A raw and fascinating look into the lives of women who were or are involved in religious polygamy. Most the women featured have escaped the life.
I was...moreA raw and fascinating look into the lives of women who were or are involved in religious polygamy. Most the women featured have escaped the life.
I was a bit dismayed that other reviewers here have giving this book low ratings because either the subject matter is really difficult, or that the (mostly) un-educated women are telling the story in their own words. To me, this makes the book all that more powerful.
The stories are jaw-dropping, painful, and very sad. Yet these women are resilient and strong. I needed to take frequent breaks to remind myself that the book is not about extreme evil, but about how much good remains in those who've been so mistreated.(less)
"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,...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, 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?(less)
So, picture Lost meets Burning Man. Seriously. Imagine a bunch of bohemian hippie types having lots of sex in a weirdly cut-off plac...moreI just don't know.
So, picture Lost meets Burning Man. Seriously. Imagine a bunch of bohemian hippie types having lots of sex in a weirdly cut-off place that has weird phenomenon and is out-of-time. Not like time's run out, but weird stuff happening with time itself.
Can't picture it?
Also, you should throw in a bit of: Wizard of Oz (for the man-behind-the-curtain) The Postman (for the lone-wolf lead character who becomes legend) Fight Club (for the violence) And some more books/stories/movies that throw race, sexuality and gender into question.
I've read that Dhalgren is something akin to Joyce - Joycian SF? I've never read any Joyce, but there is an element of stream-of-consciousness and the narrator messing with us and all sorts of literary references. It's not an easy read.
I'm not sure if I really liked it. I didn't not like it? It was certainly an experience that I've never had before in SF, and probably never will.
Prion diseases are freaky! That little bits of proteins could mis-fold, and that topological change could decimate a brain is just bizarre. One of the...morePrion diseases are freaky! That little bits of proteins could mis-fold, and that topological change could decimate a brain is just bizarre. One of the facts I was most surprised by is that prion diseases have three methods of infection: genetic, direct contact (i.e. eating or touching infected tissue), and spontaneous (i.e. a protein accidentally misfolds in the body). No other disease vector can spread via all three methods like prions. They are freaky disease superstars!
The Italian family in the title is beset with FFI, fatal familial insomnia, an inherited/genetic prion disease. It's sufferers tend to develop symptoms in middle-age (usually), and die fairly quickly. It's grim: their pupils turn into pin-pricks, they start sweating profusely, and they become unable to achieve any type of restful sleep. Eventually they lose all control, go into mad fits, finally fall into a coma and die. All the while their mind is intact.
The family's biography is only a frame for the rest of the book. In order to explain FFI and how difficult it was to diagnose as a prion disease, you have to understand the history of prion diseases, and the history of the field. Max delves into scrapie, kuru, GSS, CJD, BSE, and other known prion diseases. In some ways, the story of the researchers trying to pin-down this new class of illness was more fascinating than the family that couldn't sleep. There are huge egos, government cover-ups, and other non-science dramas that affect the lives of many people.
I really, really enjoyed this book - Max sets up the story in an extremely engaging way. It reads like a medical thriller - like something out of that TV show Mystery Diagnosis, but on steroids. There are twists and turns to the diagnosis, and a whole lotta shock factor.
And yet I had to dock it a star. I thought there were two questions not just left unanswered, but totally unaddressed. 1) How does a genetic version of a prion disease, like FFI, not cause symptoms until middle-age? Is the disease building up slowly over time, or does something later set it off? 2) How does a simple mis-folding of a protein lead to a swiss-cheese brain? How do you connect the dots from misfolding to erosion of brain tissue and development of plaques.
There's a good chance that there aren't satisfactory answers to either of those questions, but I was hoping Max would at least acknowledge or address them. He certainly didn't shy away from other more technical discussions.
I had just finished the chapters on Mad Cow/BSE/CJD and Max goes into detail about the state of affairs today. Spoiler: it's not good at all, particularly the government's reluctance in the US. British beef is safer than US beef. Scary. My husband and I had already planned on eating beef for dinner - we had some leftover steaks that needed finishing. It certainly gave me pause. I don't eat a whole lot of beef as it is, but I might try to cut back a little more. Prions are just that freaky.(less)
I'm not sure if it's just Mark Vonnegut's style, or if this indicative of someone living with mental illness, but the writing h...moreA book with no segues.
