Somewhere in the world, buried perhaps in some five-volume Life of Joseph Conrad, is a well-researched and otherwise-reliable explanation why this novel is subtitled “A Simple Tale”. But since I don't have easy access to a well-stocked university library at my disposal, I have to rely on what the Bulgarians are pleased to call “Chicho Google”.
The explanation favored by the first few pages of returned by a Google search is that the subtitle is ironic. The novel is not simple at all, these explainers explain, and was never seriously meant to be considered so. But since this is a population who are mostly writing lengthly analyses of the book, I believe this is not a reliable sample, as the writers (probably graduate students or the like) have a vested interest in convincing the readers that the book is complex by forethought and design.
The book IS complex, but I still think when Conrad used the subtitle “A Simple Tale” he was serious. Similarly, Graham Greene called some of his novels “entertainments” but they were not completely bereft of material to stimulate the old coconut.
But Conrad's original intent (I opine completely unburdened by supporting evidence) was to write a story in simple declarative sentences, for an intended audience of the comparatively uneducated, sort of like Tolstoy. However, Slavic literary sensibility will inevitably out. Conrad just couldn't stop himself from chucking in a wagonful of super awesome low-frequency words (podgy, hyperborean, charabia, panjandrum, havelock, hebetude, maculated, mansuetude, villegiature, and others) unlikely to be easily recognized by the great unwashed. On top of that, Conrad moves the novel's action back and forth in time so frequently and unpredictably it makes “Pulp Fiction” look like David Copperfield. The result is a deeply entertaining mess. You have to be ready for a serious read when you settle down with this puppy.
Here, I manifest a slight sympathy with Goodreaders who expected a page-turning thriller and/or tried to read this while they had the flu, and were disappointed.
Lots of modern people who demand that their books, movies, etc., have the same socio-polito-psycho-world views as they (the modern people) have will not like this book, as it is essentially an encyclopedia of conservative (in the US political sense) prejudices, with women, the poor, the working classes, idealists, and non-Anglo-Saxons, among others, coming in for a thorough bashing. I think that Conrad is not being fair to women, the poor, etc., but I still enjoyed the book because, as everybody started saying about the year 2002 for reasons I have yet to fathom, “it is what it is.”
Given Conrad's clear prejudices, I am surprised at Conrad's sympathetic portrayal of Stevie. Stevie is not, as characterized in the book blurb above, an “idiot”. The character Stevie is clearly a functioning autistic, perhaps today he might be characterized as suffering from Asperger's Syndrome. In any case, this novel came out in 1904, WebMD says the first usage of the word “autism” dates from about 1911. I do not recall seeing another character quite like him in literature of that age. Even in 1936, when Alfred Hitchcock (often interested in the cinematic portrayal of psychological states) made a film adaptation of this book, Stevie's character had to be transformed into a normally rambunctious child – the average filmgoer was probably not ready for a realistic depiction of autism on film.
It's also interesting how certain ideas (in this case, autism/Asberger's) tend to crop up in different places at more or less the same time, like those monkeys on different islands who all figured out how to crack open a coconut at more or less the same moment.
So, in conclusion, a very enjoyable read from an age when people had time for “simple” to be more complicated.(less)
Brain Pickings, like many new media outlets, seems to have realized that nothing attracts the page views like a well-written bit of optimistic sentiment, so we get as part of their recommendation this uncharacteristically sunny sentiment from the pen of The Master:
I have led too serious a life; but that perhaps, after all, preserves one’s youth. At all events, I have travelled too far, I have worked too hard, I have lived in brutal climates and associated with tiresome people. When a man has reached his fifty-second year without being, materially, the worse for wear — when he has fair health, a fair fortune, a tidy conscience and a complete exemption from embarrassing relatives — I suppose he is bound, in delicacy, to write himself happy.
I’m here to tell you now that the previous bit of sunny sentiment is immediately followed by a devastating “but”, specifically:
But I confess I shirk this obligation. I have not been miserable; I won't go so far as to say that--or at least as to write it. But happiness--positive happiness--would have been something different.
