As I suspected would be the case, I enjoyed this novel less than Under the Dome, my first Stephen King long novel. Many negative reviews of that booAs I suspected would be the case, I enjoyed this novel less than Under the Dome, my first Stephen King long novel. Many negative reviews of that book stated a preference for his earlier long novels. But I am working backwards. Had I read Needful Things first, I might have liked it more. I was dismayed to see the blatant repetitiveness of Mr. King's themes, plot structure, and character types.
I also struggled with this book's slow-boil nature. I say this with a grain of salt, but Needful Things is more of a character study. Certainly, it is more of a mood piece than a fast-moving thriller. The upside of this observation is that I enjoyed really getting inside the setting of Castle Rock, Maine, a town I was introduced to briefly via the movie Stand By Me. I wanted this book to take me to small-town Maine--a place I've lived--and it did.
I am intrigued by the dichotomy in King's writing. On the one hand, there is the indulgence in violence, cruelty, and wanton prurience. On the other hand, there is an unmistakable morality undergirding the protagonists' journey. I don't have a conclusion to draw yet. I'll need to read some more King novels.
There is also smuggness in his writing, which relates to the above dichotomy. It's as if King is saying to me the reader, "I could write deeper than this, but we both know what you really want." As evidence of this, I quote my favorite line from the book. It is the narrator prefacing a funeral scene.:
"In one of those grotesque coincidences which no decent novelist would dare invent..."
I wrote in the margin--while laughing with glee--"Oh knock it off, Stephen!" ...more
Thanks to Memorial Day weekend and a subsequent trip to see my niece graduate from high school, I took in two of these books by Thomas Cathcart and DaThanks to Memorial Day weekend and a subsequent trip to see my niece graduate from high school, I took in two of these books by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. As promised on the cover, this work is loaded with humor via jokes, zingers and irony. The authors strive to make the material relevant and palatable for a novice of philosophy. In addition to enjoying the chuckles it incited, I found the book a provocative sampling of major philosophical schools of thought. The most interesting section for me covered professional ethics, perhaps because of its obvious relevance to everyday life.
I used the unabridged audio version of this book. Had I read a print copy I may have given it four stars. There were sections that begged for me to slow down, reread, and mull ideas over. To be clear, I have no criticism of audio talent Johnny Heller, just that the material was at times hard to digest in a single hearing. My recommendation, if you want to get the most out of this book, is to get a hardcopy you can mark up and reread. If you just want to pass some time and sample the material, the audio presentation is great. ...more
As I prepped for my Memorial Day-weekend road trip, I felt the familiar urge to pick out an audio book for the drive. The Rivalry sat waiting for me oAs I prepped for my Memorial Day-weekend road trip, I felt the familiar urge to pick out an audio book for the drive. The Rivalry sat waiting for me on a display shelf at the public library. And facing a 5-hour drive, this 2-hour/2 disc presentation was a perfect choice.
The Rivalry is a staged play, with the actual stage actors lending their talent to this audio recording. Yet, for all the trappings of a live audience and intermission, this is more of a history lesson than a play. There isn't much of a plot until the last third of the script.
Nevertheless, so long as you want the history lesson, this play is a great way to get it. The director and cast are top quality. I've always been a fan of Paul Giamatti and David Strathairn. Of the two, Giamatti has a more interesting and multi-faceted role to explore as Douglas, portraying a man horrifically prejudiced against people of color while also stalwart in his loyalty to the Union. This latter trait challenged me in a healthy way, so that I could not dismiss him.
The debate scenes are very engaging. It's interesting to watch Judge Douglas use states' rights to justify slavery, and to accuse Lincoln and the Republican Party of trying to force unwanted change via the courts. There is of course an ironic (and not very subtle) parallel here to today. But as I mentioned before, thanks to Douglas's character arc, every audience member is likely to feel challenged at times. And the bond these two political icons forge in spite of deep differences casts a hopeful light on the potential for our nation and its leaders to come together again.
Bottom line: If you've never read/studied the Lincoln-Douglas debates, this dramatic work is a great primer. Give it a try. ...more
Here is how it went. Last November I read a blog post by Dave Cullen in which he pointed out the disparity bShame led me to read this book of poetry.
Here is how it went. Last November I read a blog post by Dave Cullen in which he pointed out the disparity between male and female authors receiving recognition. The column stuck with me. Fast-forward to last month as I mulled over what present to get my niece for her high school graduation. I bought her a new hardbound collegiate dictionary. But I also wanted to get her a work of prose or poetry to try out, something of proven literary merit.
My initial impulse, no lie, was to give her a copy of Childhood's End by the late Sci-fi master Arthur C. Clarke. I didn't feel shame about that. It's an excellent and thought-provoking novel I hope my niece does read sometime. But I realized I ought to do better than just toss her one of my "favs." I also felt a strong impulse that I should get her something by a female author. And that's when the shame hit.
Though I have read many books by women, I couldn't think of any works off the top of my head that would make good graduation gifts. The guilt began to flow when I realized that had my niece been a nephew, I could have easily listed a bevy of titles fit for any high school graduate to sample. Moreover, as the proud recipient of an English degree, I ought to be able list several female authors whose works are ideal for soon-to-be college freshman.
Then I remembered seeing the name Edna St. Vincent Millay on a friend's Goodreads Profile. So I grabbed one of Millay’s collections off the shelf at Borders Bookstore, read a couple poems in the store, and quickly bought the book. If it ended up not being appropriate for my niece, at least I would improve my own reading list.