I'm not sure if it's just Mark Vonnegut's style, or if this indicative of someone living with mental illness, but the writing had this staccato quality. Ideas jumped from one paragraph to the next. There would be sentences in the middle of paragraphs that didn't seem to connect to much around it.
It's kind of like the old-timey comedians whose routines were: Set-up, Punchline, Laughter...Set-up, Punchline, Laughter... lather, rinse, repeat. Except this book isn't exactly funny. It was small anecdote, pithy sentence, small anecdote. All this is wrapped up in chapters that revolve around an event or idea.
That's not to say that there aren't great, quotable sentences in the book. I was just hoping for more of a narrative to the musings.
I'm always interested in diseases of the brain, insights into how that lump of gray matter functions, and particularly stories of how it can all go wrong. Things have gone wrong in Mark Vonnegut's brain - he's a highly intelligent guy who also happens to have bipolar disorder. He's suffered several major breakdowns, although not for years, and he also grew up in a weird, somewhat abusive family. And yet he's been able to become a practicing pediatrician, have a family, recover from alcoholism.
It's that recovery and coping I was most curious to read about. You do get a few insights into the doctor's life and coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, you also get long, multiple rants about the poor state of the US healthcare system, particularly insurance companies. You're preaching to the choir, Mark.
Funnily, those medical rants were the most coherent and well-strung together parts of the book.(less)
Just a quick note: Jeckyll & Hyde was fairly entertaining, filled with the archaic Victorian verbal effluv...moreParty of my creepy Halloween reads. boo!
Just a quick note: Jeckyll & Hyde was fairly entertaining, filled with the archaic Victorian verbal effluvia. "It was a wild, cold, seasonable night of March, with a pale moon, lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her, and flying wrack of the most diaphanous and lawny texture." Oh those lawny textures! As usual with these old stories, the mechanisms of the story telling (from the POV of a 3rd party, the tale in retrospect, and telling instead of showing) feel awkward today.
I skipped most the other included stories - some day I'll maybe come back to them. But I did read "The Body Snatchers." It's a creepy little story about resurrection men, who dug up freshly interred bodies and sold them to medical schools for dissection. Reading this made me look up the weird story of Dr. Knox and his henchmen Burke & Hare who murdered people just to sell them to the 'good' doctor. The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London talks about the resurrection practice at length. They have a fascinating detailed drawing of a typical surgeon's practice, with a dull, unmarked door on some back alley where the bodies would arrive, a prep room for the bodies, tiny places for the in-house receivers/assistants to sleep, and the big dissection lecture hall in front. Weird stuff. And it's not fiction!(less)
So many concepts in Price of Altruism just blew me away. Did you know that fMRI images of people being generous light up the same area of the brain as...moreSo many concepts in Price of Altruism just blew me away. Did you know that fMRI images of people being generous light up the same area of the brain as food and sex? Being generous gives us pleasure, and is rewarded in the great evolutionary game of reproduction. Also, female worker bees and ants are more related to their sisters than they would be to children had they had any? And my new word from the book is pabulum: material for intellectual nourishment.
At first blush, you might think altruism? Sacrificing of one’s self for the good of the group? But, but, that’s not survival of the fittest! Evolution is selfish; it’s all about passing on your genes! The second part of that statement is certainly true, but don’t forget that if your family or your group dies, no genes will be passed on to those legions of descendants.
It turns out that the study of behavioral evolution (altruism included) has been a delicate and politically wrought subject. In half of the book (alternating every chapter), Harman takes the reader on a winding historical journey. From Victorian scientists through to Price’s development of his eponymous equation, which models the outcome of a given trait on future generations, we learn about the arguments of relatedness, kinship, and group selection theories. The historical detail and cast of characters is staggering; at times the reader is left wondering if Harman has taken too large of a bite from the evolutionary pie. While all the stories and asides are fascinating, it seems that the author might have included some because “dammit I did the research, so it’s going in!” Frequently the connections between our various actors and their works are not clearly drawn for the reader. Jargon is frequently not explained, and unfortunately there are unclear explanations of some mathematical principles.