I love James and this is a great story, but -- as usual with my first read-through of a James story -- a great fat “Say What?" issued from my greasy lips when I reached the final word. Since then, I have discovered that several very clever people have reached wildly different interpretations of what we are supposed to make of this curious story. So I don't feel so bad about not really being sure what the heck this great slab of ambiguous prose is supposed to be about, except I have a sneaking suspicious that a heart-warming depiction of the bitter-sweet joys of middle-age was not Henry’s primary aim. Read it for yourself and decide.
Not really a novel as much as a throwback to the time long ago before the era of attention deficit disorder, when people wrote 35-page stories and cal...moreNot really a novel as much as a throwback to the time long ago before the era of attention deficit disorder, when people wrote 35-page stories and called them "short stories". Very enjoyable and written in a clear style. There are lots of great moments, like when the acting troupe coalesces to become, in effect, a detective, and when the lead player "interviews" a dumb (in the sense of unable to speak) person using acting and gesture as a type of language. I read it in two days and it was a great change of pace after several serious books. The copy I have (filched from the long-suffering wife) says it costs $22.50, which is pretty steep for a long short story. This is definitely a book to seek out at your public libraries, while we still have them. (less)
The longest story in this collect, “The Duel”, was the basis for the 1977 Ridley Scott movie ”The Duellists”, starring Harvey Keitel and David Carradine. I haven't seen this movie and I don't know if it is any good.
A very enjoyable set of short stories from the time when people thought that a 25-page story was short.
Many of the stories are like alternate takes on Conrad's most famous works -- “Gaspar Ruiz” in Heart of Darkness territory (figuratively, not geographically), "An Informer" same for The Secret Agent or Under Western Eyes, and “The Brute" for any number of well-known sea-going stories.
“The Duel” is the longest story in the book and also the best, IMHO. The ending of this story had me turning pages like I was reading this year's hot suspense novel.
Conrad sometimes writes sentences that have to be read two or three times. This I usually consider an unforgivable flaw. But stick with him, because then he’ll come out with a sentence that will knock you flat with its clarity and plain-spoken drama, like
“Don’t you know yet,” he said, “that an idle and selfish class loves to see mischief being made, even if it is made at its own expense? Its own life being all a matter of pose and gesture, it is unable to realize the power and the danger of a real movement and of words that have no sham meaning....” [“The Informer", Kindle location 932]
No man succeeds in everything he undertakes. In that sense we are all failures. The great point is not to fail in ordering and sustaining the effort of our life. [“The Duel”, Kindle location 2699]
Ditto the untranslated French -- usually a deal-breaker for me, but here something I felt I could put up with.
In summary, a great thing to have on your electronic device to prevent you from being in the situation where you’re stuck somewhere with nothing to read -- the horror, the horror.(less)
According to this 2013 appreciation of this novel by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post, and (probably reliable) information elsewhere on the Int...moreAccording to this 2013 appreciation of this novel by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post, and (probably reliable) information elsewhere on the Internet, this is a novel that all the cool kids like, including Raymond Chandler, Flannery O'Connor, and George V. Higgins. The cool kids have it right. This is a great novel. Even this Yankee liked it.
While I am grateful for Mysterious Press for saving this novel from oblivion, I am also cranky enough to note no human being seemed to mindfully read the new edition of this book from beginning to end before publishing it. If they had, they would have noticed several errors, presumably occurring in the computer-aided process of converting the book from one format to another. Several times, the word “the” becomes “he”. In the very last paragraph of the book, there is “Night was corning on” instead of “Night was coming on”. There are other similar examples. It's a little distracting. As I tell my students, you can't rely on spellcheck to catch all your mistakes, you have to read it yourself, or get a friend to read it for you.
The quality I enjoyed the most is that it doesn't have writerly tricks. Although it is set in a rural North Carolina town, it contains no “eye dialect” (i.e., words misspelled to reproduce the alleged native patois), but it has an ear for the way people sound and a talent for getting it down right. For example, we learn the first-person narrator had one year of college education and seems a little less dim than his fellow roadhouse employees, but the narrator never seems unbelievably well-schooled or improbably articulate over the course of the 200+ pages you are with him.