In Millay's writing, I found poems about nature, companionship, assertiveness, and even wanderlust. I especially loved one passage where Millay said in effect that she wasn't satisfied with roses--either as a romantic gift or a subject for poetry. She prized more the vitality of real human interaction. At some point, I stopped reading to see if my niece might like Millay, and just enjoyed the poetry for myself.
My goal in giving my niece this collection was not to make her a Millay fan. If she becomes one, bonus! As a liberal arts junky I would also be tickled if she writes me this summer and says, “Uncle Jake, I did not enjoy Ms. Millay’s poetry for the following reasons…” I just wanted to extend her a sincere invitation to explore great literature as an avenue of personal development. And as she purchases books for school, most often written by men, I felt it important to make sure she starts out with a book on her shelf written by a great woman who succeeded on her own merits.
Most of the authors I read are men, and I make no apology for that. I like being a man and reading about the male experience. Not long ago I sat in a buddy's backyard and relished listening to him read masterfully the first paragraph of Moby Dick, a manly story indeed! But the strength in that work can be found in equal measure in the works of many female authors past and present. I thank Mr. Cullen and Ms. Millay for reminding me of that. But I also thank my niece. ...more
"We make our sons. This is the tragedy of the tribal Muslim man, and especially the firstborn son: the overblown expectations, the ruinous vanity, the"We make our sons. This is the tragedy of the tribal Muslim man, and especially the firstborn son: the overblown expectations, the ruinous vanity, the unstable sense of self that relies on the oppression of one group of people--women--to maintain the other group's self image."
I found the above quote to be one of the most powerful statements in Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book Nomad. It is all the more significant because it occurs in a chapter devoted to her brother who, Ms. Hirsi Ali argues, is as much a victim of fundamentalist Islam as she was. This book is more than just a memoir of one woman’s personal journey. Through frank reflection, Hirsi Ali makes a bold rebuke of Islam, but also of groups and institutions that she regards as passive enablers.
“Textbooks gloss over the fundamentally unjust rules of Islam and present it as a peaceful religion. Institutions of reason must…reinvest in developing the ability to think critically, no matter how impolite some people may find the results.”
For me, the most informative sections of this book deal with immigration. Through personal and professional experience, Hirsi Ali has attained a high degree of insight into this problematic issue. She lays some blame at everyone's feet, but shows empathy for various parties. People on both sides of the Arizona/Mexico border could learn a lot from reading this book. I know I did.
Some of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's subjective reasoning struck me as faulty. She is prone to generalization and exhibits a double standard. She gives recognition to moderate Christians and Jews but not moderate Muslims. To her credit she admits this contradiction. Yet she justifies it by claiming even moderate Muslims take the Koran to be inerrant (a generalization that may not be true in every case). Regardless, I thought this book was rooted in the best kind of vigorous debate. She praises this approach late in the book.
"When I came to the West what I found truly amazing was the fact that believers, agnostics, and unbelievers could debate with and even ridicule one another without ever resorting to violence."
At a time when tempers are running extremely high in the U.S.A., I hope this generalization remains generally true. Bottom line: I strongly recommend this book as a resource for increasing one’s understanding of the great friction between Islam and Western society. ...more
Like some other readers, I had a harder time getting into this book than Time’s Eye and Sunstorm. I'll admit that one reason was my inability toLike some other readers, I had a harder time getting into this book than Time’s Eye and Sunstorm. I'll admit that one reason was my inability to fully grasp the scientific concepts involved. However, I also think that Stephen Baxter uses so much ink developing the technological and theoretical concepts that character development gets neglected.
Nevertheless, I loved the last 70 pages or so. Once Mr. Baxter gets past the predictable fate of the Q-bomb, the story opens up into a fascinating exploration of the farthest reaches of time, space and mind. Only the general pessimism of the final chapters lessened my enjoyment a bit.
I very much liked the ending. No, it's not a firm Shakespearean resolution where everyone winds up married or dead. Yes it's an ending that begs for a fourth installment to be written. So much the better. Clarke's themes are worthy of future treatments. Another 30 years down the road, I hope some strong sci-fi talent with real scientific expertise takes up the odyssey again. In the meantime, the openness of Firstborn's ending encourages my imagination to resume running free--something I've always loved about Sir Arthur C. Clarke's “endings.”
Firstborn isn't a classic in our time, though it may yet be if it proves sufficiently prophetic. Still, if you love Clarke's space odysseys, and you want to seriously explore what it might mean for humanity to grow up and truly become advanced, I recommend the entire Time Odyssey trilogy. ...more
I worried this novel might fail to set itself apart from so many similar disaster movies. Happily, this fear proved unfounded. Sunstorm is the thinkinI worried this novel might fail to set itself apart from so many similar disaster movies. Happily, this fear proved unfounded. Sunstorm is the thinking audience’s answer to popcorn disaster flicks. It trades fast-paced action and thin plot for a more compelling and engrossing science-based drama. This is not to say the book lacks entertainment value. It has plenty.
After a mellow start, Sunstorm steadily builds in pace and scope until a grand climax. As with part one of the trilogy, Time’s Eye, I was struck by a certain richness in Stephen Baxter’s narrative style. (I’m assuming Baxter did the majority of the writing). The richness comes from his ability to blend ample doses of technical material with a well-constructed plot. His writing is more technical than Arthur C. Clarke’s. Still, for my literary taste, Baxter’s narration oscillates at a pleasing rate between the technological and the emotional.
Sunstorm exhibits a great deal of humanity as the characters deal with the very real challenges of extended space flight. Yes, they are a fairly generic ensemble, but genuine nonetheless. I found several moments of the book haunting as an army of astronauts braced for the coming sun storm.
