Fun old-timey adventure story where hale, spirited men from the "civilized" world travel into Terra Incognita and meet strange new people, battle monsFun old-timey adventure story where hale, spirited men from the "civilized" world travel into Terra Incognita and meet strange new people, battle monsters, and have close scrapes with death in the most romantic way. It's not deep or life-changing; it's a crowd-pleaser, a raconteur's yarn. The epigraph makes its purpose clear: "I have wrought my simple plan / If I give one hour of joy / To the boy who's half a man, / Or the man who's half a boy."
It is also an interesting snapshot of early 20th century thinking, both in terms of morals and social attitudes and in terms of scientific thinking. You have to look at the book as a product of its time. It definitely has an unabashed "white man's burden" feel - white Europeans bringing their superiority to benighted, backwards natives, strange animals' heads desired for mantelpiece decoration, the glory and adventure had by gentlemen while the lady is a prize to be won. If that will get too much in the way for you, don't trouble yourself reading this.
Also of interest is the attitudes towards science that it depicts. The professors are depicted as adventurers in their own right, with a tendency to go off into eggheaded asides but otherwise strong in personality and physique. The expansion of the frontiers of scientific knowledge is treated as part and parcel of the broader romantic notion of exploration. It certainly glamorizes and emphasizes field work, with laboratory work (where, of course, a lot of real science work gets done) receiving little shrift and the task of lecturing to students actively pooh-poohed by one of the protagonists.
And of course, there are frightful beasts and battles and dramatic, thrilling moments. Again, let's not lose ourselves in analysis; that's what this book is really about. ...more
For about two-thirds of its length, this is a quite charming book about the lives, travails, and capers of a Greek town on the island of Cephalonia, sFor about two-thirds of its length, this is a quite charming book about the lives, travails, and capers of a Greek town on the island of Cephalonia, set against the backdrop of World War II and, eventually, an Italian occupation. The characters are colorful and lovable, the stories are amusing, and there are regular changes of narrational perspective that really put you into the thick of things - I'm thinking of the Carlo chapters and the early single chapter from Mussolini's point of view. And how can you resist the wonderful first chapter, in which a doctor removes a decades-old pea from a townsperson's ear?
At times the humor definitely feels traditionalist, which may not be to some people's tastes. A reasonable chunk of the humor can be categorized along the lines of "men are all like... and women are all like..." and on saws of national stereotype (i.e. "Heaven is where the police are British ..."). There's more than just that, as in the above example with the pea; there's plenty of other quips and jokes and physical comedy. But I can easily see some readers finding the writing tiresome.
This would especially be the case in the last third of the novel, where the quality really tails off. By the end I was rushing to finish. The story gets more serious, which in my opinion does not play to De Bernières's strengths at all. The yarns and perspective shifts and local color are traded off for an attempt to drive plot; quirkiness is surrendered for a more common love story narrative, good guys being heroic heroes and bad guys being mostly faceless villains. There's always the risk when you write something "charming" that it slips over to the other side of corny, and that's kind of what happens. ...more
I picked this book up because I really enjoyed one of Gray's short stories, "Labyrinth," that got published in the New Yorker. It's also present in thI picked this book up because I really enjoyed one of Gray's short stories, "Labyrinth," that got published in the New Yorker. It's also present in this volume. Somewhat disappointingly, I think it's easily the best one. Many of the other stories feel like they are at various stages of incompletion, like seeing an artist's sketches and drafts instead of the final painting. On average they are very short - something like five or six pages on average.
They're all right, for the most part, and I think some of them hint at potential greatness if the author were to find a single story idea she were willing to run with out to some depth. Many of them are also quite gruesome, and this collection is definitely not for readers that are faint of heart. There are recurrent themes of dismemberment, bodily fluids and internal organs, and wallowing in filth.
As mentioned, I loved "Labyrinth," which was the most focused story, and, perhaps not coincidentally, abandoned explicitly violent imagery for a more subtle sense of horror. "Thank You" was funny, "Away From" was memorably terrifying not just for the story but for the narrator's tone. "Device" was short and sharp. The bad stories, unfortunately, become exercises in evoking revulsion. Don't get me wrong, I see the thrill in that and I do enjoy a good gross-out, but it wears on you if there's nothing else there. We can't watch Ramsay and Theon every single episode, you know? ...more
I am a fan of all sorts of games, from sports to board games to imaginative free play (to me, the NFL and Settlers of Catan are two sides of the sameI am a fan of all sorts of games, from sports to board games to imaginative free play (to me, the NFL and Settlers of Catan are two sides of the same die), and so I thought I might enjoy this book, which is apparently a landmark in the intellectual analysis of games. I was wrong; I found it to be a mess of mostly pseudo-intellectual blather.
