5-stars for the first third, 3-stars for the middle section, then 4-stars for the end bits. In all, a 4-star read. I rJuly 1, 2011 Big Read selection.
5-stars for the first third, 3-stars for the middle section, then 4-stars for the end bits. In all, a 4-star read. I really liked the writing in particular. Helen is a fantastic, interesting character, and despite my 3-stars for the middle section, I loved seeing her grow and change into the woman she becomes.
I'm still trying to figure out why in a culture where visiting with friends, staying at their houses for long periods of time was normal, those same friends wouldn't travel the distance to attend weddings?...more
33 years 855 pages (not including index) 9 presidents 12 states admitted to the Union 13.58 million people added to US 1563 references to slave/s 173 refere33 years 855 pages (not including index) 9 presidents 12 states admitted to the Union 13.58 million people added to US 1563 references to slave/s 173 references to Mormon/s/ism 30,000 soldiers killed in the Mexican-American War (approx.) 1 month of reading 20 chapters 1 preface 1 afterword 200+ footnotes (approximately) 19 glorious maps
This is one huge historical review article about a period in U.S. history I knew little about.
I sadly have to downgrade this a star after my initial assessment. I talked it over with friends who are also reading this, and I think Howe gets overly repetitious in parts. My theory: he mentions in the footnotes that he reuses parts from his own previously published articles. Perhaps after the cut & paste, add in some more text, he wasn't as good at seeing those repetitions? I'm being kind of harsh, I guess. It wasn't that bad. But to ask a reader to slog through 900-ish pages, terseness is a virtue....more
Kingsley Amis was notorious for liking a good drink. He was a Scotch man, but found ways to appreciate all drink. Except maybe wine. He was self-admitKingsley Amis was notorious for liking a good drink. He was a Scotch man, but found ways to appreciate all drink. Except maybe wine. He was self-admittedly clueless about wine. Shame. This book is a collection of his boozy writings, and even a pub-style trivia quiz section.
Anyway, on Saturday night we decided to try one of his more delicious sounding drink recipes/descriptions. (His recipes were really more about the commentary on its effects or origins or place in society.) Here's the makings for an Old Fashioned:
And the result:
It was yummy and balanced - a definite add to our regular rotation. I have to admit though that we didn't do the full 3oz of Bourbon. We cut it back to 2. In general Amis was keen on minimizing the mix-ins, and maximizing the alcohol content high. A little too high for my taste, even though we had some fabulous Labrot & Graham Woodford Reserve thanks to our generous friends.
I had to deduct a star for the old-fashioned sexist nature of the book. Amis and his musings were a product of his time. Luckily it didn't diminish too much from the hilarious quotable gems. Such as:
"And most experts will tell you that the bloom begins to fade from a martini as soon as it is first mixed, which may be pure subjectivism, but, in any drinking context, subjectivism is very important."
"You will find it a splendid pick-me-up, and throw-me-down, and jump-on-me. Strongly dis-recommended for mornings after."
Finally I give you Amis's rebuttal on the widely held belief that mixing alcohols gives you a wicked hangover the next day: "An evening when you drink a great deal will also be one when you mix them." QED...more
"It is the only known work of utopian fiction by aAs mentioned in China Mieville's video tour of the British Library's exhibition of science fiction.
"It is the only known work of utopian fiction by a woman in the 17th century, as well as one of the earliest examples of what we now call 'science fiction' — although it is also a romance, an adventure story, and even autobiography." Via. ...more
This is set firmly an alternate-reality universe. One where Lord Byron and Anabella don't separate, and he eventually becomes Prime Minister. One where Ada lives and can see her first computer programs become reality. One where Wellington becomes a prime minister and is eventually hated, despite all his previous war heroics. One where scientists and thinkers are revered -- so much so, that they are referred to as "savants." All this hinges on Charles Babbage's Difference Engine #2 and his Analytical Engine being built, and working. In this alternate history, the computer age (or Engine age) develops in Victorian England.