Alas, I can’t say this novel was especially fresh or innovating relative to its native genre: sci-fi. Still, as a big fan of Clarke’s space odysseys, I enjoyed this reimagining. Reimaging allows Baxter to update the science while staying true to the core themes and philosophy Clarke established in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Here are a couple of my favorite lines from the book as teasers:
“…this was a deep-rooted place, where the bones of the dead lay crowded a hundred generations deep in the ground.” (pg 336)
“The crazies are the ones who think they understand it all.” (pg 104) ...more
It is not an accident that I am only now getting to this trilogy. Though I enjoyed The Light of Other Days, that collaboration felt primarily like aIt is not an accident that I am only now getting to this trilogy. Though I enjoyed The Light of Other Days, that collaboration felt primarily like a sexed up re-exploration of themes Arthur C. Clarke explored more poignantly in his masterpiece Childhood’s End. Then I recently enjoyed a short story Baxter authored using Clarke's ideas. Realizing I liked Baxter’s writing style on its own merits, I decided to give the Time Odyssey trilogy a go.
The mixing of different historical periods is fascinating. Mystery builds as the ensemble hypothesizes about the possible reasons why space and time have been rearranged in Rubik’s Cube fashion. Also, there is a richness to this book’s narrative that I grant is often lacking in Clarke’s writing. However, Baxter’s copious insertion of historical research periodically bogs down the story. And here I think this novel could have benefited from some of the leanness of Clarke’s style.
Easily making up for the above criticism is the authors’ clever exploration of how ancient cultures might view modern people and technology. I’ll simply say that when Russian cosmonauts come in contact with Genghis Kahn’s Mongol warriors, the latter are not universally wowed by space-age technology. In general, I enjoy Mr. Baxter’s ability to take Arthur C. Clarke’s decades-old scientific notions and revamp them via the best and most tantalizing research of the early 21st century. This is not a parasitic spin-off (as I feared it might be).
Lastly, I enjoyed many instances of homage to 2001 A Space Odyssey, especially late in the book. For me, there is a sense of home in Clarke’s far-reaching themes regarding time, space and mind. These themes are at once both sobering and inspiring. While Time's Eye seems unquestionably Baxter’s work, and it is very good, his greatest accomplishment is adeptly weaving his style with the core ideas and values of Clarke’s Space Odyssey series. I am looking forward to continuing on to part two of this trilogy. ...more
The title of this book, excellent for marketing purposes I'm sure, is misleading. Simon Winchester's book is not just about the volcano, nor is it jusThe title of this book, excellent for marketing purposes I'm sure, is misleading. Simon Winchester's book is not just about the volcano, nor is it just about the day of the infamous eruption. On the contrary, this book is vast in scope, delving into long discussions of the history, zoology, geography, and geology of the entire region surrounding Krakatoa. To put it bluntly, if what you are hoping for is some gritty disaster porn, this ain't the book for you.
Mr. Winchester does work to make this volume accessible to the casual reader. So don't mistake my above criticism as an assertion that this is a science textbook. It's not. Rather, Winchester is interested in showing how everything from plate tectonics to colonial politics played into the first major volcano eruption to be covered through a form of mass media--the telegraph. One of the most interesting sections demonstrates unmistakably how studies of the origin of species inadvertantly paved the way to discovering plate tectonics.
It is connections like the above, made through generalism and interdisciplinary study, that are the heart and soul of this book. If that sounds interesting, grab a copy and start reading. If it doesn't sound interesting at first, I still recommend giving this book a try. Depending on your interests, some chapters will grab stronger than others. That was my experience. But when I climbed to the top of a cinder cone in the final chapter, I felt like my reading time had been very well spent. ...more
It didn’t help that I started reading The Shining just as the biggest storm of winter was hitting. Nor did it help that I live alone and it often getsIt didn’t help that I started reading The Shining just as the biggest storm of winter was hitting. Nor did it help that I live alone and it often gets quiet. And it certainly did not help that, like the character Jack, I’m a moody writer. Or, as author Stephen King might suggest, these factors helped immensely! Suffice it to say that by 200 pages into The Shining, I was thoroughly spooked and sweating emotion.
The central character of The Shining is Danny, a little boy surrounded by the haunting Rocky Mountains. In this colossal setting, Danny is utterly dependent on parents who themselves navigate a precarious existence. When I was Danny’s age, I lived in Colorado and spent a good deal of time in the mountains with my mom and dad. Like Danny, I was intensely close to my parents. For these reasons, I found the first third of The Shining spellbinding.
Novels are at their best when you just sink into them. And I did with this one. It isn’t that King’s writing is especially masterful. Though, I do find him far better at characterization than some give him credit for. Rather, with The Shining King just happened to press all the right buttons with me. When Jack, Wendy and Danny stood alone on the porch of the Overlook Hotel, watching the last car drive off down the mountain, I was right there with them. In fact, I found it quite emotional.
King succeeds marvelously in the first act of this book, depicting stark human weakness as it appears to the mind of a thoughtful little boy. Happily, one of the dividends I received from reading The Shining was a renewed gratitude for my parents. Only in my 30s have I begun to comprehend how hard they must have worked to provide me an early childhood that truly was charmed.
Still, once the forlorn trio is confined to the highly fictional Overlook Hotel, the story becomes mostly about spooky horror devices. Here I felt my infatuation with The Shining wane. The novel began to feel unnecessarily drawn out. Passages of introspection increasingly seemed overstated and redundant in the context of a conventional horror mill. It remained entertaining but seemed far less special than the first third of the book.
