulous development of scene and character then leaves the intense conflicts all the more ripping good when she opens the throttle. The dark, detail-rich palette is reminiscent of a Rembrandt. It's a joy to behold.
Complexity rules the day. Few things are black-and-white. The loathsome George Boleyn, whose unclassily classist screed that pompously and ignorantly warns Cromwell not to meddle with "those set above you" (60), shows scraps of nobility and cleverness when he is up against the wall; the hubris he exhibited foreshadowed an ugly fall -- although history doesn't always reward that sort of "merit", we know -- and yet the schadenfraude that ensues in the denouement is complicated by new flavors that Mantel sifts into the mix.
While George and his sister the queen each find tragedy to pay them for their plentiful hubris, there is no overall sense of justice to be found. Henry's hubris boggles the modern mind, giving perhaps literature's best example of absolute power corrupting absolutely. And yet even Henry is not fully at fault: there is something repulsive in the system itself, slightly outside the commoner Cromwell, who holds the ideal perspective for us to share. It has poisoned Henry, but also his victims, and peers of all stripes.
There are plenty, to be sure, and many of these are limned magnificently. The doomed ex-queen, Katherine of Aragon, has sharp wits and words; Henry's second queen, Anne Boleyn, is masterfully self-righteous and demanding; the soon-to-be third queen, Jane Seymour, may be perceived as mild and plain by her family and the rest of the ignorant nobles, but her sly, humorous quietness is a triumph of Mantel's art. Dozens of vibrant characters, set apart and memorable: Henry, the queens, Jane Rochford, the snakelike Bishop Stephen Gardiner (even when he is not present, as in the scene where Henry refers to him while addressing and trying to plot with Cromwell on 55-58, he is a powerful presence), the smarmy and too-smart-for-his-own-good Mark Smeaton, Ambassador Chapuys, the brutish Norfolk and even his ass of a son, the various pompous cocks among the courtiers (George Boleyn and Francis Weston, in particular), the list goes on and on. It's a cavalcade of riches.
It's more than fun; it's informative. The history, of course, but also the statecraft, the management, the lawyering, the internal politicking, and so on. I was especially enamored of the lawyering -- Cromwell as the one who schools the others because he appreciates the importance of understanding both sides of the argument (179), and who says "We want the truth little by little and only those parts of it we can use" (285). Those who follow him, like Wriothesley and Rafe, will learn and prevail; those who disdain him will fall under the wagon wheels. Thomas Cromwell is a man of the postmodern age living in the dawn of the Renaissance, where his amoral appreciation of strategy overwhelms those whose "natural" hereditary advantages are starting to spiral away.
Therein lies the tragedy. Henry, whom the monarchy has endowed with the prerogative to be a massive id (notwithstanding his intelligence and skill in certain areas), looms above them all. Many of the characters -- Anne in particular -- perceive a logic and an arc that Henry's power invalidates. But Cromwell remains the most interesting figure because, despite his ability to control some aspects, he is not the puppetmaster, and his soul is doomed, too. The once-mythic principled-ness of Thomas More, who died at the end of the first novel, is re-shattered early in this one, when Cromwell describes how More's body flopped in the driving rain at his execution. Although there is no dignity in Tudor England, but there is plenty to love in Mantel's depiction.
P.S.: One of my peckish complaints about WH was about the confusion engendered by Mantel's insistence on referring to Cromwell as "he" even when several male figures were operating in the scene. I suspect that someone spoke to her about this (I didn't! I swear!) because "He, Cromwell" now shows up dozens of times (pages 22, 25, 40, etc., etc.). The whole style thing still makes me curious. (So curious that, after I recorded my thoughts here, I kept thinking about it and even read a few book reviews. The NYT review, by Charles McGrath, made the same observation. I disagree with McGrath about inevitability being a problem, by the way: that's kind of the point!)...more
Hilary Mantel knows how to write for adults. Her novel demands fastidious attention, and is enhanced by greater background knowledge. Indeed, this speHilary Mantel knows how to write for adults. Her novel demands fastidious attention, and is enhanced by greater background knowledge. Indeed, this spectacularly rich novel, which nudges along through history like paint being layered atop other paint by an artistic master -- the better to establish shades and nuance -- compelled me several times to do research, which was not necessary for my understanding but was the outgrowth of curiosity Mantel sparked with her delicate portraiture.
