Part of my May/June 2010 British Invasion. _______________
Lots of fun and an extremely silly recount of Fry's childhood up to his shenanigans at 18. ItPart of my May/June 2010 British Invasion. _______________
Lots of fun and an extremely silly recount of Fry's childhood up to his shenanigans at 18. It feels more like you're having a snifter of brandy and cigars while Stephen is telling you the stories. As you go on, and imbibe more, the stories seem to meander fairly far from the clear plot. That's okay, because I quite like Stephen Fry. My curiosity in his background and amusement at his anecdotes overcame any deficiencies in the overall story line, as it were - which makes it more like real life than a traditional fictional novel. Although, I couldn't help but think that more than a few details in his stories read like The One Big Fish That Got Away.
He is a self-absorbed, deprecatingly funny, obtusely verbose navel-gazer in the extreme.
I might add that there were many references to English customs and culture that dovetailed nicely with the last book I read, Watching the English....more
Oh, man, I really tried on this one, but I don't think it's worth my effort to finish the book. I totally get the historical significance of Mrs. DallOh, man, I really tried on this one, but I don't think it's worth my effort to finish the book. I totally get the historical significance of Mrs. Dalloway, but to me, that's just not enough to redeem the rambling story filled with silly people and thoughts of insignificant characters. Yes, the sentences can be very beautiful, emotive and paint a picture. But that doesn't turn the book into a compelling story with characters one would care about....more
Jim Dixon is like a cross between Holden Caulfield and Adrian Mole. Maybe just ever so slightly smarter than either, but just as cynical, aloof, and fJim Dixon is like a cross between Holden Caulfield and Adrian Mole. Maybe just ever so slightly smarter than either, but just as cynical, aloof, and full of troublemaking buffoonery. That type of humor hits some people in just the right way, while leaving others in the cold. Personally, I was in hysterics.
This book is quite funny if you have worked in upper levels of academia, and particularly hysterical if you have worked at a UK university. The skewering academic humor still rings true today - research of minutia, clueless older profs, uncertain job market, and the social awkwardness of the intellectual community.
Even if you haven't had the unique "pleasure" of academia, just the mischief Dixon creates to cover his hide will send you rolling. He likes to pull faces when people aren't looking (I was imagining a Jim Carrey face). His internal dialogue while trying to pay attention was a hoot - the situation in reality is much tamer than in his head. And his inabilities with women are funny, even if dated.
Just a good, amusing read. If you liked Catcher in the Rye, you'll most likely like Lucky Jim....more
I feel a bit guilty giving Dirk Gently #1 only 3 stars. After all, it's wickedly clever and chock-a-block with crazy, colorful, and differentiated chaI feel a bit guilty giving Dirk Gently #1 only 3 stars. After all, it's wickedly clever and chock-a-block with crazy, colorful, and differentiated characters. But I sadly think I just wasn't in the mood for all the absurdist situations and comedy. It was all just a little too random. I'll have to try a re-read when I'm feeling particularly goofily giddy with 1980s British nostalgia.
Just two quotes that struck me: They are not the funniest nor the most famous, just ones I'd like to remember:
"Shapes that we think of as random are in fact the products of complex shifting webs of numbers obeying simple rules. The very word "natural" that we have often taken to mean "unstructured" in fact describes shapes and processes that appear to unfathomably complex that we cannot consciously perceive the simple natural laws at work. They can all be described by numbers."
"The things by which our emotions can be moved—the shape of a flower or a Grecian urn, the way a baby grows, the way the wind brushes across your face, the way clouds move, their shapes, the way light dances on the water, or daffodils flutter in the breeze, the way in which the person you love moves in their head, the way their hair follows that movement, the curve described by the dying fall of the last chord of a piece of music—all these things can be described by the complex flow of numbers. That's not a reduction of it, that's the beauty of it. Ask Newton. Ask Einstein."
