If I hadn't been on a road trip and had little else to listen to, I would never have finished this. By the end I was thoroughly and completely SICK of...moreIf I hadn't been on a road trip and had little else to listen to, I would never have finished this. By the end I was thoroughly and completely SICK of Bucky Bleichert and his fixation on a dead woman he'd never even met (alive).
I didn't know anything about James Ellroy going in, though after listening to the postscript (which went on forever it seemed), I read up on him on Wikipedia. So the guy is obsessed with his mother's murder and transfers it over to the real-life Black Dahlia case and, for some reason, I'm supposed to give a s**t?
I like hard-boiled stuff, and I revere the novels of Raymond Chandler, among others. Unfortunately, Ellroy's The Black Dahlia is more a psychic purge than a detective story. There were overtones of Chinatown and Silence of the Lambs, except (and this is a big "except") the central character's motivation is completely unbelievable and he's unlikeable to boot. No Sam Spade here, I'll tell you. Just a confused cop mucking around in a sort of sexual/self-flagellatory/self-destructive haze.
This was a case of over-hype, I thought. If I hadn't read such effusive reviews and if this hadn't won so many awards, I probably would have liked thi...moreThis was a case of over-hype, I thought. If I hadn't read such effusive reviews and if this hadn't won so many awards, I probably would have liked this book better. Unfortunately, Willis' style was a bit grating, and I found the plot itself to be overly kaleidoscopic and the book overly long. I suppose some were dazzled by her working in so much literary and Victorian trivia, but some of it just seemed gratuitous. There seems to be too much repetition. Too bad it wasn't pared down into something a bit more sprightly. The Jerome K. Jerome book that provides the title would provide a sterling example of not overdoing it. (less)
Explaining who archy and mehitabel were is just too darn complex. If you enjoy comic verse, do yourself a favor and get this book. (Actually, you can...moreExplaining who archy and mehitabel were is just too darn complex. If you enjoy comic verse, do yourself a favor and get this book. (Actually, you can get a good start at this webpage -- http://www.donmarquis.com/archy/ -- as it contains a number of Marquis' poems and a fine introduction to this book. (less)
It is instructive, in this time of changing weather patterns and global warming, to read this account of the deadliest...moreA study of a man... and a storm
It is instructive, in this time of changing weather patterns and global warming, to read this account of the deadliest storm ever to have struck the United States. Isaac's Storm is above all else a cautionary tale about the dangers of hubris. U.S. Weather Bureau employee Isaac Cline, head of Galveston's weather reporting station, felt confident that the city would sustain little more than moderate flooding should a tropical storm or even cyclone approach. He posited that the gradually sloping ocean shelf approaching Galveston and the bay that lay behind it would do much to defuse the effects of even a severe storm. As it happened, these two unique features rendered the city more, not less, susceptible to the effects of the hurricane that struck on September 8, 1900.
Isaac Cline was not alone in his overly sanguine views or his dismissal of ominous weather patterns developing in early September 1900, as Larson makes abundantly clear. The newly formed Weather Service that employed Cline seemed more intent on currying political favor and advancing personal agendas than in providing useful storm tracking information, not to mention that it had misplaced confidence in flawed theories of weather prediction. Larson devotes a good portion of the first half of the book to Cline's early career and the state of meteorology at the turn of the 20th century.
For my taste there was too much dissection of faulty pre-storm tracking, but once the background on Cline, the Weather Service, and the genesis of the hurricane were dealt with, the book took off with gale force.
Larson follows the lives of a handful of survivors hour-by-hour on the day of the hurricane, and their gripping accounts propel the narrative. Seemingly random decisions fated who lived or died as the storm tore apart houses and sent massive objects swirling through the streets, many becoming deadly projectiles. As I read this harrowing account, my imagination summoned up memories every severe storm I'd experienced, but in comparison, I realized, the storm that hit Galveston was far beyond anything I'd ever witnessed or even seen on television coverage of modern-day disasters.
Although the author does a fine job of describing the storm, I do think that it would have helped my understanding if there had been some maps of the town and its position on the Gulf to have referred to. Better yet, I'm sure that there are photos of Galveston before and after the hurricane or photos of some of the people mentioned that would be excellent documentation to accompany the text. It was baffling to me that when so much care was taken to research the book that this simple enhancement wasn't included. (less)
Read in Italian, Fiabe Italiano. I don't think this was the best introduction to Calvino, and I've always meant to read something that's his originall...moreRead in Italian, Fiabe Italiano. I don't think this was the best introduction to Calvino, and I've always meant to read something that's his originally... but so far I haven't gotten around to it. I had this book by my bedside for the better part of a year and read it a fable at a time. (I'd done something similar for Russian folk tales, and I have to sadly report that reading folk tales in the original is really not the best way to learn or reinforce a language!) (less)
Although of course it's now quite dated, thisexamination of "U" (upper class) and "non-U" usage remains a classic. Strangely enough, though British pe...moreAlthough of course it's now quite dated, thisexamination of "U" (upper class) and "non-U" usage remains a classic. Strangely enough, though British people are famed for their ability to "place" others in terms of class and origins by their speech, this wasn't a phenomenon that was much discussed before Mitford's book, which is a lighthearted but still quite penetrating look at British speech. Consisting of a group of pieces written by such literary luminaries as Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, and Christopher Sykes.