The author characterizes dozens of personages deeply and engagingly, the better to afford her reader a healthy shot at keeping the massive cast of characters clear. Thomas Cromwell, of course, is her star, playing a role as close to that of narrator as a third-person-narrated novel's character can. The story of Henry VIII and Thomas More and the surrounding drama is best known (to this reader, as to many others) through Robert Bolt's masterwork A Man for All Seasons and the excellent film made of it in the mid-'60s. To see the same story through Cromwell's eyes may be unnerving, even infuriating, to Catholics, but from a pure story value it enhances the drama, not to mention the characterization. Cromwell certainly comes off as Mantel's hero, while More, characterized early on as a sexist brute for his unseemly treatment of his wife and as less than heroic for his enthusiasm for the rack, benefits from later episodes that broaden his portrayal. Cromwell, indeed, seems as human and decent as one might be at the time -- almost modern, surrounded by a society that both sees itself as advanced and yet does grotesque things in the name of king and church. His love for his daughters and wife, his forbearance in the face of tragedy, his incomparable skill in law and strategy, his taking in of various waifs (whom he treats honorably, incurring the only real loyalty the desperate era seems to witness...although it is also true that there is a crafty pragmatism involved), and his own loyalty to the doomed Wolsey make him a man among children, not unlike Bolt's More.
And yet those around him are more than caricatures, for the most part. Well, maybe they're just very compelling caricatures. Colorful, might be the word. Mary Boleyn, Anne Cromwell, Rafe Sadler, Gregory, Katherine, Princess Mary, Thomas Wyatt, Christophe, and ambassador Chapuys are among the interesting ones featured in the cast, while figures like Norfolk and Thomas Boleyn and Walter Cromwell come across as more simplistic devices, which is not problematic. Clearly the hub of the story -- around which Cromwell navigates with his famous dexterity -- is with Wolsey, More, Henry, and Anne Boleyn. Henry's portrayal will not please any royal-ophiles: the king's ego, petulance, and desperation bespeak the marriage of power and immaturity; still, even he has his human moments, such as when he visits the ill Cromwell, breaking through the wall of regal/common because of his need for his advisor. Anne is perhaps the most intriguing of all, with her measured strategy during Henry's hysterical courtship of her devolving into something much darker. She and her sister Mary, whose story tiptoes on the rim of the tragic, compelled my attention most forcefully. One wonders if a male novelist could have managed the sisters as well.
Best managed by Mantel are two extremely challenging aspects of historical fiction: dialogue and dramatic irony. The latter is art in the master's hands: her extraordinary patience weaves weighty details into the tapestry without drawing too much attention. Her Jane Seymour is managed especially deftly, while the whole arc of Anne Boleyn echoes ominously. The former crackles with voice, wisdom, and a crisp pace; never cloying or obvious, it's as good as any dialogue I can think of in recent fiction.
Which brings me to my one disappointment in this novel. The innovative narratorial use of Cromwell revolves around Mantel's use of "he" that almost resembles another novelist's "I". It is apparently intentional that the Cromwell he is left near less distinguished hes, in a way that we readers are supposed to figure out. No matter how carefully I read, I found myself often confused by this, which was unfortunate. I appreciate Mantel's design of the narration, but I'm afraid I have to rate the melding of the hes as a failure of execution.
That stymies this momentous novel from being an instant classic, in my view, but there is simply too much to admire for the penalty to be permanent. Politics, power, classism, social details, food, negotiation, lust, envy, jealousy, grief, ambition, vengeance, disloyalty, admiration, humor, corruption, fear, faith: all are molded masterfully into a seamless whole. There is suffering to go around, dishonor borne nobly and ignobly, images and objects built elegantly into resonant symbols through the mind of Cromwell. I felt more intelligent and more wise, and perhaps a bit oily, after sharing his view....more
I am continually impressed by the inventiveness of the self-reflexive early works in the genre of the novel. This and of course Don Quixote are probabI am continually impressed by the inventiveness of the self-reflexive early works in the genre of the novel. This and of course Don Quixote are probably the pinnacles of the genre in its early days -- and metafiction like that, which also teems with humor and (especially in the Spanish novel) soul, didn't re-appear until the 20th century, it seems.