If you are considering trying Stephen King out, I wouldn’t start with The Shining. But if you’ve read other King novels and enjoyed them, I wouldn’t miss this one. As King states in his Introduction, this novel represented a critical point in his career—the moment when he decided to take his writing beyond mere “funhouse” fiction. As he puts it, the “truth is that monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.”...more
This is the latest in a line of graphic novels/anthologies that I've read because my public library put them on display, and well…comic book covers haThis is the latest in a line of graphic novels/anthologies that I've read because my public library put them on display, and well…comic book covers have a hypnotic effect on me. In terms of art, I thought this volume was fantastic. The colors and shadows set a powerful mood, which offsets in great part the lack of expression on the protagonist’s face. Why are deific entities always so stoic?
Along the way, the hero/anti-hero, whatever he is, has some interesting showdowns with figures a bit darker than he is. That being said, I was never really gripped by this tale of a pseudo-deity who breaks a long imprisonment only to find that his favorite knickknacks, which give him power, have been sold/stolen and used to cause far worse nightmares than he would have. Mr. Sandman, thank you no. I’ll drum up my own dream. ...more
I had high hopes for this novel. I enjoyed Ben Bova’s Mars a lot. Given the real life Cassini Space Probe is currently wowing NASA and the public wI had high hopes for this novel. I enjoyed Ben Bova’s Mars a lot. Given the real life Cassini Space Probe is currently wowing NASA and the public with its scientific exploration of Saturn and its moons, I was primed to relish this book. Unfortunately, I found most of it dry, plodding, and almost wholly unconcerned with the moon Titan. Much of the novel takes place in Goddard, a space vehicle reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama, though this one is manmade. Mr. Bova stirs up a great deal of political intrigue, but I found myself trapped in the orbiting vessel, wanting to get out and explore Titan more. It just felt so ordinary. Moreover, I struggled to make connections to any of the characters.
The above gripes said, I persisted in reading the entire book. And if I was rating just the last 100 pages, I might give this novel 5 stars. The central technological device Mr. Bova drives the plot with is nanotechnology. For much of the novel we just get glimpses of the possible applications of this very real science if we ever master it. This could happen in our lifetime. When a major a character makes a connection between nanotechnology and problems on Titan the novel kicks into high gear. I couldn’t put it down for the last 70+ pages.
I believe I will give Mr. Bova’s novels another chance. His broader themes remind me of my favorite sci-fi author, Mr. Clarke--albeit with a more business-like writing style. Perhaps because of the dry plot and self-centered characters, I didn’t find much in this novel that felt special or memorable. ...more
Every few months--without fail--I get a hankering to read a Willa Cather novel. I find myself wanting to visit this imaginary porch in my mind that loEvery few months--without fail--I get a hankering to read a Willa Cather novel. I find myself wanting to visit this imaginary porch in my mind that looks out onto a field of Nebraskan grass. I picture myself stepping up onto the porch and sitting down in a swing. Willa walks out onto the porch, smiles, sits down, and tells me a tale. That's what I picture in my head every time I pick up a Cather story.
O Pioneers! took firm hold of me from the first page, which is not to say I couldn't put the book down. On the contrary, I read it at a fairly easygoing pace. Without dragging or getting too indulgent in introspection, Cather offers up a small ensemble of realistic characters and highly detailed situations. Think of important conversations you've had in life, unexpected moments when you realized you were saying the most important thing you'd ever said to a friend or relative. This novel is full of such moments.
This novel was on its way to becoming my favorite Willa Cather work. However, late in the story the protagonist Alexandra makes a decision I found flabbergasting. It's not a physical choice, rather it's a choice of attitude about a tragedy that occurs. It sometimes happens, especially in a novel, that you think you know a character. After all, you've spent weeks and hundreds of pages observing them in intimate detail. But then they do or think something that surprises you in an unpleasant way. It is not that I found Alexandra's choice unjustified. I just felt it was dubious, in the same way that friends sometimes make choices we understand but cannot get behind.
In any case, the above development didn't ruin the novel for me. Cather ties things off in an effective and meaningful fashion. I recommend this as essential reading for people who've read other Cather novels. And if you are considering trying her out, this novel is an excellent one to start with. ...more
Three compilations in, I continue to enjoy this ongoing series about iconic fable characters trying to navigate the present day. They live, love, andThree compilations in, I continue to enjoy this ongoing series about iconic fable characters trying to navigate the present day. They live, love, and betray each other in the process. As with the first volume, Fables Legends in Exile, I felt this volume had a lot of humor to offer alongside the frequent action and conspiracy sequences. The relationship between Snow White and Bigby (Big Bad Wolf) deepens, but also sometimes appears as a comedy of errors. I found it very entertaining while also being intelligent.
It's important to keep in mind this is a compilation. Read as a cohesive work, it appears to suffer from a major anti-climax. The final tale is a rather forgettable retrospective on how a certain group of small folks made it into modern times. It's amusing, but in both story and art it is noticably less intricate and stimulating than the bulk of this volume. Overall though, this is great stuff. ...more
This is my second Fables anthology. I’m doing them in order. I loved the first one, Legends in Exile, which played out a delightfully witty and inteThis is my second Fables anthology. I’m doing them in order. I loved the first one, Legends in Exile, which played out a delightfully witty and intelligent murder mystery while adeptly satirizing and celebrating the origins of fable icons like Snow White. In this second collection, I came away with a sort of mildly disappointed malaise, not unlike the first time I saw Ghostbusters 2.
