I first learned of this book through a friend who recommended a National Public Radio interview with the author, Michael Schaffer. I have always loved...moreI first learned of this book through a friend who recommended a National Public Radio interview with the author, Michael Schaffer. I have always loved dogs and also do some pet-sitting on the side, so I guess I was predisposed to enjoy the subject matter. I did enjoy the book, very much, and really appreciated the research and the coverage on topics from pet and health care to pet boarding to animal spa treatments to pet parties. Of course, as I was afraid it would, the late chapter on how we manage the death of our pets made me cry. Sensitive pet-lovers, beware. On the surface, it's about our pet culture, but really its's a look at ourselves and how pets color and shade our own humanity--or lack thereof. Shaffer clearly loves animals and identifies with his subject matter....his cat and St. Bernard provide a lot of inspiration...and he does not judge those who are so wrapped up in their animals that they may appear eccentric. He is also appropriately sober when discussing how some mistreat the innocent creatures in their care. How our society regards its companion animals is as important a topic as any other popular sociological study. I wanted to do a deeper analysis.....but it would be as pointless as analyzing a happy, eager, tail-wagging dog...it's simply true and reassuring, and that's enough.(less)
Profane and wickedly funny satire...I laughed out loud. Thompson is deft with language, even as his narrator is in a constant state of intoxication. (...moreProfane and wickedly funny satire...I laughed out loud. Thompson is deft with language, even as his narrator is in a constant state of intoxication. (I read this book as a sorbet between long periods of reading Shadow Country by Peter Matthiesen; Fear and Loathing's flights of gross anarchy came as a relief to Shadow Country's somber genealogies.)
It is dated, but only in a way a time capsule is, its references to early '70's culture and counter-culture more descriptive and evocative than anything that could be written with the benefit of retrospect. Some of my laughter was in appreciation of Thompson's soaring hyperbole in his equating the madness of Las Vegas and its underground to the American Dream itself.
I have not seen the movie, and I don't know that I will, as Thompson's descriptions of outrageous people and drug-induced foulness is much funnier left to the imagination.
If there is any guiding literary weight to the book, it rests in snippets of (I assume) are actual newspaper articles depicting sordid crimes and other unusual incidents. Thompson reminds us that these shocking vignettes actually render his hilariously criminal behavior rather benign in comparison.(less)
A compelling argument for the perpetuation of the American gender myth of the strong, heroic male protecting the homestead, and the powerless, domesti...moreA compelling argument for the perpetuation of the American gender myth of the strong, heroic male protecting the homestead, and the powerless, domestic female needing rescue from intruders. A contemporary view, using 9/11 and its aftermath as a template, which convincingly portrays the very foundation of our culture as an assertion of male strength and a studied maintenance of female weakness.
I finished this book with very mixed emotions. As a recounting of the travels of a very troubled young man, Krakauer did a marvelous job gathering fir...moreI finished this book with very mixed emotions. As a recounting of the travels of a very troubled young man, Krakauer did a marvelous job gathering first-hand material, especially from friends and family members whose lives were hurt by this tragedy. The story was beautifully shaped and, for the most part, well-told.
I could have done without Krakauer relating his own personal story of near-tragedy as a climber, attempting to draw parallels between his story and that of McCandless. I suppose I am of the minority opinion that Mccandless' tragedy was not an inspiration, and that his life and death had no more meaning than that of an average accountant, or teacher, who lives are unheralded and seldom chronicled.
I enjoyed hearing people in their own words relate stories of their encounters with Chris, and the revelations of trouble within his family relationships was a helpful backstory.
Being a book-lover myself, I paid close attention to the many examples of books and authors that may have inspired Chris in his journey. This served to illustrate Chris' innate intelligence and what he used to justify his actions.