Not having read it since 1986-87, I need to re-read this one. I did a little tonight, in 2015, and it quickly rekindled a smile....more
This set of minibiographies packages its stories efficiently and entertainingly. I found quirky details like the Dali scene that Chabon massaged intoThis set of minibiographies packages its stories efficiently and entertainingly. I found quirky details like the Dali scene that Chabon massaged into The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier Clay, enjoyed the unwhitewashed portraits of some famous scamps, and rejoiced at great quotations and adventures from under-reported figures. My favorite example of the latter was from the Victorian explorer Mary Kingsley, of whom I had never heard before: "These white men who make a theory first and then go hunting travelers' tales to go support the same may say what they please of the pleasure of the process. Give me the pleasure of getting a mass of facts and watching them" (98). Love Mary's eloquent affirmation of induction. This was a great light read....more
There has to be a name for this subgenre, a memoir of a life so miserable that it would be unbelievable in fiction (well, I guess in fiction it wouldThere has to be a name for this subgenre, a memoir of a life so miserable that it would be unbelievable in fiction (well, I guess in fiction it would be Bastard Out of Carolina). Jeannette Walls goes most of the way there with her wonderful Glass Castle, but she's a piker compared to Frank McCourt.
I was continually at a loss for words when reading this memoir. The psychological situation itself demands examination. One feels pity for the family, commingled with anger at the oppressor -- in this case, usually it's McCourt's father, who drinks away every opportunity and wage -- and a disconcerting relativistic empathy for the inevitable ethical blips: the stealing of food, the lying to protect oneself from insane authorities, the sexual indiscretions that seem inseparable from a compromised position in the world. And then, after several, or perhaps more, of these interludes, the reader is dried up.
McCourt is a talented writer, no doubt. (I'll leave aside the charges that he manufactured some key elements, and that he should have been more of a gentleman than to make certain questionable allegations about certain women.) Now that I am finished with the book, my sympathy has rebounded, and I feel horror at the conditions he endured, and understanding for the oppressed and impoverished everywhere.
It's like confessional poetry, though, by which I mean its truthfulness makes it no more engaging or appealing. Sometimes even the truth can seem indulgent, although that is a bizarrely ironic word to use here...and it seems unfair to the man who experienced the real life depicted in this book. As with other great and largely down memoirs -- Walls's and Tobias Wolff's magnificent This Boy's Life being foremost among them -- it is the humor and spirit that punctuate even a down story that make it compelling. Even Macbeth, dark as it is, has the porter. But even with its reaffirmation of the strength of the human spirit, this well-written book does not earn my unmitigated recommendation....more
[some spoilers possible -- I tried to be discreet]
Perhaps the most challenging of devices is the unreliable narrator. Its success depends so heavily o[some spoilers possible -- I tried to be discreet]
Perhaps the most challenging of devices is the unreliable narrator. Its success depends so heavily on the reader's acuity, regardless of the author's skill. Ishiguro's unreliable narrator is far from a common one -- best accessed in texts like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Great Expectations -- but his dark satire speaks volumes of its own.
This novel is organized around tiny nuances -- things barely noticed or noticeable, even by the narrator, until long after they occur. As I have been ruminating about in several of my recent Goodreads comments, the approach epitomizes literary fiction: we appreciate action that is deferred, minimized, grayed; we are called upon to notice ironies; we must exhibit maturity. His style epitomizes the opposite of instant gratification.
Ishiguro almost taunts his readers by demanding patience, thereby characterizing his narrator, Kath. The incredibly long lead-up to revealing what's going on -- and it is decidedly unpleasant, despite her "unreliably" mild reaction to what seems to me to be worth a revolution, or at least an escape. Chapter 12 (the fulcrum of the 23-chapter book) is the first time we get anything definitely revelatory, as it picks up and makes explicit the elegant foreshadowing of the first several mentions of possibles, carers, donation, and, most ominously, becoming complete.
The embodiment of ordinariness -- both of the situation and perhaps the people like (in a scientific sense) the narrator herself -- develop a profound commentary on art, which is reinforced by the curious idea of The Gallery. How much like Kath are we? The satire seeps from science fiction to our modern world, as all good science fiction does. But it never seems like science fiction.
One of Ishiguro's most intriguing devices melds characterization and narrative structure: Kath's constant luring the reader into the next chapter or sub-chapter -- the character's voice works beautifully to nudge us along despite (or, perhaps, as we become accustomed to it, because of) the lack of action.
Having read this shortly after Michael Sandel's enormously important What Money Can't Buy The Moral Limits of Markets, I couldn't help but wonder how a situation like the one Ishiguro imagines might happen. One thing for sure, scarily enough: when we condone "improvements" to society that diminish human sympathy and human dignity, we are all complicit in what we will wring.
One last note: Interesting that male author chose female voice. Curious as to why....more
The conceit so effectively exploited in the YA world by The Lightning Thief is still so fertile that Marie Phillips couldn't resist. But how to keep tThe conceit so effectively exploited in the YA world by The Lightning Thief is still so fertile that Marie Phillips couldn't resist. But how to keep this from being another Lightning Thief? I know! Add some hardcore sex, and put it near the beginning!