This novel takes place in a grim world. Nearly everybody is stupid and mean. If you read to get away from stuff like that, you may want to give this a wide berth. It will not restore your faith in mankind.
The Mysterious Press edition also had an introduction with a short list of forgotten authors of similar literature from the same period which deserves a look. They include
Edward Anderson - Thieves Like Us, Hungry Men Tom Kromer - Waiting for Nothing Horace McCoy - They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, I Should Have Stayed Home
There's also William Faulkner, but he's not forgotten, so far. (less)
I did my bit to accelerate the collapse of brick-and-mortar bookselling by downloading this as a free ebook after seeing and perusing a paper copy at the last old-school paper book retail chain still, for the moment, standing.
Like a Jedi light saber, this book is a more elegant weapon for more civilized age. It's as damning an indictment of capitalism as anyone in the capitalism-damning racket could possibly want. If that's not entertaining enough, it's just plain old weird. The effect for me was like sitting around a campfire listening to a scary story come out of a solitary face in the darkness, only with routine business practice standing in for the madman with a hook instead of a hand. The very very even, very very calm tone seemed hypnotic to me, but I guess it's a short hop from hypnotic to sleep-inducing for many readers. I could definitely understand those who found it difficult to plow through the reproduced-in-full summations of the opposing lawyers in the criminal prosecution at the book's center. Ditto for the full names and thumbnail biographies for all of the jurors in the same trial, none of whom does or says anything vital to the plot after their introduction.
Speaking of which, in this novel, the prosecution is allowed to address the jury finally, after the defense. What's up with that? That never happened in Perry Mason, Matlock, etc. I'll bet a nice annotated paper version, bought at a failing bookstore chain, would have had a footnote explaining. Serves me right for being a cheapskate.
I had a hard time finding this book at the Washington, D.C., public library because, although it is about a resourceful little girl and has whimsical...moreI had a hard time finding this book at the Washington, D.C., public library because, although it is about a resourceful little girl and has whimsical illustrations, it is shelved with the novels for grown-ups.
Has anyone out there every actually read this to or with an actual child? What was the child's reaction?
Saunders is sort of literary flavor-of-the-month now. I see serious people with goatees and/or tattoos reading his latest, Tenth of December, in coffee houses. It's encouraging in these times to see anyone reading anything anywhere, so no complaints, no remarks about goatees or tattoos.
As remarked here on Goodreads, there's a certain world view evident in this book that is likely to please the goatee-and-tattoo crowd. One reviewer seemed to think this book displayed anti-Christian bias because one of the (temporary) villains falls into the still-very-common trap (common across all religions) of attributing good fortune to God's favor. It seems barely worth mentioning that people who do this are really missing something very basic about the religious life, even if they go to a place of worship every week.
The religious are touchy. Compare: Elsewhere in this story, Saunders mocks the eminently mockable advice to “work smarter, not harder”. You don't see a lot of management consultants getting all stroppy on Goodreads about it.
I guess I understand the D.C. public library's decision to put this in the section with the books for grown up. They don't want a rushed parent absently pulling this off the shelf for their child's bedtime reading one week and returning enraged the next, asking what kind of morally polluting secular humanist filth the pub. lib. is peddling these days. I suppose that could happen. Even in Washington DC.(less)
Don't read this book for a good laugh. In fact, directly after reading this book one evening, I went to sleep and had a “Fobbit”-influenced nightmare....moreDon't read this book for a good laugh. In fact, directly after reading this book one evening, I went to sleep and had a “Fobbit”-influenced nightmare.
Everybody loves to laugh. Many love to read. So when a new novel is described as hilarious, when reviewers claim they laughed when they read it, it's likely to attract people who want a good chuckle. In this case, people will pick up this book knowing that the humor is likely to be dark, but still they expect the book to be funny. It is not funny. It's angry. You don't have to be a genius to figure out why the writer is angry.
So, opinion in the US on this book seems to be lined up along the predictable lines, i.e., if you are a liberal in the US political sense, you are likely to praise it. You might even say it's funny. If not, you are likely to find it lacking.
