I just finished, and what an awful taste in my mouth. I am perplexed by his conclusions about both his protagonists, though that perhaps explains theI just finished, and what an awful taste in my mouth. I am perplexed by his conclusions about both his protagonists, though that perhaps explains the curious choice of asking us to spend 350 pages with them. (Perhaps he saw something he failed to communicate.)
Actually, with Martha, I'm convinced there WAS something extraordinary to communicate. Quite close to the start, we see two great writers sitting on either side of her at (I believe) her farewell party. They were close friends. I wrote in the margin there that that's no coincidence. People like Carl Sandburg are likely to be attracted to others with something going on. One might be a fluke, but two, unlikely. This woman obviously had something. I couldn't wait to discover what.
For 300 more pages, we see her accumulate a dizzying number of men successful in all sorts of fields, but particularly artists, who were quite taken by her. And it wasn't her looks. She must have been extraordinary in some way. It totally seems to have eluded Larson. I kept waiting for her personality to come through--for some redeeming qualities. She just seemed like a clueless simpleton. Lame, annoying character at the center of the book, and presumably a discredit to her as well.
So what happened? I have no idea. Larson seemed to fall for her, but then forgot convey why.
That's one of the many problems with this book. The periodic bursts of "dark and stormy" prose were also annoying, though they came and went.
I just don't get the appeal.
Here were some of my early thoughts, a few days ago:
I'm halfway through, and conflicted, starting to sour.
The short intro got me very interested, and I mostly loved Devil In The White City, so I dove in. But it never really grabbed me. (Certainly not the way Devil did--I was enraptured in both its stories immediately.) The two main characters here are exceptionally bland, and their story uncompelling. (Not much story to their story.)
What it DOES do, brilliantly, is its main intent: to provide a POV into what it was like for two outsiders to venture in and see the Nazi world as it took hold.
That was fascinating, and wonderful for awhile, though I was restless and yearning for a more interesting story and characters to take me in. And the longer it wore on, the more redundant it felt.
Then, this morning, I dove into history of the period elsewhere, and discovered how the story begins rather late, after Hitler had effectively taken control.
The prose is solid and Larsen is a natural storyteller most of the time, though he skitters into 'Dark and stormy night' territory too often.
Now . . . I'm wondering whether I should invest the time to finish.
I will adjust my rating as I go.
(I'm finished now. It has me irritated enough to want to slap one star on there, but that's unfair. There is lots of good storytelling in here, too. I'm just so exasperated by it.)...more
This was only the second book I've ever blurbed. I was very impressed. My review:
This was such a rewarding book. I've always been fascinated by that vThis was only the second book I've ever blurbed. I was very impressed. My review:
This was such a rewarding book. I've always been fascinated by that very basic question: when someone is disturbed and irrational enough to actually pick up a gun and take hostages, how on earth do you talk him down?
What was most startling to me was that until very recently in human history--a few decades ago--we didn't know.
The more I learned, the hungrier I got to learn more. How interesting that so much of it amounts to listening.
I had previously learned a great deal about hostage negotiators researching my book COLUMBINE. (The head of the FBI investigation in that case, Dr. Dwayne Fuselier, was a leading negotiator and I spent a great deal of time with him.) Fuselier spoke very highly of Gary Noesner, so I was curious.
I expected to skim through much it, but found myself hanging on every word. There is a great deal to learn here, and it was just as interesting to watch the story of how difficult it was to teach the FBI these ideas. Individuals picked them up rather easily, but making the institution embrace them was a bigger challenge.
My biggest surprise, though, was what a natural storyteller Noesner turned out to be. He has the easy style and readability of a lifelong novelist. It was a gripping and thoroughly enjoyable read. ...more
I’m still making my way through Jeannette Walls’ "Half Broke Horses," loving every sentence of it. I felt Texas from page one, and Texans, who I couldn’t wait to know better. Her style recalls, lovingly, the late great working-class short-story teller Lucia Berlin. I’m taken, particularly, by Walls’ ability to write children: not book children, or film kids -- actual mini humans with the complexities of their parents, and even less predictable....more
I loved the idea of "Sum: 40 Tales From the Afterlives," but did I actually want to slog through 40 of them? How many novel conceptions of the afterlife are there -- wouldn’t this be about 35 too many? No, actually. David Eagleman has got a million of them.
Eagleman did his undergrad in literature and his Ph.D. in neuroscience. He runs a brain lab by day and writes fiction at night. It shows. His provocative little vignettes play like brainstorms between alien hemispheres: playful, intriguing and full of emotional surprises as well as ideas. When his over-specific gods in charge of spoons, bacteria and chewing gum look down at our traffic jams and find comfort in our disarray but also our desire to reach out to find comfort through a cellphone ... there is tenderness here, and perception, too.
The conceit is different, but the effect kept summoning up the delightful "Wearing Dad's Head." No one has ever reminded me of Barry Yourgrau before. I never thought they would....more
This is perhaps the place I admit I never finished this book. I liked a lot about it, but so many characters, I had much trouble keeping them straightThis is perhaps the place I admit I never finished this book. I liked a lot about it, but so many characters, I had much trouble keeping them straight.
And in one of the great bone-headed moves of my life, I attempted to read Moby Dick and War and Peace at the same time. Doh! I never finished either. At some point, I need to return to both of them. There was a lot to love, but I had just finished college and was a little overwhelmed.
UPDATE 2016: I dove into Anna Karenina instead (partly because I was tipped off to the scene with the 2 gay officers, which is significant for my next book), and LOVING it. So I will definitely return to War and Peace, but I'm a slow reader, so it will take me months to slog through AK, and then I'll need a bit of a Tolstoy rest. But I shall return! :)...more
This is not a how-to guide, but a series of anecdotes, ideas and exercises for freeing up the voice, and getting unstuck. It's very different than mosThis is not a how-to guide, but a series of anecdotes, ideas and exercises for freeing up the voice, and getting unstuck. It's very different than most books on writing, and the best I know of at what it tries to do. It sure helped me....more
I used this both as a student and teacher. The examples are incredible.
Update, Aug 2017:
I just bought tThis is THE classic how-to on writing fiction.
I used this both as a student and teacher. The examples are incredible.
Update, Aug 2017:
I just bought the 8th edition of this book, and started rereading several chapters again. (I also went back and reread 10 years ago.) Even an experienced writer can really benefit from a quick refresher on techniques I've left behind. We each fall into our own writing ways, doing the stuff that has worked for us, and it's remarkable how many things I'm NOT taking advantage of. Or techniques that I spurned at another time, didn't feel right for me, but I'm in the right place for now.
And exceptional book. A true gift for writers.
Note: It's really expensive, but thank God for used books. I find that if you go back one edition, it's dramatically cheaper. The 9th edition is out, so I bought the 8th for $30. Still pricey for a paperback book, but this is unique, and a steal at that price. (And I imagine they have to pay very high fees for using all the short stories, and long excerpts.) So I'm not getting all the latest stories, but so what? They have changed dramatically from the last edition I got. And I don't really need new ones anyway.)...more
The last sentence of "The Manned Missiles" will mean nothing if you haven't read the story, but if you have . . . "I grasp your hand." Makes me tear uThe last sentence of "The Manned Missiles" will mean nothing if you haven't read the story, but if you have . . . "I grasp your hand." Makes me tear up just recalling it....more