It all sounds great, right? Wrong. It's just not written very well. It's a confusing mish-mash of stories that connect. And, oh gods, the sex scenes. They are atrocious. Sadly, they aren't even so-bad-they-are-funny-again. Just awful cringe-inducing horrors. The action scenes are confused and muddled. And sadly, we only briefly meet Ada Byron, the Queen of Engines. However, there were a few redeeming features.
One star was given because I read this right after reading Ada Byron Lovelace's biography, as mentioned above. Parts of the story were richer knowing the real history this was based on. Gibson and Sterling do an excellent job capturing the essence of Ada's personality. This way they could throw her into their alternative universe, have her only appear briefly, yet she is a strong presence felt through the whole book. As a cameo character she is delightfully complex, amusing, and mysterious.
Half-star to all the steampunk descriptions. This book was steampunk before there was such a thing as steam punk. The Engines sound like complex gears and pneumatic tubes gone out of control. And the weird people who run and control the engines fit right into the world. The ideas seem so plausible.
I read the 20th anniversary edition, which includes an interview with Gibson and Sterling. The last star I am awarding because of revelations that gave me new insight into the book. Both of which I had known before reading the story.
The first one you may consider to be a spoiler. Personally, I don't, but I'm going to hide it behind a spoiler tag for the strictest of spoiler-haters. (view spoiler)[The narrator of the whole book is an Engine itself. This is sort of revealed on the last page of the book. I might have realized it, if I had the energy to think about this mess of a book after finishing it. But I'm grateful Gibson and Sterling mention it in their commentary. It certainly explains a bit of the odd styling in the book. For example, every chapter is an "Iteration." They mention that the Afterword, called the "Modus" is supposed to be the Engine itself breaking down the narrative, so we are left with just clippings from obituaries, newspapers, songs, and letters. Does this explain away the horrendous sex scenes? Not for me. (hide spoiler)] I really wish I had known this before starting the book.
The second revelation in the Gibson and Sterling commentary relates to the the first one above, but isn't a spoiler. What I'm about to tell you is my favorite thing about the book. The whole book was an experiment in how a book is written can be a huge part of the story. It turns out that it took them 7 years to write this book. That means they started it in 1984 - long before the internet, and in the nascent days of personal computers. Gibson and Sterling knew that computers and the first word processors were blowing their electric typewriters out the water. Finally they could cut, paste, and rearrange text like never before. They could share files with a collaborator and they could easily alter the text. So, one author would write a chunk, Fed-Ex the other author the stack of floppy disks, and the collaboration would continue. They had one rule - you couldn't copy and paste text from an earlier version if your collaborator had deleted it. If you wanted it back in, you had to write it from memory. Interesting!
Their idea was that their computers become a Third Person in the collaboration. (And that's how it's related to the somewhat spoilery thing above. Don't you want to click on it now?? Go on, you know you do!) The game-changing nature of technology was new, and it's implementation in a collaboration gave the computer its own "presence" in the story. Like the giant Engines in their alternate world. Very curious idea. I can see how that would be an exciting idea, and true in the late-80s. But today? The concept falls flat.
But Kudos to them for experimenting!
Long live the Queen of the Engines!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
"Get a bigger flute!" "Increase ur Size! 6" "Don’t walk with tail between your legs." "V|agr.a, C|a.li5, and Phen.term.|ne CHeep!!"
Was the Kama Sutra"Get a bigger flute!" "Increase ur Size! 6" "Don’t walk with tail between your legs." "V|agr.a, C|a.li5, and Phen.term.|ne CHeep!!"
Was the Kama Sutra the original idea for spam email?
"Take pomegranate and cucumber seeds, extract the juice of elabāluka (eluva, Gisekia pharmaceoides) and bhatakataiyā (Solanum indicum, eggplant). Cook in oil over a low heat. Use it to massage the penis. It will remain swollen for six months." ...It didn't sound so bad until I got to the last line...