The world's least erotic hardcore scene aside, this clever and fast-paced novel would probably make Joseph Campbell wear a big grin. A good comic novel is always a find, especially if it has a heart but wears it uncloyingly. Phillips has a heavy hand with the McGuffins, but who can complain if we are to accept the idea that gods are living among us. Only this time they're in London, not New York (so take that, Rick Riordan).
The decidedly unpleasant Olympians -- with Apollo most unpleasant among them, but none being spared the satirist's poison brush...which seemed quite in keeping with the extant myths -- live in a tumbledown London property reminiscent of the Potterian 12 Grimmauld Place. Their powers dwindling, they oscillate oddly between affecting the petty and the world-historical. Several gulps of suspension-of-disbelief are served to the willing reader: the story gets going immediately, and never lets up.
There is a love story at the center of this uncaring but suddenly caring universe, but it is not the only poignant element. The horrible gods have their moments of humanity, but (with few exceptions) Phillips keeps those moments short. One of the best, although I never thought I'd write a sentence like this, involves the weirdly funny and ultimately poignant moment where a god bent on rape tries to understand exactly what it means. Somewhere, Richard Dawkins and other advocates of the idea that the universe is uncaring are reading this, and wondering what about this should make them smile.
Still, now I'm hesitant to let my teenage daughters go out in the sun....more
Lots of great action, and the loner gets his shot at being part of a team that makes the A-team (sorry...name the most impressive team you can think oLots of great action, and the loner gets his shot at being part of a team that makes the A-team (sorry...name the most impressive team you can think of) look like the 1962 Mets. The conspiracy is massive, as usual, and the fight is personal, which is an odd thing for Jack Reacher, at least in the five books I have read. But it's enormously engaging and entertaining. Not my favorite, maybe right in the middle...and just as much fun as any of them!...more
Jack Reacher knows what he's doing, a la Slotkin's Gunfighter Nation. Lee Child does too. This is the 16th novel in the Reacher "series" -- it's sortJack Reacher knows what he's doing, a la Slotkin's Gunfighter Nation. Lee Child does too. This is the 16th novel in the Reacher "series" -- it's sort of a series, sort of a set of standalones -- of adventure/crime novels. This one might be my favorite.
It's often a criticism to call an author's work "formula" but it's more like comfort for Child's reader. The loner entering a dysfunctional space, finding a tough and resilient and very attractive lone female (with whom he is destined to hook up), the short and punchy sentences, the little group against the big conspiracy, the effortless prose, the political wariness, the opposition from guys who are good but not quite good enough. It's a lot of fun.
This one is better than most, because the writing is even more interesting and sharp. Some of my favorite Child phrases and plot setups are in this one, with a snarky undermining of OCS ethos (151), a glittering item of clothing described as looking like it was "knitted out of atomic waste" (179). The sexy female sheriff establishes her credentials with whip-smart analysis, which she needs before he reveals all sorts of things that she missed. Child himself gave a smile when I asked him about his gunfighter-nation deconstruction of the cliche "pure and simple."
Okay, so there's some tough-guy corniness, and too many women are described as "spectacular" (there's a reason for that apparent redundancy, also nicely developed) and with other cliched descriptions. But this is a great read, possibly the best in a really good skein...although I admit that I have ten to go. I will get to them all!...more
I found this novel to be a fairly compelling exegesis of an era but quite undistinguished, certainly compared with my expectations. The tinyness of the actions, at first irritating, later came to seem as part of a design, illuminating the smallness and pettiness of the aristocratic set but, over time, swelling into a nuanced portrait of the value of duty. Austen is not really a revolutionary, and the Regency period was less Romantic than Victorian, although it's more synchronous with the former.
Anne is a realistic, likeable character, and she shines in comparison with so many oafish caricatures around her. Her family members' foibles are much less than Dickensian (certainly less than Rowlingsian!) but they certainly are loathsome. Austen doesn't bring down the whole culture, to her credit, and so I felt enriched by this reading experience, microcosmic and outdated and didactic as it seemed in other ways.
I'm going to give Pride and Prejudice a re-read soon -- and am really looking forward to it -- and, if memory serves, I'm going to end up writing much more effusively about that novel than I do about this one....more
This is probably the first memoir I've read that was written by someone I have met. Detmar makes a loving and apparently forthright biographer of hisThis is probably the first memoir I've read that was written by someone I have met. Detmar makes a loving and apparently forthright biographer of his late wife, the fashion icon Isabella Blow -- his understandable frustration is as evident as his sympathy and adoration.