There is one good idea, the "ludus"-"paidia" spectrum, contrasting the enjoyment of a structured game in which people exhibit skill and strategy bound by rigorous rules (ludus) to a more disorderly, creative fun where rules and "winners" may be haphazardly defined and the enjoyment comes from finding your own way of playing (paidia). There are also a few interesting examples of games from different cultures.
Other than that, I found the book to be full of many statements that weren't well supported. The agon/alea/mimicry/ilinx classification seemed to be more driven by a desire to make grid diagrams than actually clearly spanning the range of possible games in any way. (Some aspects of games, such as addictiveness, humor, or what I'd describe as "the joy of taking things apart to see how they work" are not well captured by this classification.) There are overwrought statements made that are just made, without evidence beyond the author's confidence that you follow his train of thought and agree with where he's going, such as:
Any corruption of the principles of play means the abandonment of those precarious and doubtful conventions that it is always profitable, if not permissible, to deny, but the arduous adoption of which is a milestone in the development of civilization. If the principles of play in effect correspond to powerful instincts... it is readily understood that they can be positively and creatively gratified only under ideal and circumscribed conditions, which in every case prevail in the rules of play.
As far as I can tell, all this means (to the degree that it means anything) is that things can get out of hand if we let our impulses spill over from the meaningless boundaries of a game into places where they can do social harm. Whether this qualifies as a "milestone in the development of a civilization," I'm not so sure.
There is also what I'd describe as an overwrought attempt to tie game-playing into social practices. Sure, I buy that the thrill of acting and pretending that you're someone that you're not finds expression both in some games and in social rituals where people where masks or costumes. It suggests some potentially interesting analyses, such as the neurological state of the brain when involved in both, or the relative popularity of certain types of games in certain societies, etc. But when it turns into the author simply stating unrigorous or unfalsifiable statements about how a police state functions as a mask, or re-describing religious practices with words like "ilinx" jammed in here or there, then I've lost interest.
There's no need for you to read this book. ...more
Cormac McCarthy to the point of self-parody? This is the fourth book I've read by him, and I like him well enough: No Country for Old Men was an all-Cormac McCarthy to the point of self-parody? This is the fourth book I've read by him, and I like him well enough: No Country for Old Men was an all-time favorite, All the Pretty Horses was solid, Blood Meridian I gave only 3 stars (my first book on Goodreads!), but really it was sort of 3-4, and in the time passed since then some of it has lingered with me and I would likely go higher on a re-read.
I found this to be a sort of Blood Meridian-lite, a hardscrabble travelogue where McCarthy's signature shortness, bleakness, and apocalyptic imagery were ramped up to almost gratuitous levels, at the cost of the storyline. (What better place to be apocalyptic than an actual apocalypse, I guess.) I don't mean that the violence was any more particularly harsh or gruesome than McCarthy tends to be, but that you get a lot of wildly biblically grandiose metaphors and narrative asides that feel like they were attached on with effort, almost affectedly, and not part of a natural flow. And you get a lot of short, hard descriptions of the father doing one thing sequentially after another, and plenty of dialogue like this:
I dont know. You dont know? People give you things. People give you things. Yes. To eat. To eat. Yes. No they dont. You did.
(By the way, if you've read this or any of his other books, I encourage you to check out Yelping with Cormac.)
And when I say "at the cost of the storyline," I express disappointment that the characters change little, and their actions and interactions by the last pages of the book haven't left a meaningful impression on me beyond what I'd gotten from them by the first fifty pages. I can't help but compare this with No Country for Old Men, where you still have McCarthy's sparseness and doom, but also a wonderful story in which characters (even the inhuman, force-of-nature Anton Chigurh) exposit new facets and ideas and set the reader's mind and heart racing. Here, you don't get that. It read quickly, things happened, one after the other the way one procedurally lights a lantern, repairs an axle, or salvages a wreckage. And then I was done. ...more