I admit that I didn't have high hopes for this book in the beginning. Initially, I found this story, set in New Zealand during the 1860s, to be very sI admit that I didn't have high hopes for this book in the beginning. Initially, I found this story, set in New Zealand during the 1860s, to be very slow-going. The book opens with the initial protagonist, Walter Moody, and his arrival in a gold-mining town in New Zealand. Moody has witnessed something that has affected him deeply, but we don't know quite what it is that he has seen, and how that will impact the rest of the story. The reader then follows Moody to a billiards room of a hotel, where Moody meets 12 other men, all of whom have different perspectives of the same tale to tell.
At first I found these individual tales and character studies to be drawn-out and dull, but in retrospect, I see how these vignettes add to the story as a whole, and how this first half enhances and illuminates the second. That being said, I enjoyed the second half of the story - what happens after Moody has heard the tales of these men - much, much more.
Although it is evident that Catton is a talented writer, I did have a couple of minor quibbles with this book. Without giving anything away, I realize that the pacing of the story is deliberate. However, towards the end, I wondered if perhaps Catton had focused so intently on a certain plot point/stylistic device that she either forgot about or let go of an earlier plot point, for it felt as if there were a couple of "loose threads" in the story. Also, Catton focuses heavily on astrology to frame her story, and I doubt many people are well-versed enough in astrology to pick up on any greater meaning within the story that Catton might have intended to convey with this usage. I realize this is not necessarily Catton's fault, but it did leave me wondering what I might be missing in the story by not being exceptionally knowledgeable about astrology.
Overall, a good read, but not one I would universally recommend. ...more
I didn't know what to expect when I started "The Goldfinch." Obviously, I knew it had won the Pulitzer, aNote: The above rating should be 4 1/2 stars.
I didn't know what to expect when I started "The Goldfinch." Obviously, I knew it had won the Pulitzer, and was on many "Top Ten" lists, but a lot of the summaries were a bit off-putting to me. Mom dies, leaving a son to find solace in a painting? Are you kidding? Was this going to be another "important" but largely unreadable book?
What a tremendous relief to find that from the first, I couldn't put this book down. (Well, I also couldn't put it down because I am a classic procrastinator and had literally days to finish it before my book club met, but the story was a "page-turner" in its own right.) Donna Tartt has an ear for dialogue, and the ability to write scenes that make you feel as if you were there, witnessing everything Theo, the main character and narrator, sees, and feeling - or at least understanding - what Theo feels. And when Theo meets Boris, the story takes off. Boris is one of my favorite characters in recent literature, and Tartt is able to recreate his Russian-accented English (and humor) perfectly.
In addition to enjoying the story by itself, I also found many things to contemplate - Tartt puts forth many ideas to be digested, but doesn't hit you over the head with them. Tartt does employ some literary devices which some may find irritating, but I did not; in fact, I thought she used those devices to good effect, and didn't overuse them. Nor did I find any "author arrogance" or other show-offy manipulations which I usually find in so-called "important" books, which was a pleasant surprise. All in all, that's how I would describe this book - a very pleasant surprise.
Thoroughly enjoyable, and highly recommended. ...more
That's what I kept thinking as I plowed through Flaubert's debut novel, which has been heralded as "a perfect worPerhaps classic novels aren't for me.
That's what I kept thinking as I plowed through Flaubert's debut novel, which has been heralded as "a perfect work of fiction" and is almost always included on "best-of" lists.
I understand and respect that when this book was published, and for years thereafter, this was a revolutionary novel, for both Flaubert's writing in the Realist style, as well as the storyline (Adultery Among the Bourgeoisie; or, A Book Full of Terrible or Boring People). However, I failed to be impressed by the story, and aside from the fact that Flaubert writes beautifully throughout most of the book, I kept asking myself what I was supposed to get out of the story.
It didn't help matters that I didn't particularly care for or about any of the characters, which meant I wasn't particularly interested in the story. Reading this book was like being at a party where you either actively dislike or are bored by all the other people in the room - what's the point of being there? Or in this case, why am I spending time reading this book?
*sigh* Perhaps I'm just a Philistine on whom the finer points of classic literature are lost. Or perhaps this is a book which has lost some of its luster over the years.
In fact, I'm writing this review some months after I finished the book, largely because I needed time away from thThis book was so, so disappointing.
In fact, I'm writing this review some months after I finished the book, largely because I needed time away from this disjointed, rambling, how-many-landmark-events-can-I-cram-into-a-hackneyed-tale book. This book reminds me of that terrible Billy Joel song, "We Didn't Start the Fire", where Joel frantically hurls out the names of every major event that occurred post-World War II, and then tries to tie them all together with a limp, cliched chorus.
In this book, Wally Lamb writes about: Columbine Vietnam PTSD The Civil War Hurricane Katrina And to a lesser extent: Sexual abuse Alcoholism/Substance abuse Infidelity
Are you kidding me? Any ONE of those major topics would have been meat enough for a writer, no? So why try to write about ALL of these things in one novel? And how is it believable that ALL of these things have happened to or directly affected ONE person (the main character, Caelum Quirk)? Answer: It's not.
