Develops exciting, exotic new conceptions of plausible otherworld societies and intelligences; lampoons internet culture of the ancient past in ways tDevelops exciting, exotic new conceptions of plausible otherworld societies and intelligences; lampoons internet culture of the ancient past in ways that still resonate today; sets in motion a plot that works on multiple scales with a great big ensemble cast; and, in the final acts, devolves into a more or less arbitrary series of events that are "indistinguishable from magic," but not in a good way. As art, a noble failure; as space opera, a real rip-snorter....more
I read this in 1994; my sister sent me a copy when I was laid up for a while. I thought it was hilarious. Rereading it in 2015, it feels a bad slappedI read this in 1994; my sister sent me a copy when I was laid up for a while. I thought it was hilarious. Rereading it in 2015, it feels a bad slapped together. It's either lesser Hiaasen, or Hiaasen works better on audio than on the page....more
Papers I would write on Mansfield Park, if I were a literature student, or if a literature student paid me enough:
1: One assumes from the text that AuPapers I would write on Mansfield Park, if I were a literature student, or if a literature student paid me enough:
1: One assumes from the text that Austen sincerely believes that the theatrical performance planned by the young people is a serious lapse of moral judgment, and this (very reasonable) assumption shapes the moral architecture of the novel. What happens if we made an improbable but certainly plausible assumption: Austen thinks that the theatrical performance is nothing remarkable, and that Edmund and Sir Thomas are just being great big prigs about the whole thing? This would radically change our sense of who and what is good and bad, just and unjust, right and wrong.
2: From the time she says "no thanks" to her departure for Portsmouth, Fanny lives through the long central section of the Book of Job. Which is to say, she is successively visited in her afflictions by her so-called friends, each of whom tells her through many permutations of logic and at excruciating length that everything is her own damn fault. Since Jane was well up on her Bible, she could not have not noticed this parallel. How far could we go in finding other parallels between Job and Mansfield Park?
3: More than Austen's other novels, Mansfield Park has the feel of an author moving characters around on a chessboard. Could one create an actual allegorical game of chess that paralleled the action of Mansfield Park? For the pawns, we much infer the actions of the just-barely visible servants, of course.
By the by -- my version in 2015 was an audiobook superbly read by Juliet Stevenson.
I read these many years ago, and remembered thinking they were a lot better than I expected. This time, they just seem really clunky. Chesterton seemsI read these many years ago, and remembered thinking they were a lot better than I expected. This time, they just seem really clunky. Chesterton seems to hold just about everything and everyone in weary contempt, which might have been great fun when his cultural referents were current but is rather tiresome now. ...more
An overcooked potboiler: lots of wuthering, not many heights.
For instance: “Be with me always - take any form - drive me mad! only do not leave me inAn overcooked potboiler: lots of wuthering, not many heights.
For instance: “Be with me always - take any form - drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!”
I don't remember what I thought reading it in college, but it's a crashing disappointment this go-round.
n.b. It's possible I'm penalizing it for letting down the Brontë brand, and the 19th century novel in general....more
My edition leaves out the subtitle and is just called "Tom Swift and His Big Dirigible," but since everyone natters on about how damn dry the forest iMy edition leaves out the subtitle and is just called "Tom Swift and His Big Dirigible," but since everyone natters on about how damn dry the forest is the word go, the subtitle isn't really much of a spoiler. I have a small collection of hard-cover Tom Swifts, probably first editions. They seemed impossibly ancient when I first read them, although this one was only 45 years old at the time. Now it's pushing 85, which doesn't seem so old. It must have been printed on the most acidic paper available, though, because the pages are browned and brittle; it SEEMS like a much older book than it actually is.
How does the writing hold up? Not as bad as I expected! "Victor Appleton," if that was a real person, was clearly a very capable writer! And, I'm guessing he cranked this stuff out at least a chapter a day, basically sending first drafts in to the publisher, where a red pencil was ceremonially waved over the manuscript before it was set to type. The plotting, characterization, and dialog are all perfectly wooden, but no worse than in most mass-produced genre fiction down the ages.