"Ram's or he-goat's testicles boiled in sugared milk increase sexual prowess." ...Can I have some more Rocky Mountain Oyster Pudding, grandma?
"If a man anoints his penis with datura, black pepper [maricha], and long pepper [pippalī], crushed and mixed with honey, its use will allow him to bewitch and subjugate his partners." ...Or at least cause them to be doubled over in fiery pain.
Once you're done mucking about with spicy peppers, priapisms, and testes, why not try this ancient recipe:
"By rubbing one's hand with the excrements of a peacock, which has been made to take haritāla [yellow myrobalan] and manashilā [red arsenic], everything one touches becomes invisible." ...Infallable.
Okay, in an attempt to save you, Dear Reader, a ton of time may I present:
All You Will Ever Need To Know About the Kama Sutra* 1) There are no pictures in the original Kama Sutra, much to the chagrin of reviewers on Amazon. 2) For the naughtiest parts, go straight to Chapter Six 3) You aren't going to learn any new tricks unless you're a sweet, innocent teenager. 4) The Kama Sutra is extremely repetitive. (This explains my low-ish rating - I'd probably put it at a 2.5. And those stars are just there for the aforementioned chuckles at the insanity. Ancient people were batshitcrazy. It's a miracle we're still around.) There is a good reason for the repetitiveness - as a teaching text, a student is supposed to read the original with enlightened commentary. Unfortunately this translation includes 2 extra commentaries after every paragraph. The translator even apologizes in the intro for its "maladroitness." Even with good reason, doesn't make it fun to read. 5) A lot of the advice is violent - scratching, slapping, bleeding, etc. 6) The Kama Sutra wasn't exactly written by Vātsyāyana - he collected the "erotic science" sections of the Kama Shastra (which were becoming harder and harder to find). 7) The history of the Kama Sutra is interesting, as is the background of the three Shastras - go learn about them. Maybe I'm too dense, but I didn't learn much about history by reading the original text. 8) The Kama Sutra tries to explain all sexual practices, even those that are not recommended or are forbidden. Vātsyāyana felt it very important to be complete. Which I can get behind.
*(unless you are an ancient Indian scholar, of course.)...more
Sojourner Truth had to be one of the most charismatic people ever to walk the Earth.* Charisma is hard to convey in any mode that's not face-to-face.Sojourner Truth had to be one of the most charismatic people ever to walk the Earth.* Charisma is hard to convey in any mode that's not face-to-face. This book might be as close to capturing raw charisma as I have ever seen. She stands out even in an era of incredibly charismatic people.
My edition had both The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, and the Book of Life. The latter was Sojourner's scrapbook and autograph book she carried around as she traveled preaching and telling her story.
My reaction to her Narrative is that it is an absolute 5-star read. Holy guacamole, what this woman endured! Multiple things surprised me. First, it's not told in Sojourner Truth's voice. She remained unable to read or write her whole life, and relied on a friend to retell her story. That woman was Olive Gilbert. Gilbert injects quite a bit of her own commentary on both Truth and the abolitionist movement. This makes it quite difficult to ascertain what were Truth's own words, and what were manipulated by Gilbert. Second, Truth grew up in a Low Dutch farm in New York, and didn't learn to speak English until she was 10. She never had a formal education, and didn't even hear a preacher until she claimed her own emancipation in 1826.^ Despite all this, she wandered the eastern seaboard (and later beyond) preaching about God, Jesus and plight of enslaved peoples by relating her own story. Third, her story doesn't dwell on the physical hardships and punishments she endured while a slave. In fact, she only hints at most of them. Yet the slave part of her story is horrific.