Not being a graphics novel expert, the only strong criticism I can lay at this book's feat is that it just wasn’t as funny as its predecessor. A second reading would probably uncover more nuance and wit in the way the characters inclusion and rivalry. However, this felt like an all too ordinary story of strife and insurrection within a fenced community. The action sequences were done well. And I did like the way the makers took Snow White and Red Rose’s sisterly relationship up a notch. They struck me as fully realized characters with strengths and weaknesses.
I wouldn’t recommend starting an exploration of the Fables universe via this anthology. However, it’s an entertaining follow-up to the original. ...more
My public library has been displaying graphic novels in the worst possible place, above the reference shelves adjacent to the water fountain. This isMy public library has been displaying graphic novels in the worst possible place, above the reference shelves adjacent to the water fountain. This is the second graphic novel I have read in as many weeks as a result of that “Point of Purchase” approach to circulation. Happily, I am 2 for 2 on enjoying such impulse borrowing.
I didn’t fall in love with Local. I thought I might. It has a loner hitting the open road. She’s a survivor. She’s cute. She goes cross country and meets quirky people. What is more, unlike Alan Moore fare, the dialogue is sparing. The creators let the artwork tell most of the story. Still, despite some clever twists, the themes of this piece never rose too far above ordinary.
My chief disappointment is that I wanted the creators to make a stronger justification for the towns they had Megan visit. One of the selling points of this book is that each chapter takes place in a different town. That’s why I chose this gritty story over the other gritty covers on display at the library. Truthfully, most of these stories could have taken place in any town. For example, it didn’t matter that the Richmond Virginia chapter took place in Richmond. By late in my reading, this novel was on its way to only getting three stars.
Then I read the final chapter. And for several dialogue-free frames, the story became all about the protagonist hiking through Vermont, a state I’ve spent time in. It was a mesmerizing section that took me in, both for its beauty and direct contribution to the plot. Four stars. The story went from good to great when it took me somewhere. ...more
If you see a comic book frame with a formerly straw-housed pig crashed out on the couch of a certain big bad wolf’s studio apartment, hungover and surIf you see a comic book frame with a formerly straw-housed pig crashed out on the couch of a certain big bad wolf’s studio apartment, hungover and surrounded by beer cans, and you don’t laugh…you need to check your pulse.
Last year on a whim, I grabbed a random monthly issue of Fables at my local comic book store to try it out. I found it witty and sexy, but could tell that starting somewhere in the middle of the serial storyline was undercutting my enjoyment. Then I came across this modest-sized volume on display at my public library. It wound up being a fun Sunday evening read.
Taking old fable icons and dropping them in contemporary New York City is a great premise. Updating fairytales, like updating Shakespeare, is a thriving genre. What I enjoyed most about this volume was the dialogue. The characters spoke with flare, but rarely if ever seemed mechanical or overdone. This served the detective storyline well, as the Wolf turned gumshoe detective investigated a possible abduction/murder in the fable community.
This volume contains “For Mature Readers” content (read “R-rated”). Happily, the profanity was frequent but not excessive. And the sex was sexy, but not raunchy hardcore. I enjoyed many a laugh, and found myself equally engrossed by the mystery storyline. I expect to visit other volumes of this series. ...more
Hornbein's book, published by The Mountaineers Books, gives a technical account of pioneering a new route to the summit. The first third of the book seemed bogged down in logistics. I would imagine it's engrossing stuff for serious mountaineers, but for layman like me, it's harder to find intellectual purchase in these chapters.
This is not to say that I found this book boring or inhuman. Hornbein adeptly constructs his own layered identity as the protagonist. He starts out as a cool customer, almost disinterested with this large, premiere American expedition in 1963. Yet as the story unfolds, his deep desire to conquer the mysterious ridge begins bubbling to the surface.
Hornbein paints with a fine stroke, both in describing the landscape and the climbers. He and his climbing partner Willi Unsoeld become a multi-faceted duo, at once supporting and competing with each other as they belay up and down the ice and rock. This offers more than a few moments of laugh-out-loud humor to balance out the tension.
Hornbein ends the book on a paradoxical note, questioning the merits of an unquestionably successful expedition. It's a perfectly justified conclusion. Still, it felt like a hasty wrap-up to a surprisingly deep and cerebral work. I also felt other writers have done more justice to the Sherpas, an ethnic group who largely come off as simple-minded employees here. Similarly, Hornbein's wife at home is relegated to the status of emotional motif rather than being an integral character.
In any case, Hornbein climbed the mountain. I sure haven't. And he tells the story with a deliberateness and nuance that I really respected. I highly recommend this book to readers interested in a deeper exploration of climbing Everest, especially as relates to the internal politics of large national expedition. ...more
Oh my goodness. Thanks to NEBQ for placing this one in my path. I read it as a teenager but had forgotten the title in the intervening years. As I remOh my goodness. Thanks to NEBQ for placing this one in my path. I read it as a teenager but had forgotten the title in the intervening years. As I remember it, I found the book very interesting. The "worst nightmare" plot pretty much ensured that would be the case. I'm not sure what I would think about it today, but obviously it was memorable on some level. ...more
One of the most frightening experiences I have ever had began during a visit to Bangor, Maine--Stephen King’s hometown. While serving as a missionary,One of the most frightening experiences I have ever had began during a visit to Bangor, Maine--Stephen King’s hometown. While serving as a missionary, I participated in the Mormon equivalent of an exorcism. To this day I don’t know if it was real or merely psychogenic. I lean toward the latter, but I don’t care. It was the most spooked I had ever been in my life. The feeling of terror was genuine. And it happened one night in Maine.