I'm not sure why Lamb tried to write about all of these things - from his author pic, he seems like a nice guy, and not an egotistical blowhard (*cough* Cormac McCarthy *cough*). But this book is almost unreadable because of all the many, many major events that Lamb tries to write about. It also doesn't help that part of the book is written as if reading journal entries from one of Quirk's ancestors, and that "journal" feels like yet another long, unwieldy story within an already long, unwieldy story.
And to keep this review from becoming a long, unwieldy review, I'll stop here and say: E for Effort, Wally ... and that's about it....more
Note: The above rating should be 2.25 stars (there's a story behind this).
In addition to winning the National Book Award, this book has also been heraNote: The above rating should be 2.25 stars (there's a story behind this).
In addition to winning the National Book Award, this book has also been heralded as one of the "best ever" by many reviewers and publications, so I started reading it with great expectations.
Unfortunately, the book did not live up to those expectations. Part of this may have been due to the fact that it was published in 1985, and a LOT has changed since then, especially in terms of popular culture. DeLillo's thoughts on the nature of our mortality in a society driven mad (or at least, overwhelmed by) all the "white noise" of rampant consumerism are not nearly as compelling or as revolutionary today as they must have been in the middle of the "Greed Is Good" era. In fact, a lot of this book has a "been there, done that" feel to it that affects its ability to impact the reader.
It also doesn't help that DeLillo, while a talented writer, seems to have hijacked the novel format in order to use it as a soapbox (or lectern) for his philosophies. Characters are given only the most rudimentary framework; there is virtually no difference from one character voice to the next, and the characters speak in such implausible language for who they are supposed to be that it often has the effect of taking the reader "out" of the book due to the sheer implausibility of the character voice. In addition, the characters' reactions to major events in the novel are also incredibly muted and downplayed in favor of pushing DeLillo's philosophies to the forefront, which has the same effect of pushing the reader out of the story and making the event as well as the character unbelievable. Many portions of this book, while interesting food for thought, seem poorly suited for a novel, and would have been better in an essay for Esquire or the New Yorker.
As much as I would like to find out if DeLillo's other works, "Underworld" and "Libra" live up to the hype, based on the relatively low level of enjoyment I got out of reading "White Noise", I don't think I'll be trying those anytime soon.
To give you an idea of how frustrating it is to read McCarthy, I'll write this review in his style:
I knew going into this epistle that the writerWTF.
To give you an idea of how frustrating it is to read McCarthy, I'll write this review in his style:
I knew going into this epistle that the writer eschewed nearly all manner of punctuation but I was still woefully unprepared for the sheer arrogance displayed by the writer in this plotless tale ostensibly about the kid who later becomes the man who is the supposed protagonist who joins up with a band of ragtag bounty hunters in old Mexico which also includes Judge Holden the supposed antagonist. Digo supuestament e porque el personaje protagonista de el nino no esta definido. In fact all the character of the kid does is look at the speaker respond with negatives and serve as a kind of narrator for the story. El escritor is also excessively sanguinolent. There are scenes that are lovingly described which are almost pornographic in their violence but serve no purpose other than to emphasize what we already know. There also doesnt seem to be any purpose or plot to this galimaufric tale other than possibly to state that war is within all of us. Its possible that the kid and the judge are intended to represent good versus evil but since the kid is never actively good or actively anything it is hard to make that argument. A lot of things are possible about the overall point of this book. Although there are occasional passages of good writing there are also many many examples of pisspoor writing like the jamming together of two words because the writer doesnt like hyphens or wouldbe descriptions that are laughable in their ridiculousness like a sentence stating that the dumb animals were plotting like goats. The writer will also include entire bits of dialogue in spanish and since the writer doesnt believe in punctuation it can be hard to determine who is the speaker but by this point in the story I didnt really care. In fact I will avanzar en la idea that with this book, the writer is showing us all how ohsovery smart he is by these personal touches and by contrast how very dumb the rest of us are. Asi que por que deberia useted leer este libro? No se. Tal vez se sienta inteligente? Tal vez....more
I described this book in my book club as being "strangely compelling". This is because the story focuses on Roman Morris, a poet, his poetry mentor, MI described this book in my book club as being "strangely compelling". This is because the story focuses on Roman Morris, a poet, his poetry mentor, Miranda Sturgis, and Morris's friend/polar opposite, Bernard Sauvage. These are very intense poets (redundant?) whose lives and careers revolve around poetry. Yet even though the subject matter - poetry - is not something I particularly care for or enjoy, the way that Lan Samantha Chang writes about these characters was compelling.
Chang doesn't use hyperbolic vocabulary - in fact, the prose is very (surprisingly?) accessible - and Chang does the reader a favor by not including examples of the characters' poetry or otherwise boring the reader with the structure or theory of poetry. That being said, the guiding themes of this book may be a bit exclusionary for those people whose day-to-day lives are not dictated by creative careers or constraints. (I include myself in this category.) In short, if you are a poet, you will probably love this book and find it to be very meaningful. If you are not a poet, but are a writer or interested in writing, you'll like this book. If you're not a poet and have no interest in writing, you will probably wonder what the point is of this book.