Nonetheless, there were so many instances where I had to just put the book down to think about the issues and let them coalesce in my mind before continuing. This is certainly an intellectually rewarding book.
The second half of the story, interwoven between the scientific history is the story of the life of George Price. Luckily these sections flow much better. An emotionally flawed but intellectually brilliant man, Price went from chemist and father, through various professions to estranged loner and religious zealot. Yet Price was able to put together pieces of a mathematical puzzle to explain inheritance of traits that was independent of genetic or kinship attributes. Now known as Price’s equation, it’s an elegant model that can be applied not just to altruism, but also to inheritable traits, economic systems and biological systems. Price solved the problem of altruism in kin selection, but he himself was a failed parent, husband and colleague. Eventually the story has a tragic end, but Price’s equation lives on.
This is just a tough book to rate because I am so conflicted: the ideas, concepts, and history are brilliant and mind-expanding. The writing style – lack of connections between ideas, very large cast of characters, lots of side-tracked stories, unclear target audience – was at times confusing and downright painful. But not all the time, luckily. At the end of the day, I can confidently say the book is delicious, tasty pabulum.(less)
I should mention up-front that I drank copious quantities of wine in celebration of finishing this door-stopper/tome/opus/pain-in-m...more C.v. Note 123 supra
I should mention up-front that I drank copious quantities of wine in celebration of finishing this door-stopper/tome/opus/pain-in-my-arse. Then I wrote this review. Wine -> Review, in that order. I don't think anything is spoiler-y, but it doesn't help that Infinite Jest isn't exactly set-up in a traditional fashion. IJ is not so much about the story or plot, but more about the reader's journey.
I've read 24.6 other books while whittling away on Infinite Jest for the past 4 months (technically 98 days). Does this mean that it wasn't awesome? Nope. It just means it was too much information for my little brain to take all in one go. I needed mental breaks. I found that I could only read 50 pages a day. And that's like a maximum. Occasionally I'd get a case of the howling fantods and have to abandon my effort for some period of time. But I wasn't going to let DFW and IJ get the best of me. Like the winning move in the fictional game of Eschalon, I statistically was going to have the upper hand.
So what's the book about? Basically three stories, all taking place more or less around Boston, MA at some point in our near future:
1) Hal Incandenza et. familia: a teenage tennis phenom on the upswing. He's addicted to marijuana, attends his family's tennis academy, and has a bit of a breakdown even though he's emotionally stunted.
2) Don Gately and the Ennet House: felon with a staff position at a drug recovery center down the hill from the Tennis academy referred to in #1. More than you'd ever want to know about AA, NA and recovery programs.
3) The AFR: the Wheelchair Assasins. A Québécois separatist group, desperately trying to get their hands on the master copy of James Incandenza's mind-blowing masterpiece, Infinite Jest.
The three stories are interconnected in unusual ways. DFW throws you in and out of each thread, frequently taking side-trips to give you background stories of both major and minor characters and other oddities around Boston.
My favorite parts in the book are all the near-future speculative fiction aspects, details and side-stories:
*The US, Canada and Mexico have formed a North American equivalent to the EU: the ONAN.
*In an effort to raise money, each calendar year has a corporate sponsor, based on a best selling product. So you end up with 'subsidized time' such as the Year of the Adult Depend Undergarment. The Statue of Liberty's torch is replaced with the product of the year. Yes, Lady Liberty lofts a giant adult diaper for a year.
*There is no more traditional broadcast TV. Instead, TV-based entertainment is on-demand. There are also entertainment cartridges that can be viewed.
*Lovely take down of videophony: why video-based telephone will never work.
*The Concavity. Not sure if I fully understand this bit, but part of New England and Canada becomes a giant toxic dump that the US 'gives' to Quebec? I just don't know.
It's quite hard to sum up my thoughts about the book and the last 4 months. Am I happy I read the book? Absolutely! Did I struggle and moan along the way? Yup. Did I fully understand IJ? I don't think so. Do I wish DFW had a more aggresive editor? Oh hell yeah. What will happen if anyone wants to talk about tennis? If it's in the next 6 months, I'll probably develop a case of the howling fantods.(less)
Wow, I can honestly say I have never read a book like this - and that's quite a remarkable for this speculative ficti...moreOh no, someone ate my hometown!?!