Those two quotes pretty much sum up why I felt so compelled to study physics after years of intending to get an art degree....more
Part of my "English Invasion" May/June 2010 theme. ______________________
Wolf Hall covers one of the most turbulent history-altering periods in EnglishPart of my "English Invasion" May/June 2010 theme. ______________________
Wolf Hall covers one of the most turbulent history-altering periods in English History. Henry VIII has grown impatient for not having a male heir. Queen Katherine of Aragon is out, Henry desperately wants the Pope to annul his marriage so he can quickly marry Anne Boleyn and hopefully produce the son that will bring security to his position. Henry decides to make a break with the Holy See in Rome and get Parliament to declare him the head of the Church in England.
Through all this history is the commoner Thomas Cromwell. A lawyer, good with money, but from a poor background, Cromwell works for years for Cardinal Wolsey then deftly becomes King Henry's right hand man. Wolf Hall is told from Cromwell's point of view (although in the 3rd person?), and is almost a triangle of struggles between Cromwell, Thomas More, and King Henry. It's a brilliant way to tell an old famous story in a new way.
What's more, Mantel mostly confines herself to just 8 years of Tudor history, 1527-1535, and leaves the story at Cromwell's peak of power and fortune. I won't be surprised if we see a sequel, taking us through Jane Seymour and the downfall of Cromwell.
However, like many others here, I found it quite hard to get into the flow of Wolf Hall. Ack, all the pronouns without antecedents! Inconsistent use of quotation marks! Having a book effectively in the first person but told in the third person! A rambling somewhat stream-of-consciousness style that jumps around in time! Sadly, I get the impression that Hilary Mantel forcefully injected these "devices" into Wolf Hall in an attempt to be literary.
I think there's a tiny hint to some of this madness in "The Novelist's Arithmetic," an appendix at the end of my edition of the book.
But then, our memories never quite fit together either, and I have tried to suggest in this book how incomplete and sporadic our inner record of our life is apt to be.
There are things I really, really love about The Algebraist, a detailed space-opera in the extreme. The variety of aliens are fantasmagoric while theThere are things I really, really love about The Algebraist, a detailed space-opera in the extreme. The variety of aliens are fantasmagoric while the spot-on science, and unusual locales excited the astronomer side of my personality. I particularly loved the concept of Slow species vs. Quick species - i.e. species in the galaxy that live on vastly different time scales. I also laughed at a couple of the geeky jokes. When referring to the surprisingly few number of all-out Dweller wars, the number barely reaches the double digits, and that's in base-8! Ha!
After finishing the book earlier today, I'm really left wondering more about the Dwellers - the ancient Slow species that live in/on Gas Giant planets. They are an example of a long-lasting anarchy that appears to function despite their maddening laissez faire culture and self-indulgences. I love that Banks didn't give us definite answers to to the reality behind-the-scenes of the Dweller culture. There were hints at hidden organization/s and benevolent cooperation, and I'm left imagining and wondering what the "truth" was.
Ultimately, though, I found the story too hard to pick up again at each read, and the climax (or was it climaxes?) felt muddied by the changing points of view. (These are probably more a failure of the lowly reader, though.)
The Albegraist is probably best for a fan of Space-Opera romps, complex narratives and/or fans of Banks....more
Although this was a worthwhile read, I don't think the story or the characters will stay with me very long.
I found the inner story -- the reveal of tAlthough this was a worthwhile read, I don't think the story or the characters will stay with me very long.
I found the inner story -- the reveal of the true childhood of the fictional popular writer Vida Winter -- was interesting, dark and twisty with some unusual characters. Unfortunately the outer story -- the personal story of Margaret Lea, the shy, boring biographer/bookseller -- to be just as dull as she is. She is so obsessed and whiny that I was wishing there was no outer story. Except we needed her to do some outside research to progress the inner story.
