Until reading this book, my knowledge of the Spanish Inquisition came primarily from Edgar Allen Poe. Oh, and these guys.
I'm not sure I would have fou...moreUntil reading this book, my knowledge of the Spanish Inquisition came primarily from Edgar Allen Poe. Oh, and these guys.
I'm not sure I would have found this book without help from the 1001 Books list, and it turned out to be a real gem of historical fiction. The story itself is slow, meandering, and follows the entire life of a heretic--and it's pretty clear from the title alone how this will turn out. The author does a masterful job of illustrating details, from the layout of peasant houses to the 16th century wool industry, to law, politics, and religion (of course). The author knows his stuff, and his complex layering transcends the more typical, superficial veneer of history that many a reader of historical fiction comes to expect. Sometimes the detail, especially some of the religious bits do get a bit long, but before they become interminable the author typically throws in some sort of interesting character interplay--dysfunctional fathers or star-crossed love. But for me, what I appreciated most from this book is that I have a much firmer grasp on a historical event that I knew very little about until now.(less)
Why am I here, says the silence, what have I done, echoes the emptiness, why have I ruined myself in this willful manner, chuckles the money in the ti...moreWhy am I here, says the silence, what have I done, echoes the emptiness, why have I ruined myself in this willful manner, chuckles the money in the till, why have I been brought so low, wheedles the thoroughfare, to which the only answer was--The square gave him no answer.
Under the Volcano has brilliant moments of poetry and breathless imagery, but the overall reading experience is about as enjoyable as an overland trip in Mexico endured through a hangover. Machete-like determination is needed to slash through the jungle of prose.
The novel seems like an exercise in form over function. The characters and relationships of the alcoholic Consul, his ex-wife and brother, take a backseat to the artistically chaotic prose and deluge of Symbols that jump out at the reader like jack-in-the-boxes over and over and over--pariah dogs, dead scorpions, vultures at washbasins, the Hands of Orlac, the horse branded with seven. Maybe they serve to divert the reader away from the inexplicable things the characters do (even the more sober characters behave and think drunkenly at times.) I never came close to decoding Yvonne--what did she ever see in the Consul? Why is she back in Mexico? Why does she (and everyone else) continue to enable the Consul's drinking while simultaneously voicing disapproval? But the characters aren't really the point of this. The prose-capturing-alcoholism here is the point.
While this was a tough book to get through, it did have moments of unexpected lucidity and humor that I much appreciated. And while some chapters were more difficult than others, I found the sudden emotive rush of those final few pages worth the effort, almost.(less)
While I learned many interesting technical tidbits about how paintings are forged--they can be baked in ovens, for example, to simulate a century of d...moreWhile I learned many interesting technical tidbits about how paintings are forged--they can be baked in ovens, for example, to simulate a century of dry museum air--once the novelty had worn off, I just found the mystery here mediocre. I could only believe the protagonist's naivete about her situation for so long. She thinks she's so daring to make a Faustian bargain, then acts shocked and traumatized when she discovers that, yeah, conspiracy to commit fraud is kind of a serious crime. There's also a historical story-line told in unbelievable, anachronistic letters in which a belle-epoque-era Victorian art collector reveals the kind of private information that could have ruined her social standing. "Burn this letter" she continually entreats her niece (who obviously never followed through). I found the letters oddly positioned in the story, as they gave away the ending to the contemporary forgery story early on so there wasn't much tension in the last few chapters. (less)
Coming off the 2014 World Cup -- notably the first time I've ever taken an interest in it and followed some of the (surprisingly exciting) games in ba...moreComing off the 2014 World Cup -- notably the first time I've ever taken an interest in it and followed some of the (surprisingly exciting) games in bars or *gasp* on the radio -- was a perfect time to read this book. The sports obsession that Hornby writes about here is quite alien to me, and my feeble attempts to compare it to, say, my own mild obsession with GoodReads, fall flat. Nevertheless, even knowing virtually nothing about British club football culture or Hornby's beloved team Arsenal, I found this an interesting read. The memoir covers roughly 20 years of Hornby's life, from the age of 10 when it provided focus away from his parents' divorce, to his 30s when he could finally afford to live within walking distance of his home stadium. Some of the most interesting parts are when he turns outward, away from himself (the repeated message of "I'm basically a child who can't have adult relationships or commitments due to football" gets a bit tiresome after a while) toward general football culture of the 1970's and 80's -- the hooligans, the club politics, and the fatal crushings of impatient crowds within woefully inadequate stadiums. Mostly, though, the book follows the many ups and downs of team Arsenal and the parallel peaks and valley's of Hornby's life. His honest yet childish reactions to girlfriends who try to invade his sacred football time and space were uncomfortable to read -- and I admit I'm happy to have married a partner as casually uninterested in organized sport fanship as I am. Though we did have great fun at a pub during that Germany/Argentina Cup game, and didn't even care who won.(less)
This is one of the weirder novels I've tackled this year -- I had actually put this one off for a while because it seemed li...moreThe feels -- all of them!!