Mitford begins by examining the English aristocracy and (based, of course on personal experience) delineates some key features of U vs. non-U speech, such as:
U: house non-U: home U: pudding non-U: pudding U: rich non-U: wealthy
The following chapter, by Professor Alan Ross, is a somewhat Henry Higgins-esque piece that sets out the distinctions in greater detail. More amusing is an open letter from Evelyn Waugh to Mitford.
While much of this information, as mentioned before, is now passé, it's still an interesting window on a period that survives especially in literature of the time, so knowing a bit about the U and non-U worlds is particularly useful for reading British novels. Having lived in England during the 1980's, I could still see the (altered) worlds of U and non-U at work.
The edition I've got of this book, printed in the 1950's, has wonderful illustrations by that peerless observer of class distinctions Osbert Lancaster. (less)
This tale of sensational forgery and murder is bracketed by chapters on Emily Dickinson -- a forged poem is the entreé to the strange world of Mark Ho...moreThis tale of sensational forgery and murder is bracketed by chapters on Emily Dickinson -- a forged poem is the entreé to the strange world of Mark Hofmann, a brilliant but twisted man who forged Mormon documents with the aim to discredit church doctrine and church elders. He forged other items as well, primarily as a means of raising cash; hence the Dickinson poem. I'm not quite sure the juxtaposition of the two very different worlds -- Dickinson's and Hofmann's -- made much sense from a narrative point of view, but it certainly provided a catchy title and an interesting study in contrasts.
The details of how Hofmann accomplished his forgeries was fascinating, however, and I also learned a great deal (none of it favorable) about the genesis of Mormonism. I'd vaguely known that the religion was founded on some 19th century quack and that there had been an "exodus" of Mormons to Utah later in the century, but Worrall clearly set out the tale of Joseph Smith, his miraculous discovery using a "seer stone" of "golden plates" written in "reformed Egyptian" that he then transcribed using magic goggles. Smith and his all-too-credulous followers would be laughable if the Church of the Latter Day Saints weren't one of the fastest-growing religions on the planet. (As it is, it's just plain scary, particularly as the church has its tentacles in so many major corporations. Unsurprisingly, I found myself at times rooting for Hofmann and his forgeries.)
The forged Mormon documents played into the Mormon need to buttress this incredible myth, as well as its fanatical secrecy. Hofmann was a supreme judge of human foibles, and that, as much as his forgery skills, was what enabled him to become one of the century's greatest counterfeiters.
There was interesting material, too, on the world of bibliophiles and some great poop on the practices of auction houses such as Sotheby's. The material on the psychology of obsessive collectors was reminiscent of a book I read some years back, The Island of Lost Maps, which dealt with a compulsive map thief.
Nicely paced, Worrall's tale draws the reader deeper into Hofmann's dark world, providing a look at not only what made him tick but what lies behind grand deceivers and scam artists in general. And, of course, the point was clearly drawn that Hofmann had learned the art of deception well from the very founders of the faith he was raised in. (less)
Vertiginous, surreal, and unnerving, this revolutionary (pun intentional) work had a profound effect on modern Russian literature. I was fascinated by...moreVertiginous, surreal, and unnerving, this revolutionary (pun intentional) work had a profound effect on modern Russian literature. I was fascinated by it and read it several times. (less)
I've read this at least three times and never grow tired of it. Jackson was the queen of the psychological horror tale. Eleanor's fragile mental state...moreI've read this at least three times and never grow tired of it. Jackson was the queen of the psychological horror tale. Eleanor's fragile mental state is exquisitely rendered, and Hill House itself is an absolutely terrifying entity.
The film version was an excellent adaptation of the book, I thought. I'm not sure how much my reading of the book was affected by having seen the film first, but all I can say is that my reading of the book hasn't ever suffered from it. (less)
This bad-boy memoir is everything you expect it to be and then some. I usually listen to audiobooks while I cook, and the subject matter here, obvious...moreThis bad-boy memoir is everything you expect it to be and then some. I usually listen to audiobooks while I cook, and the subject matter here, obviously, was perfect. Liked this more than Medium Raw, which I'd listened to a few years earlier, out of sequence. Bourdain is highly entertaining as a narrator, one of the few authors I can stand to hear reading his own work. (In fact, I can't imagine anyone else doing it.) (less)
Facing a long flight home from India with nothing to read, I latched onto this book in an airport shop in Bangalore, hoping to find something both ent...moreFacing a long flight home from India with nothing to read, I latched onto this book in an airport shop in Bangalore, hoping to find something both entertaining and relevant.
It's a breezy read, but I was more than a little leery of the "psychic" episodes that bracket the major components of this memoir. I had the suspicion they'd been plumped up for narrative effect. Still, aside from that caveat, this was a fairly engaging read for what is, in essence, "chick lit," a genre I normally shy away from. (less)
Some might feel that Wharton was out of her element here, but I found these perfectly jewel-like tales. They are, as is to be expected, stylistically...moreSome might feel that Wharton was out of her element here, but I found these perfectly jewel-like tales. They are, as is to be expected, stylistically elegant -- Wharton doesn't lower her standards just because she's writing in a sometimes-maligned genre. These are classic "literary" ghost tales, best appreciated for the subtle shadings of tone and rich evocation of atmosphere. There are (this being Wharton, after all) heavy infusions of social class and the weight this imposes on the central characters. In order to fully appreciate these stories, readers need to let them unfold gradually and not feel impatient with what may at times seem peripheral elements. It all comes together; the patient reader is rewarded.
Personal favorites in this collection include "Afterward" and "The Lady's Maid." (less)