Some of the mystery aspects were successful in their surprising reveal, but there were just as many that you could see from a mile away. The writing was a little too explicit, a little too neat and tidy. As much as there were some lovely turns of phrase and memorable passages, overall I couldn't help but flinch when a little event was overwritten. It's a shame, because I really wanted to like this book more....more
Part of my May/June British Invasion theme. Also titled "The Professor and the Madman" in the US. ___________________
What a weird and fascinating story!Part of my May/June British Invasion theme. Also titled "The Professor and the Madman" in the US. ___________________
What a weird and fascinating story! A bit of history of lexicography, a smattering of the history of the OED, a smidge of Civil War history, a touch of 19th/turn of 20th century mental health practices, and a skosh of US/UK relations. And a whole lotta philology as well!
In 1879 when James Murray took over the editing duties for the compilation of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary - a process that took 70 years to complete - he renewed the call to language loving volunteers to submit interesting quotations of English words. In effect he was accessing the hive-mind to help the unbelievably massive project of documenting all known and past usages of English words, as well as their etymologies, and history of change as documented through quoted references.
One of the most prolific of these volunteer documentarians is Dr. William Chester Minor, a Yale-trained, U.S. Civil War veteran living in the English village of Crowthorne in Berkshire. The odd twist is that Dr W.C. Minor was at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, as an intelligent, wealthy, respected inmate, but one who was paranoid and undoubtedly insane. Dr. Minor in one of is nightly paranoid rages murdered an innocent man, George Merrett, in London.
And, as it turns out, the editor James Murray, didn't realize for several years that one of his most valued contributors was certifiably insane. The book chronicles, however briefly, the backgrounds of Murray and Minor, and the remarkable circumstances that led to their friendship and prolific working relationship.
This is a seriously fun book for word lovers. It's a very quick read at just under 200 pages, and often leaves the reader wanting more detail, more background and more references. I was okay with the brevity of the work, as it's not meant to be a history of the OED, just the tale of one small part, and two men whose lives intersected in the most unusual way....more
***Goodreads swap from 10/09 at Vroman's. Thank you anonymous swapper!***
What an achievement to write a book that steps into the mind of an autistic t***Goodreads swap from 10/09 at Vroman's. Thank you anonymous swapper!***
What an achievement to write a book that steps into the mind of an autistic teen yet allows us to laugh out loud and feel some deep emotions! Not to mention it reminded this crusty scientist of her childhood wide-eyed amazement and enthusiasm for the beauty of math.
Seriously, it's okay to laugh at Christopher's quirks and missteps despite his autistic-spectrum disorder. He has Behavioral Problems that most of us have experienced in one way or another, but perhaps not taken to such extremes. He reminds me a lot of Adrian Mole, twisting and bending rules and getting himself into funny, awkward situations.
My favorite part of the book is where he describes his logic of seeing red cars and having a Super Good Day. He points out to the psychologist that other people take seemingly illogical cues (the weather as they step out of the house) that sets their mood for the day. His cue is a bit more unique. Likewise, people have morning routines they faithfully follow that shows they like things nice and ordered, too.
This book should be read in high-schools. It reads fast, funny, with emotional reverberations and a strong empathy moral. Readers question what it means to be "normal," a question that torments teenagers daily.
OK, I can see where the "normal is not all its cracked up to be" moral is a bit ham-fisted at the end. The emotional or sympathetic didacticism here can turn off some readers; not everyone wants a moral lesson with their novel. However, sympathy and empathy are two morals-of-the-story that everyone should learn, embrace and practice. This books gets you there with a laugh....more
Remember that Simpsons episode where it starts with Marge cutting off Homer's finger and ends with an explosion and Linguo the talking grammar-correctRemember that Simpsons episode where it starts with Marge cutting off Homer's finger and ends with an explosion and Linguo the talking grammar-correcting robot comes flying through the air, landing in a field? You know the one! It's a riff on Run, Lola, Run, with Lisa trying desperately to get Linguo to the school science fair? Well, you can watch it here if you forgot: Trilogy of Error. At any rate, the thing that struck me about that episode was that it was told in 3 parts, once from each character's point of view, but showing the exact same events.