On to the Book of Life - I would give it 3-stars for putting Truth's Narrative into context and continuing her story to the end of her life. This is mostly newspaper clippings telling about how Sojourner Truth came to speak at this church, or that meeting, and how she had everyone in rapture with her stories and songs. Those parts get extremely repetitious, but it's amazing to see how many places she traveled and how she was warmly welcomed. Perhaps even more amazing is the number (not all) that describe her in non-racial tones. They almost all mention her race, but only a few tack on "...for her race" when they mention that she is forceful, commanding, impressive, etc.. Considering the times, she transcended many racial lines. Truth's Book of Life also contains letters and signatures from famous people - including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S Grant, Frederick Douglass and Susan B Anthony.
Perhaps most fascinating between the two - her Narrative and The Book of Life - is the discrepancies in her personal story. The story of her life partially evolved as she traveled around retelling the narrative. Most likely, though, is that it was variations in the retelling. The big stand-out is Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1863 article in the Atlantic Monthly, titled: "Libyan Sibyl". This article not only propelled Truth into nation-wide fame, but gave her a nickname that she she grew tired of. Stowe takes many liberties in the article, including quoting Truth in a Southern US slave dialect that Truth never had. (She had a slightly Dutch accent, and often described as a "peculiar" way of speech.) What's worse, Stowe claimed Truth was dead, when in fact she went on to live another 20 years. Perhaps all those changes developed the persona of Sojourner Truth and aided in her popularity? According to the editor of my edition, Truth herself might have been guilty of perpetuating un-truths, in order to present a persuasive argument and be the larger-than-life character of Sojourner Truth.
One of the funniest, most witty anecdotes about Truth goes something like this: Truth was speaking in front of a large meeting that contained friends and foes alike. There were grumblings in the audience that she wasn't who she claimed to be -- that in fact, she was a man. Truth was six feet tall, very muscular, wore her short hair under a Quaker cap, and was by all accounts an imposing presence with a booming voice. When she heard the accusations, she said (paraphrasing the paraphrasing): "You think I'm a man? Let me tell you something. I suckled many white babes at my breasts, often to the neglect of my own children. And those white children turned into finer men than you could ever be!" She then proceeded to whip our her bare breast and said: "Suck this!"
Sojourner Truth was awesome.
*(If there are humans hanging out somewhere else in the Universe, they are just boring sacks of carbon. Thanks a lot for not contacting us. Losers.)
^(Seriously, her emancipation is a story you need to read for yourself. It shows the kind of woman she was at heart.)...more
"Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off,"Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it."
"For people could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they could not escape scent. For scent was a brother of breath. Together with breath it entered human beings, who could not defend themselves against it, not if they wanted to live. And scent entered into their very core, went directly to their hearts, and decided for good and all between affection and contempt, disgust and lust, love and hate. He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men."
3/4 of the way through Perfume, I was going to tell you all in my review that if you're a fan of Dexter or maybe even True Blood, you might enjoy this book. Then I realized at the end that I was being too simplistic. It's for lovers of words, language, history, descriptions and loving to hate a character.
It's a strange thing writing a whole book about smell. Smell is one of our few senses that doesn't translate to images, words, or descriptions. I always find perfume ads amusing, because they have to evoke an emotion they are hoping consumers will feel when they do finally smell the scent. Young mother hanging the laundry! Sexy woman in a bustier in the basement of a Speakeasy! Man on a horse holding jewels!
Yet scent, at its heard, instantly takes us to our memories. I think I've finally figured out that the distinctive smell that infused my grandparents' house in South Dakota was a mix of talc, pine scented cleaner and fresh baked cookies. I might be wrong, but every once in a while I whiff something close to this and am immediately back in their 50's era kitchen with the big round drawer pulls.
I think Süskind succeeded in drawing the reader a scented picture of mid-eighteenth century France. He then layers that with the development of a poor, weird creature who only has his hyper-olfactory nerves as an asset. The story ends up being bizarre, fascinating, and altogether horrifying, with layers upon layers of scent.
Definitely not a book for everyone.
Oh, and by the way, the lead character's name, Grenouille, means frog in French. Do frogs have a smell?...more