An adventurous buddy/road tale set in the teeming infinitude of colonial India. I was worried about it being ruined by Kipling’s colonialist paternali...moreAn adventurous buddy/road tale set in the teeming infinitude of colonial India. I was worried about it being ruined by Kipling’s colonialist paternalism, but it seems like, while in his head he was an imperialist, his heart was with the colonized. Beautifully and expansively told and described.(less)
This is a rare book where I couldn’t find a single sympathetic character, and yet I still liked it a lot. And shit, I look at Raskolnikov as a sympath...moreThis is a rare book where I couldn’t find a single sympathetic character, and yet I still liked it a lot. And shit, I look at Raskolnikov as a sympathetic character, if that’s any indication. No likable characters, foreknowledge of what’s going to happen in the end, and yet, it still managed to be compelling. The force of the narrative and the tangibility of the atmosphere pulled me along despite myself. I felt like taking a shower after every chapter, and yet I kept reading. Comparisons to Greek tragedy are apt. A lot of the characters there seem cold and brutal as well, and it’s similarly fatalistic and foreordained, but still oddly compelling in much the same way.(less)
This is hilarious, freewheeling, and very experimental and risque for its time. Plays fast and loose with narrative, self-reflexiveness, and even mixe...moreThis is hilarious, freewheeling, and very experimental and risque for its time. Plays fast and loose with narrative, self-reflexiveness, and even mixed-media, and is just loaded with bawdy innuendo, but is also very compassionate and humanistic. Think great satire in the tradition of Swift, and Twain, coupled with a confessional style a la Rousseau(only much more self-effacing than he, fortunately.) It’s a bit of a tough sled due to the archaic language and phrasing, but the screamingly funny bits every five pages or so make it worth slogging onward.(less)
For some reason, I’d never gotten around to reading any non-Catcher Salinger until recently, but then I read Nine Stories a couple of months ago, and...moreFor some reason, I’d never gotten around to reading any non-Catcher Salinger until recently, but then I read Nine Stories a couple of months ago, and a friend mentioned some parallels between this and The Royal Tenenbaums, so I thought I’d just continue the Salinger kick and see what it’s all about. So far it’s similar thematically and emotionally to Salinger’s other stuff, but perhaps a bit more subtle and gentle.
Upon finishing… it’s just alright. A few really great bits, but it doesn’t really hold together or go anywhere. Reminded me of Fathers and Sons in that way. Maybe I’m just not that fond of straight-up character sketches.(less)
I read this largely out of curiosity about what makes Obama tick. It’s not often that you get an unfiltered look at the mind and life of a man who is...moreI read this largely out of curiosity about what makes Obama tick. It’s not often that you get an unfiltered look at the mind and life of a man who is running for president, and he holds back very little here. I thought I got a very good sense not necessarily of who Obama is, but of his path to becoming the person he now is, and came away much more impressed than I was going in. You can tell he was young and uncertain when he wrote this, both from the occasional stylistic hiccup or overelaboration, and from the very real soul-searching he’s doing, but for all his uncertainty, he definitely had an unusual degree of purpose and perceptiveness even then.
The book is all about the search for identity and community in the face of fragmentation and alienation, both of which are very real battles for myself and many other young liberals, and thoughtful young Americans in general. This search for some sort of authentic community, and an authentic personal identity within said community was the driving force in his early life, as it has been in mine so far, and it was heartening to see that there is maybe a way to come out on the other side of that as a whole and formidable person with a satisfying role to play in a larger community.
I came away most impressed with his ability to empathize, his fair-mindedness, his pragmatic idealism, and his ability and willingness to grapple with and assimilate the many fractious parts of his identity and experience. The book deals much more frankly and heavily with race than I anticipated. From what I read here, I see that he hasn’t so much transcended race, as figured out a 3rd-way that acknowledges and grows out of his experiences as a black American, but refuses to be wholly defined or constrained by them. A way forward from identity and issue politics to a broader liberal/progressive outlook, in other words.
