For the characters in Randall Jarrell's Animal Family, the world is a wondrous place, full of adventure and discoveries to be made, but also a familia...moreFor the characters in Randall Jarrell's Animal Family, the world is a wondrous place, full of adventure and discoveries to be made, but also a familiar one, with all the comforts that implies. The world is new and thus nothing is surprising or shocking but everything is exceedingly fascinating. It should be needless to say that this is quite refreshing. It's a perspective we ought to take in our own lives, but which the conforming pressures of society and our own deeply entrenched habits of thought and reaction often prevent us from achieving.
Animal Family is simple and elegant. It is an image of some universally recognizable potential of domestic life, a glimpse into the happy life of one unlikely household. It is not the 1950's stereotype of domesticity, but rather a pure one based on genuine, earnest, unconditional love and acceptance.(less)
Le Guin spends about 60 pages establishing this book as a modestly well-written iteration of the tradition High Fantasy tale. Young, earnest, ambitiou...moreLe Guin spends about 60 pages establishing this book as a modestly well-written iteration of the tradition High Fantasy tale. Young, earnest, ambitious boy discovers his great power, runs off to wizard school, befriends portly and loyal older student, has conflict with stuck-up older student, etc. Around page 70, a bombshell is dropped. Everything is now laden with meaning, everything matters to the reader. Even the prose seems to reflect the protagonist's new way of seeing the world.
It is this first climax that reveals what so many other reviewers have pointed out: Earthsea is a Taoist Parable. The plot is driven by mistakes Ged makes, traps into which he is drawn by the kinds of lapses of judgment Taoism constantly warns against. The epiphanies Ged has, the knowledge he finds and receives from others, and even the prose itself, embody tidbits of Taoist wisdom.
I felt that I followed the overt parable through the beginning of the story and picked up on these tidbits scattered throughout. At some point, though, I lost the thread of the parable. The end of the book is extremely effective: everything is stark and real and laden with meaning. From some point a bit before the climax proper, I'll admit I no longer knew what 'message' I was supposed to get or read into the plot. I believe, from what other reviewers have said, that I may understand more the next time I read the book.
And I definitely will be reading the book again. Le Guin is a brilliant storyteller. The book is no longer than it needs to be, and is a perfectly textured read: tasty and rich but not heavy or dense. I particularly love the way she describes things: her mature and insightful observations into the settings and people she creates make the world and the characters seem real and complex and philosophically significant in a rare way.
The magic system Le Guin uses was an engima to me. In a Taoist parable, it seems odd to affirm the Truth and reality of Language and Naming in such a crucial way. Everything has a True Name, which is its name in the old tongue, Hardic. In Hardic, humans can only speak Truth. Any good Taoist going back to Zhuangzi and probably before would tell you that NO language can speak "truth," that all names are artificial, and that certainly no language is more true than any other. For Taoists, the idea of Truth itself is absurd. I'm sure this will be something she's done on purpose, and that someday I'll grasp why and that will be a good day.(less)
I first learned of Opal's diary from John Cartan's 20 Stranger and More Wonderful Books. I heard nothing more of it after that intriguing description...moreI first learned of Opal's diary from John Cartan's 20 Stranger and More Wonderful Books. I heard nothing more of it after that intriguing description and some Goodreads reviews. From all that, I somehow gathered that the book was about a strange, mystical witch-girl, on the order of Arthur Machen's White People. However, Opal's story is nothing of the kind, and in truth bears no relation whatsoever to the occult.
Opal was nothing less than a precociously literate, precociously sensitive and observant little girl. She was a child prodigy. The value and interest of her diary is the way she was able to communicate her Connection with the subtle feelings and goings-on of her natural Community. She was a nature writer of the highest order already at 6 years old. Her understanding of what's going on around her is a bit fuzzy often - she believes in fairies (a "Santa Claus" game with a kind neighbor) and souls - but her connection with everything on a spiritual and emotional level is rarely found in adult works. This is why Opal's book is not only fascinating on a literary level but crucial on a personal level. With her writing, Opal was trying to share the depth with which she empathized with the community she lived in.