I’m inclined to take the novel It personally, fantasy and all. Stephen King novels set in Maine have become a means for me to revisit the state and cope with the odd homesickness I feel for it. Through adventure, brotherhood, and trauma, I bonded strongly with the place. Maine, with its gritty history and quirky culture, is cavernous enough to hold the tallest tale a horror-smith like King can craft.
Say what you want about genre fiction, horror novels in particular, It is a masterwork. At the core of this vast and elaborate work is a traditional tale of children preyed on by a monster. Yet given the grand scope, the compliment of fully-realized main characters, along with a multi-generational back story, this novel is a worthy entry in the pantheon of epics. The book is also a wonderful piece of Americana. Though it has plenty of pulp, It is not just pulp fiction.
It is the first King novel where I chose to read at a slower pace, especially during the middle third. I felt speeding through that section would be cheating myself. Actually, the novel’s structure encourages moderately paced reading. Past and present plotlines alternate section by section. The story arc is further segmented with colorful Interludes that develop the town of Derry as a character. Each of these building blocks functions almost as an independent story. At all times, memory functions as revelation.
Ultimately the novel triumphed by getting me to fall in love with the chamber-sized ensemble who served as a collective protagonist. Even as these children ritualistically approached the monster’s lair, they and I found moments worth giggling about. Memories of my childhood surfaced as well, moments fraught with sharp pain and jarring embarrassment, moments that I and my buddies countered with giggling.
Still, It is a work of horror, replete with nauseating brutality and messy sexuality. I would have reached the last page sooner, but there were several times I had to take the night off. However, for all its abrasiveness It also champions the pure aspects of childhood. Youthful essence wields power not only against a monster, but against the corrupting forces of aging and settling. In Its mythology, if not theology, full surrender to adulthood is apostasy.
Truly this novel is about calling up the past, youth specifically, to achieve something magical and redemptive. It inspired me to take a similarly troubling journey into memory. As I worked on an earlier draft of this post, I faced a troubling moment where I started to question the accuracy of my reminiscence of being young and terrified in Maine. After all, my brief time there is now some 16 years distant. (shit) Did my spiritual adventure in Maine really happen in the sequence and locations I supposed? Or am I only a common blogger absentmindedly rearranging the past in order to link himself to a famous writer? I scurried out to my car and grabbed a road atlas to check the geography. The towns I remembered being in and the sequence in which I visited them still line up. I did have my own It-like experience in Maine. I’ll spare the details for now and simply say, read It. It’s a much better tale than mine.
While vying with a monster, King’s circle of heroes also duels with their memories. As the narrator suggests, memory can be a curse. The price of remembering is vulnerability to the worst influences we tried to leave behind by growing up. If memory has any value then, perhaps it derives from its ability to refill us with the pure vitality that childhood alone seems to hold. That energy, that light, which this novel so ably taps into, is worth preserving with vigilance. As the novelist proclaims, “All the rest is darkness.” ...more
Can I say this poem is the theological equivalent of Rocky 2 without being profane? First off, I liked Rocky 2. It was exciting and triumphant, as oppCan I say this poem is the theological equivalent of Rocky 2 without being profane? First off, I liked Rocky 2. It was exciting and triumphant, as opposed to the original which was cerebral and bitter-sweet. After the classic original, there is some merit in a follow-up piece that lets the good guy finally deliver that knock-out punch we’ve hungered for. Such is Milton’s Paradise Regained.
There are some great moments in this piece, which centers on Jesus Christ’s 40 days fasting in the wilderness, and the subsequent temptation/testing by Lucifer. Milton effectively expands the concise New Testament account, making it epic without sacrificing any thematic clarity. The title says it all. On the flip side, this work indulges in listing, a poetic practice where literary references are literally listed in rapid succession without any attempt at exploring them in depth. It doesn’t make for great story-telling, even as it testifies to Milton’s great mind.
Once again Satan proves himself to be the subtle and crafty foe of Paradise Lost, at least early on. By the 15th round…I mean Book Four…he’s getting his intellectual butt kicked by the Son of Man. Some of Christ’s rebukes are real zingers, and they made for engaging reading. Notwithstanding, I find myself in league with the large body of scholars who consider this a lesser work. Still, if you’ve read and enjoyed Paradise Lost, don’t miss the feel-good sequel. ...more
Michael J Fox has tackled Parkinson’s disease with the same tenacity and adeptness that he first applied to comedic acting on Family Ties. Though I loMichael J Fox has tackled Parkinson’s disease with the same tenacity and adeptness that he first applied to comedic acting on Family Ties. Though I loved his first memoir Lucky Man, I didn’t rush out and grab a copy of this new book. Now, having just finished listening to the abridged audio recording while road tripping, I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
This new book, far from being rehash or forced fluff, takes the reader into the adventure Mr. Fox has been on since going public with his condition. In the intervening years, he has risen to the challenge of advocating for fellow sufferers of Parkinson’s, and he has worked hard in the political arena in relation to stem cell research legislation. By the second CD, I found myself thoroughly engrossed with the process of setting up a research foundation and navigating the heated political climate. All the while, I was captivated again by Michael J Fox’s infectious brand of pragmatic optimism.
The second half of this book focused more on Mr. Fox’s personal journey, especially his marriage and fatherhood. There are delightful chapters including many humorous reflections. Especially thought-provoking for me were sections on his interactions with Muhammad Ali, Bishop Carlton Pearson, and a feel-good recounting of his informal adoption into Reformed Judaism via his marriage. Most of what I know about Parkinson’s, which isn’t much, I learned from Michael J. Fox’s memoirs thus far. Rich in inspirational quality, this book has only increased my admiration for him. ...more
There are three reasons that I purchased this copy of the U.S. Constitution:
1) I have a deep and abiding love for democracy in general, and my countryThere are three reasons that I purchased this copy of the U.S. Constitution:
1) I have a deep and abiding love for democracy in general, and my country in specific. 2) With midterm elections coming up, and with Tea Party frenzy increasing, I felt a personal responsibility to refresh my knowledge of the nation’s most important governing document. 3) I had three bucks left to kill on a Barnes and Noble Gift Card.