The two servants of color who hate each other because they compete for the love of Master or "Massa" Swift are a bit much to swallow, and should have been in 1930, and the dialect writing for the Swift family's faithful "Negro" is a national embarrassment. Points to the Appleton machine, I guess, for including two sympathetic Italian characters to counterbalance the evil Italian character. And, it is interesting in a young adult serial novel to see the author make gestures towards explaining how things work -- you actually come out of "Big Dirigible" with a sense of young Mr. Swift's management style, credit standing, and ability to weigh immediate profit against the possibility for publicity and relationship-building when putting together a contract.
Three stars was just sentimental -- these books are from my childhood. This book "was OK": two stars it is....more
A lot of people, even people who read classic novels, hate Vanity Fair. I have some theories as to why:
(1) It's a historical novel, making fun of theA lot of people, even people who read classic novels, hate Vanity Fair. I have some theories as to why:
(1) It's a historical novel, making fun of the world of the past. Since the past in which it was written and the past it is talking about have merged into a single distant past for the most part, it is hard for us to pick out the details.
(2) When we approach a Classic Text, we sometimes bring along a sense of anticipatory reverence that makes it hard to recognize wit. Thackeray's elegant sentences are, as often as not, ironic, sardonic, parodic, or just generally wise-assed in nature.
(3) Although "Vanity Fair" is saturated with sex and sexuality, it is discreet enough that you can miss the juicy bits if you're not looking for them. I did, the first time through, despite being old enough to know better.
(4) Thackeray has no intention of giving you a character to identify with. The "good" characters are way too good, and dopey, to be very sympathetic. You WANT to like Becky Sharp -- I do, anyway -- but Thackeray teases us with her like you'd tease a cat with string. He lets her be what we want her to be -- the clever and resourceful woman who's so bad she's good -- and then periodically has her do something so nasty that we lose her. After a while, it will seem like she's mellowed, but he will snatch her away again and again. He is messing with us.
(5) Honestly, the back half really is a bit bloated. Some trimming in the post-Waterloo section wouldn't have hurt.
It's a 19th century sex comedy! It's about the various forms of human superficiality and humbuggery! What's not to love, outside of items 1-5, above?
Eye-read in the early aughts; ear-read in summer 2013....more
The Devil went down to Moscow, he was looking for a soul to steal. Or was he? Bulgakov's Devil eludes our expectations of a Satanic presence, aSummary
The Devil went down to Moscow, he was looking for a soul to steal. Or was he? Bulgakov's Devil eludes our expectations of a Satanic presence, and although you can't exactly say that no one gets hurt during his visit, he seems much more prankish than traditionally evil. Like some kind of moral martial arts master, he delights in luring people into exposing their own petty vices and cruelties. He torments the wicked, in a way, but he seems more disappointed than delighted in their wickedness. This is not, apparently, your father's Satan.
A second plot woven through the book involves Pontius Pilate and somebody named Yeshua, who seems awfully familar but who also defies expectations. Is he who we think, or is he someone else entirely, or maybe both? Bulgakov gives us plenty of clues, but never enough to be certain about anything. He is messing with us, in really interesting ways.
The book was written and is set in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, a period that the annotator refers to, reasonably enough, as "The Terror." Bulgakov, who apparently had very low expectations that the book could ever be published (as it wasn't, until 1966, and even then in a censored abridgement), comments wryly throughout on the grotesque distortions of social life under Stalinism. From the opening pages, where a pompous editor corrects an inept poet at comical length for failing to properly establish the historical non-existance of Jesus Christ in his work, he attacks political correctness (the old-school Soviet version, of which the petty stuff we carp about today is but a triffling shadow). As the book procedes, he will take aim at communal housing, the use of assylums to incarcerate people with subversive opinions, pampered regime-sponsored writers, the petty corruption and mutual suspicion that pervade communist Moscow from top to bottom, and the disquieting tendency of people to disappear suddenly and without explanation. Since all of this is handled in a supernatural context -- remember, this is a story about the Devil -- the social critique is simultaneous disturbing, surreal, and very funny. In The Master and Margarita, everything disturbing is also comical, and everything that is funny is also sad.