I couldn't help thinking about that Simpsons episode while unravelling the narrative threads in London Fields. (Yeah, I know that episode was based narratively on the movie Go, which I saw, but I don't remember much about, so I'm going with the Simpsons reference. All story telling is a reference to something else, after all.)
So, there's four main characters in London Fields: Keith, the disgusting, dart-throwing, abusive, womanizing yob; Guy, the upper-class, old-money, sad, pathetic, twit; Nicola Six, the femme-fatale, manipulating, sexy, emotionless murderee; and the narrator Sam, a dying American author, plaigarizing reality while getting thoroughly wrapped up in his own fictions.
For the first half of the story, each event in the character's lives is retold from different points of view, with each character getting a whole chapter. Amis leads the reader through the story as a string of events, retold and reformed based on the POV technique. To cap off each chapter, Sam The Narrator, who's also an author writing this true-to-life story, gives his personal take on the events, in a diary style. Sam doesn't include his own comings and goings in his own novel, but lets the reader know afterward that he was there, observing, talking, caring about the characters.
Two more unusual features add to the wacky narrative ride. First, London Fields is a mystery-in-reverse. From the get-go the reader knows who is going to die and how. How the events get manipulated to get to that point is the mystery: not who but how. Second, there's a huge background near-future/alternative-history story draped over the whole proceedings. There is The Crisis looming over the world. Nations are on the brink of nuclear war, there's a world-wide environmental catastrophe, and no one is sure how long humanity has left.
So, there's a looming murder, a dying earth, desperate people, lots of smoke and con-jobs and sex and deceptions and darts and a devil-child and violence all topped off in more swirling smoke.
The prose is fantastic, stunning, descriptive and evocative. But you can't have a touchy demeanor; the story and the characters are offensive and you won't come out the other end feeling good about humanity. But you will be electrified.
Ok, now I'm going to go try to wash the pub smoke out of my hair, get the porno drink off my breath, and watch some more Simpsons as an antidote....more
This historical mystery set in Britain in 1920 is the 12th in a series, although the story was mostly self-contained. I think a reader, especially a fThis historical mystery set in Britain in 1920 is the 12th in a series, although the story was mostly self-contained. I think a reader, especially a fan of old-fashioned type mysteries, could up pick up The Red Door and enjoy the story.
Like all good mysteries, The Red Door is filled with lots of crime, twists, intrigue, a very large cast of shady characters. There are large middle-upper class families with many secrets, difficult co-workers, village-folk who try to be helpful, and solitary characters. I also laughed the parrot, Jake, who even had his own personality flaws.
There are some odd quirks that did take me a little bit to catch on to: Inspector Rutledge is a veteran of WWI and clearly experienced some traumatic events in France that weigh heavily on him. So heavily that he hears the voice of a former dead soldier having conversations with him. It's very much like Six with Baltar in the new Battlestar Galactica, if you're familiar with the show. It's handy that the disembodied voice has a thick Scottish brogue, as Todd's dialogue rarely signifies who's uttering the line. Second, there's clearly a long history between Rutledge, his sister, his godfather and a girl he's quite sweet on. Those relationships were a tad confusing, but cleared up as the story got going.
As much as I thoroughly enjoy any good story set in Dear Old Blighty, something about it's British-ness felt off to me, and I can't quite put my finger on it. I guess when compared to other novels actually written in that WWI to WWII break (du Maurier springs to mind), the language and personal interactions don't feel quite old enough. But that's okay; we still get crank-start cars, British gardens and rain, lovely country cottages, lots of cups of tea, and the stiff-upper lip mentality.
In the end, writing a review for a 3-star book is really hard. I didn't love the story, although I think Inspector Rutledge grew on me as a terribly troubled, smart, flawed, sincere character. But I didn't hate the book either, as it certainly entertained me for a few days. I can't imagine that much will stick with me after I click "save" on this review, except that I have a talent for dangling my participles, which I apologize for....more