The U.S. Constitution is certainly a good read. And I was way overdue to read the original text in its entirety. This edition, offering supplementary notes, bridges the gap between contemporary English and the legalese used by our Founding Fathers. I found the explanatory material helpful, to the point, and delightfully brief. Honestly, I wasn’t looking to make a deep study of this document. I simply wanted a user-friendly refresher course. That is precisely what this edition provided.
The explanatory notes offered historical context, a sense of what the framers were attempting to create/protect in each clause, and a thumbnail sketch of how specific sections have been revisited in the courts over the last two-plus centuries. I highly recommend purchasing this edition. And I am ashamed to admit only realizing after this read that the U.S. Constitution is not a long document. With an edition like this one the Constitution is easily reviewed-- especially during election years, when we the people help shape the nation’s future.
I’ll be reading this again from time to time. ...more
Whether being made or broken, connections play a critical role in Where the Dog Star Never Glows. Each of Tara L. Masih’s stories in this collection cWhether being made or broken, connections play a critical role in Where the Dog Star Never Glows. Each of Tara L. Masih’s stories in this collection can be defined by their linkage of the protagonist to other people or to places. But it is not as simple as making a love connection and living happily ever after. Some of the protagonists do seek a better half. Others seem cursed by connections that have grown stale and bothersome. In every case the result is engaging storytelling, rich in mood and profundity.
Tara is someone I have been fortunate enough to connect with on Goodreads. Still, reading this book was my first experience with her fiction writing. (Her reviews on Goodreads are also worth checking out). The prose benefits from a lyrical quality and the author’s flare for visual motifs. These add meaning without beating the reader over the head or becoming trite. To avoid any risk of spoilers, I’ll say without explanation that I particularly enjoyed when frogs could be heard nearby or lizards scattered.
I tended to enjoy the fuller pieces. I say fuller instead of longer because none of these stories is long, even by short story standards. “The Guide, The Tourist, and the Animal Doctor” is a great choice to start the collection, with its likable protagonist and romanticism. “Asylum”, which charts the threat of mental illness over three generations of women, strikes a compelling balance between suspense and meditation. And the well-titled “Delight” is, well...delightful. Kudos for the editorial choice to begin and end the book with tales and characters the reader can root for wholeheartedly.
If I have any gripe, it is that I felt some of the stories deserved to be more developed. That is as much a wish as a criticism. Each story was enjoyable, but some of the shortest ones were over too quickly for me. The brevity is clearly deliberate and the author executes the material with deftness. Like all good writing, the prose expects the reader to show up and do some thinking. This makes for better reading than having the meaning spoonfed. I will happily buy more of this author’s work in the future. It is a joy to connect with her stories....more
Though not a Catholic, I've always retained an interest in the Mass. Usually at least once a year, on no particular Sunday, I'll go to a Roman CatholiThough not a Catholic, I've always retained an interest in the Mass. Usually at least once a year, on no particular Sunday, I'll go to a Roman Catholic service. More generally, I enjoy the exercise of exploring different faith perspectives. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, by the late writer and monk Thomas Merton, has been a worthwhile opportunity to do that.
Merton's book, a collection of notes, reflections, and arguments, charts a thoughtful course through the early 60s. From his cloistered residence in a Kentucky monastery, Merton finds himself a tentative enthusiast of President Kennedy, an ardent voice against an increasingly inevitable war, and a soul echoing the worldwide fears of nuclear holocaust. As a contemplative, Merton seems to enjoy uncovering nuggets of paradox and irony, both in his native faith, and the broader national and world cultures. His observations are generally balanced and astute, often bold, and rarely dry or monotone.
The book has its limitations though. My reading experience, not coincidentally, felt like leafing through a long lost diary, sometimes struggling to grasp various passages without adequate background on the writer's life and learning. Merton also spends many pages musing on the writings of a range of philosophers. Not being well-versed in those works, several of Merton's more nuanced assertions were lost on me. Likely, this book is best enjoyed by people who have already read other works by Thomas Merton such as The Seven Storey Mountain.
Still, I found Merton's voice overwhelmingly engaging. For me the greatest treasures of this work were the interspersed vignettes of daily monastic life. In these, Merton steps away from philosophical discourse and simply focuses on recreating precious moments of his secluded existence in the Kentucky countryside. He captures the mystical ambiance of the rising sun, the call of nearby birds and the starry night sky. He reveals the monastery to be a place with a good deal of intellectual diversity, debate, and humor. To his credit, Merton strikes a decidedly ecumenical tone most of the time.
As far as recommending this work, I do so with a caveat: this book is probably not a good point at which to start a survey of monastic thought; however, it is a wonderful place to stop by. I wish I'd met this man. And I can certainly see myself picking up more of Thomas Merton's writing in the future.
As a sample, here were two of my favorite excerpts:
"Today men are looking for Antichrists: for if the enemy is AntiChrist that makes everything much simpler....One can hate with a good conscience."
"The rooms which I hardly notice during the day seem, when they are empty, to have something very urgent to say, so that I want to linger in them and listen."