When I started Master, Chance and d worried that I was jumping back into "heavy allegorical Soviet lit" and "dreary Russian authors" too soon after The Brothers Karamazov. I was worried about that too, but it was soon obvious that we could all relax. Bulgakov (at least when filtered through Burgin and O'Connor) writes beautifully, the allegory leavened by a sparkling humor and the dreariness of the social commentary rendered very palatable by the crazy weirdness that crops up wherever Satan and his retinue wander. And the weirdness is pretty sublime: women riding across the sky on the backs of priggish neighbors who have been transformed into flying pigs, women fighting over fancy clothing that later vanishes while they are wearing it in public; a witches' ball attended by dead evil doers who arrive as corpses falling down the chimney into a huge fireplace. Awesome. Bulgakov writes, basically, in the comic style I'm always trying for myself -- with an exagerated, playful formality, often about seemingly trivial things, with a cumulatively profound effect. Needless to say, he manages to be a whole lot funnier, and infinitely more profound, than I will ever be.
The structure of the book is quite odd, and contributes to your off-kilter sense of not knowing quite what to expect next. In general, things get increasingly more fantastic, even hallucinatory, as the book progresses. The twining of the main narrative with the Pontius Pilate sections, similarly, becomes stranger and more intricate the deeper in you go. The characters of the Master and Margarita have to be among the least dominant title characters in all of fiction, entering the action only in Chapter 13 (of 32) and never really stealing the stage from the Devil and his oddball companions (who, I should mention, include a giant black cat that talks, walks on its hind legs, and is if anything more mischevous than his boss). Margarita is a much more vivid and interesting character than The Master, incidently, the latter a Bulgakov-like writer with several apparently semi-autobiographical qualities.
Not exactly an easy read, The Master and Margarita is nevertheless entertaining and fun. If you can handle surreality and a certain dryness of tone -- if you like Saramago, or Eco, or Calvino, or Murakami, or any of those South American dudes -- I think you'll enjoy it. Worth reading in and of itself; secondarily an interesting and humane look into life under totalitarian rule during the darkest era of the Soviet state. ...more
Good Tintin, not great Tintin -- a very linear storyline, essentially one long trip. Some great large-panel illustrations: Tintin waking up from his nGood Tintin, not great Tintin -- a very linear storyline, essentially one long trip. Some great large-panel illustrations: Tintin waking up from his nightmare at the chessboard ("CHANG!") and the panorama of the wrecked airplane.
Realism doesn't really matter in Tintin, but interesting from an adult perspective: the intro establishes some mountaineering cred for Tintin, but what on earth is the Captain doing on vertical slopes? Also, the good mariner is really pushing the limit of his (hilarious?) alcoholism in this episode -- is that level of whiskey consumption even survivable?...more
Probably the worst of the Tintins from an adult perspective (although I loved it as much as all the others as a kid). It is interesting from a socioloProbably the worst of the Tintins from an adult perspective (although I loved it as much as all the others as a kid). It is interesting from a sociological perspective - "Europe imagines America" and all that - but doesn't have a ton of entertainment value. Even though it's a Tintin, I'm giving it two stars: it is merely "OK."
When I read the Tintins at 6 or 7, they seemed novelistic (although I wouldn't have used that word, of course) in their depth and mature pacing. As an adult, many are notable for their hyperactive leap from crisis to crisis, and "Tintin in America" is perhaps the worst offender along these lines. Compare with "The Castifiore Emerald," which is by comparison almost stately in its pacing....more