This is one of the weirder novels I've tackled this year -- I had actually put this one off for a while because it seemed like a daunting read -- and turned out to be one of my favorites, what with the dissonant clashing of grit and (literal) Hollywood romance. The setting in an Argentinian prison is unusual, as are the characters, prison-mates who I couldn't help but picture as Peter Lorre and James Dean (umm...yeah, I'll just leave you to match them up). There's also a weird clashing of format -- mostly pure dialogue, with occasional internal streams of consciousness and the occasional prison report. Nothing is spoon-fed to the reader, but as the bigger story faded in, I found myself emotionally moved and at the edge of my seat. The only thing I haven't figured out (yet) are the weirdly placed Freudian footnotes. There seems to be something deliberate and tongue-in-cheek about them. I guess I'll need to sleep on it. (less)
Let me just add this one to my "nightmare fuel" shelf...
I'm not sure how I feel about the ending of this one. It turned out to be a perfect vacation...moreLet me just add this one to my "nightmare fuel" shelf...
I'm not sure how I feel about the ending of this one. It turned out to be a perfect vacation book, beachy yet still quite dark and psychological, and it moved along at a slow yet steady simmer that kept me intrigued. Other reviewers have called this one a sort of Gen-X'er Lord of the Flies, if Jack Kerouac had partied it up with Mr. Golding, and that sounds about right to me. I don't want to give too much of the story away, but this would be such a great book to take on a backpacking trip through Southwest Asia. Although, I don't know, maybe it would make you want to book an early flight home by the end.
I was going to give this one 4 stars, but I feel like there must be a better way to wrap this one up at the end than a rather sentimental epilogue, something that matches or responds to the horror of what preceded it.(less)
Well, that was fun. This is my favorite kind of poetry--namely, anti-poetry, meta-poetry, and complete absurdity. Oh, and of course it has to rhyme!
A...moreWell, that was fun. This is my favorite kind of poetry--namely, anti-poetry, meta-poetry, and complete absurdity. Oh, and of course it has to rhyme!
A quick sampling of my favorites:
From The Gardener's Song, which should be labeled post-modern, surely, if it hadn't been written in the 1800s.
He thought he saw a Rattlesnake That questioned him in Greek: He looked again and found it was The Middle of Next Week. "The one thing I regret," he said, "Is that it cannot speak!"
And the introductory paragraph of Hiawatha's Photographing:
(In an age of imitation, I can claim no special merit for this slight attempt at doing what is known to be so easy. Any fairly practised writer, with the slightest ear for rhythm, could compose, for hours together, in the easy running metre, of "The Song of Hiawatha."
Or how about the opening of Atalanta in Camden-Town, a sort of anti-romance?
Ay, 'twas here, on this spot, In that summer of yore Atalanta did not Vote my presence a bore, Nor reply to my tenderest talk, "She had heard all that nonsense before."
In a similar vein, a bit from The Sea Dirge, or an ode by a poet who loathes the seaside.
If you like your coffee with sand for dregs, A decided hint of salt in your tea, And a fishy taste in the very eggs-- By all means choose the Sea.
But I think my very favorite is Poeta Fit, Non Nascitur in which an old poet (ironically) teaches a young lad how to write popular poetry. There's a great sick-burn at the end, aimed at the publishing industry. I think I laughed for five minutes straight.
Kohlhaas is a bit of a legendary figure from German history. He was a fairly successful horsedealer until a Furst ("prince") wrongly confiscates some...moreKohlhaas is a bit of a legendary figure from German history. He was a fairly successful horsedealer until a Furst ("prince") wrongly confiscates some of his horses, and while Kohlhaas struggles with the bureaucratic red tape to reclaim them, neglects the animals and abuses Kohlhaas' hired man. Kohlhaas sues, but a merchant's word doesn't hold much value against the prince, so K. decides to take the law into his own hands. There's a hint of Kafkaesque futility about the whole thing, surprisingly, as this was written in the early 19th century.
So, maybe this wasn't the best choice for plunging back into German-language literature after a two or so year hiatus. While I have little difficulty reading physical description and action, I found my self really struggling with a lot of the civic, political, and legal vocabulary in Michael Kohlhaas. While I still understood the basic plot of the story, I'm sure that most everything of nuance sailed right over my head. I take the blame for this, since I listened to an audio version from Librivox (very nicely narrated) and forced myself to plow on ahead without stopping to look things up. Often, forcing myself to rely on context works well enough for me, but I was pretty lost by the time Dr. Martin Luther showed up. The moments of high drama were gripping--a woman assaulted by a guard, a death-by-quartering--but I'll really have to go back again with the actual printed text to find out what I missed.(less)