Opal's story is extremely interesting on a literary level, as well. Her story is monumentally tragic, and everything about her seems too literary to be true. From her prodigious childhood, her superhuman efforts spreading her message to the children of Oregon, to her travails against the publishing industry and her developing mental illness throughout. Benjamin Hoff's introduction gives a good sense of the shape of this story, and it really does feel as though he's outlining a Hesse bildungsroman. I want everyone I love to read this book, and I feel as though it is one of the few really life-changing, magical books I've read. (less)
I always feel bad for people who negatively review books I really loved, people who profess they "didn't get" the book. I am now in that sorry positio...moreI always feel bad for people who negatively review books I really loved, people who profess they "didn't get" the book. I am now in that sorry position - I wanted very badly to like this book, and had been looking forward to reading it since I first heard of it last year on John Cartan's list of Strange and Wonderful books: http://www.cartania.com/strangebooks....
All the blurbs and reviews I've read spoke so highly and mysteriously of it that I was intrigued to see how it would affect me. However, only the first part of the book really spoke to me at all; the middle section is an exceptionally dry account of Olivero's (fictional, of course) curious ascent to the position of president in the Utopian state of Roncador. All the details are given of Olivero's arrangement of affairs in the state (to the extent even that the constitution Olivero writes is printed in full). The third part is a description of another, much more mystical, Utopia, that of the Green People, who live in caves, completely isolated from the world above.
The language was somewhat famously described by T.S. Eliot as the finest example of English prose writing in his century, and all the other reviewers seem find something exceptionally beautiful about it as well. To me, while the prose was excellent, it merely sounded like he was writing in the Victorian style - which I love, but doesn't strike me as exceptional. Then again, I'm probably just a philistine anyway, so don't take my word on that account.
The philosophy in the book, which was clearly meant to be allegorical, was rather weak and well, seemed antiquated. The political philosophy he uses to construct his Utopia is vague and idealistic, like many of the philosophers of the French Revolution era he references, but without most of the really insightful and important things to be taken from them. The last part consisted mostly of philosophy, but somehow to me it stank of Plato's Republic (and not just because it took place in a cave), a style of philosophy that only managed to annoy me.
But again, just because I didn't get the book - and I did try, and very much wanted to enjoy it - doesn't mean it isn't everything everyone says it is. But I still can't rate it above a three, for my own part.(less)
Dec 28, 2009: David Gerrold uses time travel to develop an extended metaphor for human life. The potentials of time travel take the loneliness, the qu...moreDec 28, 2009: David Gerrold uses time travel to develop an extended metaphor for human life. The potentials of time travel take the loneliness, the quest for self-knowledge, and the futile quest to understand why we exist as ourselves to the most literal and profound extremes. The (almost) omnipotent protagonist Eakins constantly reshapes the timestream he exists in to suit his changing personality, and thus all his character developments become quite literally reflected in the world around him. The tone is lonely and almost tragic near the end, showing that nothing; not money, not love, not even time travel, can protect us from the oft-unbearable aloneness of being, nor spare us the inevitable changes and losses Time imposes.
The book is written in somewhat subdued diary format, which helps communicate the central issue of the plot: the developments of Daniel Eakins' character. It is very simple, and reads phenomenally quickly. While many issues are only treated briefly, and the mechanics of time travel are perhaps wisely only alluded to, I was fascinated by the implications of time travel that were explored.
It was also one of the most personal, intimate, and philosophical books I've ever read. It spoke to me - resonated with things I've thought many times before, and gave a strong impression of the sense of hugeness The Big Questions have for us, which to me is quite 'spiritual' and enjoyable. Truly a 'strange and wonderful book.'(less)
Flatland was an adorable book. Abbott creates a fantasy world with a rather intriguing history (I found the Color Revolution rather exciting, for some...moreFlatland was an adorable book. Abbott creates a fantasy world with a rather intriguing history (I found the Color Revolution rather exciting, for some reason) and premise, and quite succinctly explains the concept of multidimensionality. I didn't get much out of the Victorian social satire, but that's fine. The satire was for readers of the day; perhaps unlike his fancy Victorian language, which is a treat for Antiquarian dilettantes like myself. Inventive fantasy in rich language that teaches a profoundly humbling lesson on the nature of the Universe, all in a short 110 pages: not worth the time it takes not to read it.(less)