Most everyone is familiar with Herman Melville's classic tale of vengeance, whether it is from popularNote: The rating should be a 2 1/2 star rating.
Most everyone is familiar with Herman Melville's classic tale of vengeance, whether it is from popular culture references to Captain Ahab or Ishmael, but this was my first time reading it. Though there are flashes of brilliance in this book, and some wonderfully written passages and chapters, this book hasn't aged well. Melville seems to have written this with the intent of making this an encyclopedia on whales and whaling (a whale of a book; forgive me, but the puns are hard to resist), which at the time was probably very informative, but can be tedious to the point of exhaustion now. In fact, Melville, like Ahab, seems to border on monomaniacal at times on the subject of whales and whaling - how else to explain the inclusion of chapters where the structure of various whales heads are compared and contrasted - which can make reading this book painful at times. However, there are those chapters and beautifully-wrought sentences that lend themselves to much thought and discussion, and for those chapters, Melville clearly was a literary genius. I'm glad that I read it - and was able to read it for discussion - but I doubt I'll ever read it again. ...more
I am puzzled as to why this book is so well-liked. It's not that it is a book worth hating, or poorly wriNote: The above rating should be 2 1/2 stars.
I am puzzled as to why this book is so well-liked. It's not that it is a book worth hating, or poorly written, but it is very unsatisfying. Basically, this book is a collection of vignettes about people in Small Town America after a Not-Rapture-Rapture occurs that removes a portion of the worldwide population. Perrotta doesn't waste any time on the actual event, which in retrospect, doesn't do the story any favors, but makes it so that the reader is hard-pressed to connect to any of the characters. Frankly, there's much of this book that smacks of marketing, as though Perrotta was angling for a movie or a miniseries as a result of this book (or maybe that is just because I'm aware of the HBO miniseries).
I've read books that are essentially vignettes and/or character studies, but what makes stories like those successful is either the presence of great writing, a unifying theme, and/or character development. None of those elements are present in "The Leftovers". Although I've enjoyed Perrotta's books in the past ("Election"; "Little Children"), this book seems slapped together, or as a friend of mine opined, a needlessly drawn-out short story. Perrotta's writing is not at his best here, and aside from the fact that the characters have all survived this non-Rapture-Rapture, there is no unifying theme. They seem to be as lost as the reader. Similarly, there is no real character development from the beginning of the book to the end. In short, this is a book that makes me ask repeatedly, "What's the point?"
However, it is highly readable, and since I did identify somewhat with one character, I gave it a 2 1/2-star rating - mediocre, forgettable, and perhaps fittingly, a book that reads like literary "leftovers". ...more
Warning: If you need your stories to be told in strict chronological order, this isn't the book for you. If youNote: The rating should be 3.75 stars.
Warning: If you need your stories to be told in strict chronological order, this isn't the book for you. If you are put off by innovative storytelling techniques, this isn't the book for you. However, if you liked the way "Pulp Fiction" was put together, and are at least accepting of stories featuring loosely interrelated characters, then you should give this book a try. I did, and liked it much more than I thought I was going to.
To begin, Egan is an extremely talented writer. Regardless of what you may think of her style, her talent is evident from the skill used to craft every sentence in this book, and her deft hand at honestly and effectively capturing a variety of wildly different characters. Some are clearly more engaging and meant to be more "main" characters than others, but all are well-written, even the characters that only appear in one chapter.
And that's how this book (or is it a collection of short stories?) is. Each chapter is told from a different point of view, whether it is from Benny, the music producer on his way out; Sasha, Benny's assistant with a secret past; Lou, a music producer from the late 1970s who was Benny's mentor; Rob, Sasha's troubled former boyfriend; or any number of other, loosely interrelated characters that populate this book. (I repeat that term - "loosely interrelated" - because that seemed to be a bone of contention amongst those Amazon reviewers who didn't like this book - so now you know.)
The question I was left with was: what is the central theme of Egan's book? Is it simply that "time is a goon", and steals from us our dreams, ambitions, youthful clearsightedness? Or is there something more to it? I don't know if Egan has figured that out herself, and while that would normally be a fatal flaw for any novel, if that is the case here, it almost works. For who amongst us has figured out what happened to the people we were as teenagers or twentysomethings? I certainly haven't figured that out, and perhaps that's why this book was surprisingly endearing to me.
A nice story, but not exceptionally well-written or well told. This book is told from the first-person narrative of Jacob Jankowski, who in the 1930s,A nice story, but not exceptionally well-written or well told. This book is told from the first-person narrative of Jacob Jankowski, who in the 1930s, joined a lesser-known circus after a sudden tragedy, and is now remembering that pivotal part of his life from a nursing home, where he is in his early nineties.
Gruen's research about this part of American culture is well done, and the story itself is engaging, but with the exception of Jankowski, all the other characters are somewhat two-dimensional and predictable, as is the story itself. There are some minor surprises, which I won't reveal here, but nothing really to write home about - and that's about how I feel about this book. An entertaining story to while away a few hours, but nothing I'll think about or deliberate years from now....more