I have always really liked Gore Vidal's historical fiction ("Burr" is one of my particular favorites, as well as the followup "1876") and I knew he haI have always really liked Gore Vidal's historical fiction ("Burr" is one of my particular favorites, as well as the followup "1876") and I knew he had a reputation for being kind of an asshole in real life, but in this book he doesn't come off so much an asshole as he does cold, distant, and disaffected. The many anecdotes relayed in this memoir were amusing enough, I guess, and if it was Vidal's mission to make his life seem decadent and glamorous he surely succeeded. I just wish there would have been more about his creative process, his spirit, his soul. I wanted an insight into the secret struggles of a great writer, not the same old celebrity glamor tales I can get any old where....more
I have often cited Sinclair Lewis as one of my favorite writers, and a huge influence on my own work. Reading "Kingsblood Royal" has helped me get a bI have often cited Sinclair Lewis as one of my favorite writers, and a huge influence on my own work. Reading "Kingsblood Royal" has helped me get a better handle on what, exactly, I find so admirable about his writing. Not that I think this is his most admirable book; this one is just easier to dissect because it's one of his later works, and by this point he knows what his best tricks are (always some variation on giving the pompous the rope they need to hang themselves with) and he fields them effortlessly, if somewhat predictably. This book is Sinclair Lewis distilled right down to his essence. Broad, unsubtle, overdone. If he has a point to make, he makes it, and it stays made. No plot-twist goes unforeshadowed, no peccadillo goes unamplified.
But, for all that, he is still a writer of incredible subtlety and sensitivity. Somehow, he balances all that boistersome satire with beautiful quiet moments. His characters never feel *real*, precisely, but they feel *relevant*. They feel timeless. They may be silly and vain and their dialogue is often *appalling* (Lewis' rendering of female dialogue always comes across as stilted, and I thought Sophie was particularly bad in this book) but when he's good (as with Neil Kingsblood's internalized angsting, which goes on for most of the first 3/4 of the book) he's great.
I generally read Lewis more for the craft than the content, but I did think that in "Kingsblood Royal" Lewis handled some very difficult material with quite a bit of grace. Contrived? Yes. A bit silly in places? Sure. But still, very well done overall....more
This is a good bathroom book. I know, some people may find that gross or even disrespectful, given that the book is about the author's peregrinationsThis is a good bathroom book. I know, some people may find that gross or even disrespectful, given that the book is about the author's peregrinations through Europe, visiting different Catholic shrines to view the sometimes gristly relics of saints. But the book is a collection of a couple dozen short little essays, each one providing information about the Saint's life juxtaposed against the author's modern experience. Ms. Rufus is a poet, so her writing is very lyrical. But for all that, something felt lacking in this book. It felt as if the author was trying to distance herself from the grimy superstition of it all. Like she was trying to point out to us the absurdities of sainthood itself, and the cognitive dissonance between the recorded human lives of the saints vs. the mythology that rose up around them, and the silliness of the fact that people still take these mythologies seriously.
I felt like the whole subject would have benefited from a bit less cynicism and a bit more wonder ... I mean, I agree that it's ridiculous to attribute supernatural attributes to a pile of moldy bones, but isn't it also kind of amazing and wonderful that we as humans do so? That we have that capacity for completely absurd faith? I think so, anyway....more
This is a "Dollar Tree" book. I'm fascinated by the kind of books that they sell at the Dollar Tree ... usually Christian inspirational works or remaiThis is a "Dollar Tree" book. I'm fascinated by the kind of books that they sell at the Dollar Tree ... usually Christian inspirational works or remaindered(?) hardcovers. I picked up LITTLE PINK SLIPS and CELEBUTANTES last night. I started LITTLE PINK SLIPS first because a skim through CELEBUTANTES virtually guaranteed that I would find it annoying in my present state of mind.
OK, now I have finished this book. It was all I expected it to be, which is not saying too much as my expectations were rather low. Trying to write a review of this would be like trying to write a review of an episode of "The Real Housewives of New York." I mean, it was a diverting enough pass-time, I guess, but there wasn't much to it other than that.
I can say that I didn't much care for the heroine. She was really judgy and uptight, and unquestioningly overpriviledged. It was hard to sympathize with her. I might have liked her better if she had even the tiniest shred of humor, or showed just a little bit of perspective on her situation. ...more
I absolutely loved this book. It was dense, chewy, not particularly stylistically elegant, but so fascinatingly detailed. I love the character of CowpI absolutely loved this book. It was dense, chewy, not particularly stylistically elegant, but so fascinatingly detailed. I love the character of Cowperwood. The reader is truly forced to question the very fundamentals of morality, namely, what constitutes "decent" behavior in an indecently corrupt world. While Dreiser presents Cowperwood as a crook, he also skilfully shows how he is acting with complete and utter integrity within his sphere and setting. Brilliant, brilliant character study, invaluable insight into the times. Starting "The Titan" now....more
I really enjoyed The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow. I purchased this book on a whim, as I've never read anything by Morrow before. It turns out thiI really enjoyed The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow. I purchased this book on a whim, as I've never read anything by Morrow before. It turns out this is quite an oversight on my part, as he is an extremely well-regarded writer of science fiction and fantasy. After reading this book, I went out and immediately purchased Towing Jehovah and The Philosopher's Apprentice, both of which I'll review later.
I particularly enjoyed the historical millieu of this book, and the loving attention to period detail and dialect. Jennet Stearne was a compelling heroine, smart and strong. I thought her relationship with (the much younger) Benjamin Franklin was nicely done, as was the depiction of the challenges she faced as an intellectual in a time when intellectual exploration (particularly by women) tended to be viewed as unnatural and probably unholy.