With tiny chapters, often two pages or less, the book clips along nicely, although it does have the feel of a mere list of events. Overall, though, it is effective: it is the sympathetic unraveling of a sad, even doomed life that was tormented equally by mental illness, the towering imposition of the English class system, the high-pressure world of fashion, and the mixed blessing of a creative temperament....more
Not nearly on par with his great works -- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Arcadia chief among the latter category. Some interesting moments,Not nearly on par with his great works -- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Arcadia chief among the latter category. Some interesting moments, and I'm curious to see the way the trilogy develops. Not emotionally satisfying, as early units of multi-part flows tend not to be. I'll withhold judgment pending more Utopia.......more
One of the all-time greats. The subtlety and wit -- and humanity -- astound the hungry reader. (Thanks to my first cooperating teacher, Alison Kenney-One of the all-time greats. The subtlety and wit -- and humanity -- astound the hungry reader. (Thanks to my first cooperating teacher, Alison Kenney-Hall at Newton North High School, for teaching this in AP while I was her student teacher.)...more
Talk about an author's degree of difficulty: the depth of detail, the number of characters, the literary weight, the historical moment -- this book haTalk about an author's degree of difficulty: the depth of detail, the number of characters, the literary weight, the historical moment -- this book has it. Extremely engaging, thought-provoking inquiry into Victorian life, the entry into the modern era, social class, and especially art.
One of my favorite things about this novel is the rich and unapologetic intellectualism. The texture and context benefit from it, and the inquiry is all the more profound: this novel speaks to the creation of and definition of a self, and reaches far and wide to investigate the problems/struggles that pertain. Byatt's not just showing off, and she's not an elitist. The craftspersonship is impressive....more
Gotta like a twisty novel about the sordid underworld lurking near us in the good ol' USA. Reacher is an interestingly American character even if he'sGotta like a twisty novel about the sordid underworld lurking near us in the good ol' USA. Reacher is an interestingly American character even if he's pretty darn flat....more
In Jack Reacher's world, the only desirable women are in the field of law enforcement (but they need your help if you're hardcore ex-military), thereIn Jack Reacher's world, the only desirable women are in the field of law enforcement (but they need your help if you're hardcore ex-military), there are lots of terrible conspiracies out there to be stumbled upon, and violence tends to be justified. Suspend your disbelief (and your expectation that reading provides intellectual satisfaction) and just enjoy the damned thing...more
As usual for Child: compelling plot, good (if unbelievably neatly choreographed in favor of the brilliant underdog) fight scenes, attractive female coAs usual for Child: compelling plot, good (if unbelievably neatly choreographed in favor of the brilliant underdog) fight scenes, attractive female cop, disproportionately enormous denouement, and a fun read all the way through. Don't expect Proust, but don't plan to put it down soon either....more
Entertainingly written, with an eye for facts and stories that grab the modern imagination. The book seems to love its iconoclasm quite a bit -- a proEntertainingly written, with an eye for facts and stories that grab the modern imagination. The book seems to love its iconoclasm quite a bit -- a prodigious number of the stories seem to undermine "known truths", which suggests either the unreliability of "known truths" or the sensationalism of the text...or maybe some of both.
I feel like checking in with my historian friends to see what they think. A fun book, regardless, but I'll like it better were I slightly more confident that it is a more accurate history than the histories it decries as inaccurate! Then again, I loved and have considerable faith in Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me, which strikes me as an much more combative (not to mention American, and thus swathed in much less history) version of this....more
The tales themselves are fine, but the thing that makes this book worth reading is the "commentary by Dumbledore" -- an exegesis of each tale! I loveThe tales themselves are fine, but the thing that makes this book worth reading is the "commentary by Dumbledore" -- an exegesis of each tale! I love stuff like this: imaginative, expansive, meta, and able to deftly (if marginally) enhance the wonderful Potter world....more
Having last delved into this book in 1979 or '80, I had forgotten just how extraordinarily rich Tolkien's imaginative achievement is. At times I bristHaving last delved into this book in 1979 or '80, I had forgotten just how extraordinarily rich Tolkien's imaginative achievement is. At times I bristled as the story digressed (as it were) away from the ostensible story into what can only be described as Middle Earth culture...but then I realized that that was what separates it as a novel from it as a plot.
The reading also reinvigorated my appreciation for Peter Jackson's achievement in the film he developed. He cut a lot -- necessarily so -- but left the core in a surprisingly vigorous, unified vitality.
Maybe not the greatest of novels, but a must-read for anyone who is curious about the history of how people have attempted to harness the imagination....more