Wow, I can honestly say I have never read a book like this - and that's quite a remarkable for this speculative fiction lover!
The absolute best thing about the story is the complicated family relationships and the individual characters in the passively dysfunctional Mapes family. These people are seriously twisted, and deliciously flawed. Doyle deftly adds on layers upon layers of oddness, individual but related social problems for each character. They are effectively a doomed family, but it's a slow, unraveling process.
These characters are what kept drawing me right back into the story.
And then there's the somewhat supernatural Audrey Mapes that quite literally eats Kalamazoo. House by house, from WMU dormitories to Bronson Park. She can devour a bathtub in 15 seconds. While the act itself forms the climax of the book, it is not at the heart of the plot. The story belongs to Audrey's sister McKenna, through her diaries and memories. She is the emotional heart of the Mapes family, while Audrey is an odd abstraction, set apart.
There were many things that drew me to this book: * I grew up near Kalamazoo - in the neighboring town that has a hissy-fit that they aren't included on Audrey's menu. * Quite a few years ago I read The Man Who Ate the 747, which also has a pica-obsessed character. Besides the metal chomping, these books couldn't be farther apart in tone. * I had this on my tbr when Amazon pulled Macmillan imprint books in another hissy-fit. I decided to support a few small-time authors by buying a few books from my local indie.
I really want to give this two-stars. Why? It utterly fails the Bechdel Test. You'd think after 1153 pages King could have two women interact with eac...moreI really want to give this two-stars. Why? It utterly fails the Bechdel Test. You'd think after 1153 pages King could have two women interact with each other. But no.
Other than that... it was okay. I found the storyline to be quite predictable. I was hoping for a more intricate story in such a long book. King seemed to be more interested in describing everyone in the large cast of characters. But a large cast doesn't make an intricate book.
The long journey at the end (don't want to give anything away!) was the best part of the book by far. I could have taken much more of the survival story, and much (much) less of the supernatural thing.
I saw that the 1994 miniseries adaptation was released on Netflix last week, so I'll update my review after I watch it.(less)
Part of my May/June British Invasion theme. Also titled "The Professor and the Madman" in the US. ___________________
What a weird and fascinating story!...morePart 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.(less)
I can't quite figure out what to say about Blindness. I totally loved aspects of the book, and really loathed others.
Things I loved: the writing, the...moreI can't quite figure out what to say about Blindness. I totally loved aspects of the book, and really loathed others.
Things I loved: the writing, the flow, the despair, the allegory, the internal struggles. (Check out the quote below...) A few more specifics: the dog of tears and the joy of a clean glass of water.
Things I hated: Blind people are not completely helpless - even a newly blind person wouldn't writhe around on the ground, begging people to help them stand up. Also, why wouldn't people use names? That came across as a lame 'literary' come-on, trying to be deeper than it actually is. Imagine you are invalid, forced into a room with a bunch of strangers - of course you'd share names. How else would you know what name to call out in the throes of ecstasy? I also can't imagine folks within hours of going blind would just start relieving themselves wherever. Finally - Saramago is trying to say that given such an improbable event, people would immediately resist leadership and organization. The thing is real-world examples seem to disprove this: post 9-11, the Chilean miners, the light-rail crash in Chatsworth. I guess I would have believed a bit more evolution into devolution, if you know what I mean.
I appear to be able to write way more about the things I hated than all the stuff I loved! In an attempt to counter-balance my ranting, Here's a passage that is beautifully written:
"The girl with the dark glasses was also accompanied to her parents' house by a policeman, but the piquancy of the circumstances in which blindness had manifested itself in her case, a naked woman screaming in a hotel and alarming the other guests, while the man who was with her tried to escape, pulling on his trousers in haste, somehow mitigated the obvious drama of the situation. Overcome with embarrassment, a feeling entirely compatible, for all the mutterings of hypocritical prudes and the would-be virtuous, with the mercenary rituals of love to which she dedicated herself, after the piercing shrieks she let out on realising that her loss of vision was not some new and unforeseen consequence of pleasure, the blind girl hardly dared to weep and lament her fate when unceremoniously..."(less)