DISCLAIMER: For purposes of reviewing, a complimentary copy of this book was provided to the reader as part of the Goodreads Giveaway program. ...more
For only the second time in my life I have intentionally bought a coffee table book. (By way of update and confession, I have yet to buy the table.) EFor only the second time in my life I have intentionally bought a coffee table book. (By way of update and confession, I have yet to buy the table.) Everest: Mountain Without Mercy is a companion book to the IMAX film Everest. I also own and love that film. This book is an excellent supplement and a great work in its own right.
Broughton Coburn is the primary author of this National Geographic Society publication. But there are supplementary articles and essays by scientific and medical experts discussing everything from geology to high-altitude physiology. Each of them covers a specific facet of climbing Everest that needs to be understood if the endeavor is to be fully appreciated. However, the real stars of this work are the photos and the quotations from climbers.
This is a big book but not a long book. It can be read cover to cover or leafed through with equal enjoyment. Having read several other volumes of Everest literature, I can say this one does justice to the conventions of the subject: East meets West; the trek to base camp; the grand geology of the Himalaya; the personality of the mountain; the tragedy of lost life; and the triumph of reaching the summit. If this is a subject you have yet to explore, or are considering revisiting, Everest: Mountain Without Mercy is a wonderful offering. ...more
Despite loving every Eugene O’Neill play I’ve ever read or seen on film, I have never seen any of his plays live. And though The Iceman Cometh is myDespite loving every Eugene O’Neill play I’ve ever read or seen on film, I have never seen any of his plays live. And though The Iceman Cometh is my favorite O’Neill play, The Hairy Ape is the work I most want to see done by a cast of professional actors. First off, as with Moby Dick and The Godfather, on one level this is a man’s man story. And I like that. Of course, the themes have broader applicability. Everyone can get something out of this tale of industrial strife and social stratification. Lastly, in contrast to the staid moroseness of his later works, O’Neill supercharges this play with virility and righteous indignation that flows freely. This a great play to read. I hope to see it in performance one day. ...more
This is only the second Stephen King novel I’ve read. I had one simple expectation: entertain me.
Like the protagonist of Under the Dome, King strikesThis is only the second Stephen King novel I’ve read. I had one simple expectation: entertain me.
Like the protagonist of Under the Dome, King strikes me as an excellent short order cook. Serving up a full plate of cliffhangers, a side of foreshadows and some juicy revelations, King kept me well-satisfied. I had a lot of fun chomping down on the kettle corn-like helpings of pop culture wit. The antics of various small-town ne’er-do-wells offered up sweets in the form of much-appreciated humor. Even the most sinister characters provided surprising moments of humanity, fleeting though they were. It all adds up to a story with a lot of flavor.
Of course this is Stephen King fiction, so the story contains horrific episodes of brutal violence, some of them sexual. As long as a story is good--and this one is--I don’t have a real problem with that. Also, King wisely keeps the story almost exclusively under the mysterious dome, providing a potent sense of how the trapped townsfolk feel. He also plays on today’s reality TV mentality, so that I noticed myself rooting for some characters to survive and others to…well, not.
I found the ultimate climax of the plot very satisfying, both for its humanity and its blunt assessment of humans. And I finally had that experience I’ve heard Stephen King fans describe. There were passages where I was absolutely gripped by the action, where I found myself feeling the incredible tension the characters did. Down to the finish, I was as riveted by Under the Dome as any film could ever hope to thrill me. My singular expectation, to be entertained, was met and exceeded. ...more
“Nature had won again: the labor of thousands was forgotten.” –Chapter 14
The title, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas
“Nature had won again: the labor of thousands was forgotten.” –Chapter 14
The title, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas, rings a bit schmaltzy to me now that I’ve read the entire book. But it’s certainly appropriate. Having stood on a giant dune overlooking Lake Superior, I know what it’s like to be mesmerized by these freshwater colossi.
This book is a more personal journey than I expected. It benefits from a journalistic depth, yet the author’s seaborne reflections are the heart of the work. Put another way, the lakes become a canvas for the sailor’s existential sketches. This approach works incredibly well. By alternating between passages of interesting historical research and engrossing personal narrative, author Jerry Dennis has produced an accessible and engaging work for readers wishing to experience the Great Lakes. ...more
These days, there is nothing like a quick 200-page adventure book to fill up a quiet weekend and motivate me to get outside more. This is my fourth MtThese days, there is nothing like a quick 200-page adventure book to fill up a quiet weekend and motivate me to get outside more. This is my fourth Mt. Everest book, a subgenre that has captivated me in recent weeks. This is also my least favorite.
When reading about Mt Everest, you quickly notice that one ghost has risen to preeminence: George S. Mallory. He is to mountain climbing what Amelia Earhart is to aviation, an early pioneer who vanished in pursuit of a lofty goal, and whose fame only increased with time and rumor. Author, and legendary climber, Reinhold Messner, dedicates this book to reconsidering Mallory’s legend in the context of modern climbing. His thesis remains that Mallory’s unsuccessful climb, in spite of his demise, remains the greatest feat ever accomplished on Everest.
For me, the best part of this book is the first section, which details the 1921 British reconnaissance expedition to Everest. This was long before establishment of well-tested routes that climbers follow today. And Messner wisely lets Mallory’s personal correspondence do the talking. We meet the mountain as Mallory did--a vast, towering and as yet unexplored mystery.
However, the longer the book goes, the hastier it feels. Messner employs fictional narration to imagine what Mallory might say if he spoke to us from beyond the grave. Some of these fictional interjections are thought-provoking, others amount to redundancy and overstatement of material provided from other sources. Still, it adds up to a great introduction to one of Everest’s most mythical figures, the man who said he was going to climb Everest “because it is there.” ...more