There was little I did not like about this book. I did wish I could have understood Jennet's relationship with her brother Dunstan more clearly. It would probably have made the climactic ending work just a bit better for me.
In any case, I would recommend this book highly to those who enjoy well-crafted historical fiction....more
A simply amazing book. It is touted as one of the underappreciated, yet seminal, works of horror fiction, and I'd say that's a fair assessment. It's wA simply amazing book. It is touted as one of the underappreciated, yet seminal, works of horror fiction, and I'd say that's a fair assessment. It's written absolutely beautifully. Tryon is the master of the art of foreshadowing without really giving anything away; so many works of horror or dark fantasy, you see the twists and turns coming a mile off. With Tryon, the twist happens and it's so perfectly natural, so obvious, so right, you wonder how he managed to do it and still retain the element of surprise.
I'd say this is a must-read for anyone who likes horror, dark fantasy, or just plain good writing....more
The 1996 book, The Wealthy 100, ranked the net work of 100 wealthy Americans by the percentage of the Gross National Product their personal fortunes rThe 1996 book, The Wealthy 100, ranked the net work of 100 wealthy Americans by the percentage of the Gross National Product their personal fortunes represented. Hetty, the only woman on the list, came in 36th— five places behind Bill Gates and three places ahead of Warren Buffett.
This is a fascinating, well-written book about an amazing woman. On her own, using financial acumen unheard for a woman in her day and age (she died in 1916, at age 81), she managed to parlay a family inheritance into a fortune so large that she frequently bailed out the City of New York when they encountered cash crunches. When J.P. Morgan called a meeting of New York's financial leaders after the stock market crash of 1907, Hetty was the only woman in the room.
Commentators of the time assumed that such financial acumen had to come with a price; articles were written about how lonely and unhappy she must be. And she did have quite a few odd and sometimes disturbing pecadillos: she absolutely hated to spend money, and would haggle over the smallest items exhaustively. Her son Ned suffered the loss of his leg later in life after a boyhood sledding accident, and it was rumored that his leg could have been saved if Hetty had paid for the best medical attention instead of dragging him around to free clinics, trying to save money. Rain or snow, she walked daily from the New Jersey ferry to Wall Street (she lived in a small apartment in Hoboken) dressed in old clothing, wearing a heavy black veil to keep from being recognized. It didn't work, of course; the disguise simply earned her the nickname "The Witch of Wall Street".
Seeing past the prejudices of her time (I'm forgiving the use of the word "madness" in the book's subtitle, assuming that it was more for marketing purposes), the book paints a portrait of Hetty as a frugal woman who eschewed pretense and frivolity, loved her children, was very happy doing what she was good at. I greatly enjoyed learning more about this colorful and fascinating giant of American finance, of whom I'd known nothing previously. ...more
**spoiler alert** This was an interesting book. It tells the tale of a doomed romance between an asylum inmate (an artistic chap who murdered his wife**spoiler alert** This was an interesting book. It tells the tale of a doomed romance between an asylum inmate (an artistic chap who murdered his wife) and the wife of one of the asylum psychologists. However, as a framing device, it's told through the POV of another person, a male psychologist who was friends with the wife and her husband. The idea is that he's relating her story well after the fact, having become her counselor after the ultimately tragic conclusion of the affair. If you look at this book just the right way, it looks kind of fascinating; the tragic and doomed romance is actually less interesting than the way the narrator filters it for the reader. However, that's all done pretty subtly and sometimes instead of feeling subtle, it just feels like we're being distanced from the action by this sometimes-intrusive narrator.
One thing that rang true about this book was its very accurate depiction of the stages and emotions a woman might go through when she's in a relationship with an emotionally unstable man. She gives up her normal steady life in order to follow this dream, and the consequences were very accurate. Except for the part where she leaves him after he first hits her/starts showing signs of being abusive; generally in abusive relationships, she would have stuck it out a whole lot longer, but then again, McGrath DID have to keep things moving.
I couldn't decide whether to give this three or four stars. I ended up giving it four but I may still change my mind. ...more
I really loved this book. I'm a sucker for 19th century political machinations (as well as social intrigue) so this was right up my alley. The writingI really loved this book. I'm a sucker for 19th century political machinations (as well as social intrigue) so this was right up my alley. The writing style was crisp and elegant. One I will reread with pleasure!...more
This was a really fascinating book, and I recommend it highly to any student of history. Written in 1879, it is an informative contemporary glimpse inThis was a really fascinating book, and I recommend it highly to any student of history. Written in 1879, it is an informative contemporary glimpse into the life of a yankee "carpetbagger" in America's Reconstruction-era South. It is not only interesting from an historical standpoint, but it's also a pretty decent piece of fiction in its own right. I found Lily's story, in the second half of the book, was particularly well-done.
Despite the fact that all the male characters are named Jim, Jimmy, James, Jimps (or, just for variety, Joe, Joseph, or JoJo) and the main female charDespite the fact that all the male characters are named Jim, Jimmy, James, Jimps (or, just for variety, Joe, Joseph, or JoJo) and the main female character is known by a half-dozen apparently-interchangeable versions of Ellen, and the author kept makingupfaky pretentiouscompund words, and there were not enough scene breaks so you'd be reading along with one set of characters then surprise! they've been replaced ... I ended up liking this book a lot. I think it the fragmented style is perfectly suited to the atmosphere of dislocation, and even the multiplicity of extremely similar names can be said to be a stylistic choice, reflecting the interchangeability of human experience (?? maybe??) At the end of the day I think this is a far better candidate for "the great American novel" than, say, The Great Gatsby. It definitely a candidate for a reread. Also, now I can't wait to read the USA trilogy....more