Krakauer spared little in his attempt to create a myth here, but I think he missed the mark in not speculating a bit more on Chris' coming to terms with his interpersonal, especially sexual, challenges. I applaud Krakauer for not trying to psychoanalyze McCandless; but a few interviews with experts who may have studied the histories of those with similar profiles, might have yielded some fascinating material.(less)
Written in the early 1960's this book has shaped my thinking like few others. Goes a long way to explain the history of intellectual life in America,...moreWritten in the early 1960's this book has shaped my thinking like few others. Goes a long way to explain the history of intellectual life in America, examining religion, formal education, business, and politics. If we wonder why Americans seem "dumber" than ever, this book offers an argument that stands up well today. One of my all-time favorites.(less)
Europe Central demands repeat visits. It's difficult, to be sure, and may be nearly impossible for anyone not familiar with world history during the W...moreEurope Central demands repeat visits. It's difficult, to be sure, and may be nearly impossible for anyone not familiar with world history during the WWII years. On the other hand, I was inspired, after reading it, to tackle Inside the Third Reich, and to listen to music by Shostakovich. I think Vollmann is concerned with the role of art and artists to influence the world in times of peril. He examines the degree to which artists influence, are influenced by, or speak out against terror and war. My conclusion is that Vollmann believes that artists have a responsibility to reflect terror through their art, but that there are forces in the world that not only seek to invade and destroy countries, but to assault free expression in the same way. This is Vollmann's cry to defend creative work in the same way armies defend their countries from invaders.... Of course, I expect to gather A LOT more after a re-read...I'm interested to hear what others think.(less)
One of the benefits of literary awards is that they attract readers to books they might not otherwise have found. One of the drawbacks is that a badly...moreOne of the benefits of literary awards is that they attract readers to books they might not otherwise have found. One of the drawbacks is that a badly-awarded book calls to question the legitimacy of the prize. Such was my initial thought upon completing Shadow Country. This book has been lauded in literary circles, possibly because of the author's longevity and perseverance. Matthiessen is highly regarded by other writers; but the acclaim here, and certainly the National Book Award, could not possibly be in recognition of what is ultimately a failed epic.
This was, finally, a disappointment. I recognized the beauty of the writing and painstaking detail….all in the service of a long story that lacks cohesion. I'm sure I hold a minority opinion, but the book feels like it was written to be admired, and a reader may feel like a student who is deemed stupid for not understanding what all the fuss is about.
The story of E.J. Watson is effectively told in about 100 pages...and told again, and re-told again and again, from every angle and in countless shades of light, in the space of 900 pages. One problem is that Watson is a reprehensible character.....in fact there is not one character in the novel with whom a reader can identify, let alone like or admire. Everyone is racist, dishonest, ignorant, sadistic, or weak. Those few more noble characters scattered without are eventually horribly maimed or killed, or succumb to the effects of abuse in their own childhoods.
Yes, the settling of Florida is deglamorized, and is supposed to represent the settling of America' it may even comment on modern ruthlessness in the name of progress. I can understand all that, and still feel as though I were lost in the everglades, slogging through swampland, going in the same circle hundreds of times, seeing the same scenery, despairing of ever getting out.
Matthiessen has a command of words and writes beautiful passages, but they get lost among monotonous history, chronology, and detail. Just as often, there is ugliness and violence that has no other resonance except as a jolt to the reader.
The structure, a fusion of three previously written books, fails keeps the novel from feeling integrated. In Book One we have about a dozen points of view, none of which seems particularly reliable, from characters we have neither opportunity nor inclination to care about. We get numerous accounts from those who are misinformed, or who may have a personal vendetta as a reason to alter facts. Book Two takes place after Watson’s death, (no spoiler here, he’s killed in the first chapter, and the rest of the book is a rumination on that killing) with Watson’s surviving son in search of the truth, and the conclusion is that recorded history is often not based on truth...no revelation there. Book Three is Watson's story told from his point of view. It is an interesting concept, but didn’t ring true given Watson’s violent nature and penchant for being “taken over” by an evil “second personality”. Anyone this articulate would certainly have left his sugar cane fields long ago.
It’s an odd choice for the National Book Award. For a writer, there is much to admire in Matthiessen’s word choice, sentence structure, and mastery of (sometimes endless) detailed description. But after investing so much time to give the book its due, I wished the scope were not so narrow, the tone not as heavy as a humid Florida summer, and that I had come away fully understanding why this story was so important that it occupied 30 years of the author's literary effort. (less)