Something else I was impressed with was his sense of the importance of stories. His ability to tell his stories in a way that allows him to both figure out who he is, and reach out to others is vital. I think Kerry’s inability to or fear of telling his compelling and potentially resonant personal story about his experiences with Vietnam had a lot to do with his loss in ‘04, and I’m excited to see a candidate who can tell us compelling stories about who he is, who we are, and what we can strive to be as a country.(less)
3. Dawn Treader - Definitely my favorite read of the Narnia books as an adult. It has the bes...more1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
2. Prince Caspian
3. Dawn Treader - Definitely my favorite read of the Narnia books as an adult. It has the best wonder / delight / nobility to preaching / racism / sexism ratio of the lot. An abundance of the good things that made me fall in love with Narnia, and very few of the bad ones that sometimes make me regret that love as a critical reader. Also, adventure on the high seas, and lots of Reepicheep. 'Nuff said.
4. The Silver Chair - Continuing my post-movie Narnia revival with my 2nd-favorite of the series. This one has the most sense of good old=fashioned quest / adventure to me. Also, the best comic relief. Puddleglum is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. Reshpeckobiggle!
Perhaps the ultimate tale of growing up as a gifted, sensitive, hyperaware young person, dealing with feeling like an outsider as a result of such cir...morePerhaps the ultimate tale of growing up as a gifted, sensitive, hyperaware young person, dealing with feeling like an outsider as a result of such circumstances, and eventually embracing ones gifts and deciding to rely upon them, despite the slings and arrows. Much more readable than Ulysses or Finnegan… transcendent in some parts, delightfuly cheeky and irreverent in others, and always painfully innocent and sincere just below the surface. Packed with awe and wonder and a feeling of gathering mastery and self-discovery.(less)
**spoiler alert** I re-read this partly to figure out if I really love it as much as I thought I did(I do.) and also to sort of figure out why, since...more**spoiler alert** I re-read this partly to figure out if I really love it as much as I thought I did(I do.) and also to sort of figure out why, since it seems to be greater than the sum of its parts somehow. I'm still not exactly sure what the secret is, but I'll take a circuitous stab at it.
It incorporates a lot of elements that I love in other books: It's a bildungsroman and frame narrative(tons of other things I love.) It teaches me stuff and incorporates info-dumpy type elements, but not in a Neal Stephenson overbearingly expository sort of way... in a way that's integral to the characters and who they are(see Richard Powers.) It uses other cultural touchstones as sort of frameworks on which to hang shared meaning and around which to form identity, but not in a tossed-off and lazily referential sort of way(The difference between say, Murakami and Coupland, or Ghost World and Garden State is what I'm getting at here.) It's got a cracked and rather dry sense of humor. It employs a conversational style and a really distinctive voice(Vonnegut, but that's a double-edged sword because it also becomes what annoys me about him, and I was afraid that would be the case the second time through on this, but it wasn't). It's tangential and jumps around and weaves together narratives, but not to the point of it being ticcy and distracting about it.
I think where it really excels is in characterization and in short set-piece storytelling, and most of all in the intersection of those two. The various juvenile-adventure-style tales she tells to introduce and flesh out Ludo's surrogate-father candidates are just wonderful; they work both as character sketches and as adventures and are sad and hopeful and beautiful and true. And the way she skates right on the edge of suspension of disbelief when it comes to drawing out Ludo's character is impressive too. Somehow she manages to make him believable as both an intellectual prodigy and a moral and experiential adolescent, and his constant confused and fumbling attempts to apply the rules of one sphere to the other are touching and ring true to anyone who read dictionaries and did math well before they figured out how to deal with other people.
In that vein, it also has a real moral center and moral sense, even if a rather stoic and resigned one. The evolution of Ludo's relationship with his mother(also a well-drawn and unique character and mind), to the point where he's the one who has the capacity to care for her in the end, is well done. Maybe a little cliched in this day and age, but I didn't mind that at all, and perhaps the contrast even works in its favor.
So, yeah, this has lots of pieces that aren't particularly amazing on their own, but combined in an artful and unusual way. It takes lots of the best tricks and elements of postmodern writing and combines them with older-fashioned bildungsroman-y notions of character and moral development and sense of childhood wonder and adventure. It combines a lot of themes, styles, references, and so on that I'm a sucker for, but without pandering or playing connect-the-dots. A masterful job of self-confident-but-not-arrogant authorial restraint and range and imagination.(less)