A critical review here (also cross-posted on Amazon) questions the author's integrity. For example, the writer says he never heard the term “fobbit” while he was in Afghanistan and Iraq, and says that none of his friends did either. He implies that the word is an invention by the author, part of his larger plan to “impugn the Army and its men”.
It took me about 15 seconds on Google to find a satirical rap video uploaded in 2007 which uses the term, among other places, in its title. I think it's safe to say the author did not make this word up as a slanderous weapon.
Later, this same reviewer rhetorically asks “what kind of man serves 20 years in that same Army, retires, presumably collects (or will collect) his pension and then turns around and stabs his fellow soldiers in the back?”
I think we can agree back-stabbing is not admirable. So the argument rests on whether this book is a stab in the back. I asked a person whose opinion I trust if it was a stab in the back. This person said (in effect), if the author did his Army job sloppily or negligently, leading possibly to deaths or at least a weakening of the war effort, THIS is a stab in the back to his fellow-soldiers and/or country. If he does his job competently (I assume Abrams did), comes home, takes the retirement that he is due, and takes advantage of our civil liberties to write about the ossified bureaucracy, clear unfairness, and soul-destroying wrongness that he witnessed, he is not a back-stabber. He is a patriot. (less)
At times like these, I tend to see the world as a giant version of high school, wit...moreA New York Timesbest book of 2012? Really? I mean, it's OK but ...
At times like these, I tend to see the world as a giant version of high school, with more money. In these case, I see this as the grown-up version of the kids who ran the high school literary magazine praising each other, sincerely but, well, wrongly. It's just not that good.
Still, I enjoyed it. (view spoiler)[Considering the story is about a guy sitting around waiting for something that never happens, (hide spoiler)]A Hologram For the King moves forward at a snappy pace and is easy to read. It claims 317 pages, but -- as noted elsewhere on Goodreads -- there’s a lot of white space going on. At this length, it’s a good book to borrow on one of those library ebook loans where Amazon comes and yanks it off your device at the end of the loan period.
On the other hand, the main character is one of those awkward white guys who otherwise populate British “comedy of embarrassment” vehicles and, on this side of the ocean, the novels of Jonathan Franzen. These guys must somehow, for the story to work, have gained a position of at least modest authority but then, in order for the novel to be minimally novel length, must engage in multiple incredulity-stretching lapses in judgement. For many people, a little of this kind of main character goes a long way. Being a white guy who is no stranger to judgement lapses, perhaps I have a higher tolerance for this than normal.
One part where my disbelief refused to suspend itself was the multiple occasions when the protagonist Alan began to compose letters to his college-age daughter. This wheeze allowed Eggers to show off his writerly chops in the area of aphorism. Many of the quotations from this book here on Goodreads are lifted from these segments. So, they are good writing, to be sure, but it’s hard to believe that this bumbling salesman who otherwise shows no particular interest in the written word is adept at crafting such tight, well-polished sentences, except for the obvious reason that the author requires a vehicles for his bon mots (a phrase from the French meaning “good mots").
The sex is ridiculous, too. If you didn’t know, you could tell this book was written by a man because, in spite of being an obvious loser, he is the recipient of frequent distaff sexual attention.
Conclusion: not for everybody, not (NY Times be damned) life-changing, but pretty good and worth a look.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Like Thomas Jefferson improving on the Gospels with an X-ACTO® knife, Amitav Ghosh's Ibis Trilogy pulls apart and reassembles the world of Patrick O'B...moreLike Thomas Jefferson improving on the Gospels with an X-ACTO® knife, Amitav Ghosh's Ibis Trilogy pulls apart and reassembles the world of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels in a configuration more to Ghosh's liking.
Elements of the Aubrey/Maturin world which so far appear more-or-less unaltered in the Ibis Trilogy (so I therefore believe are pleasing to Ghosh): the world in the age of wooden ships, botany, Sir Joseph Banks, Napoleon, a sense of the grand sweep of history.
Elements of the Aubrey/Maturin world which do NOT so far appear in the Ibis Trilogy (therefore I assume NOT pleasing): sympathetic white males in position of authority, a steady and omniscient narrative voice, the sense that the author started with a grand plan for the series and is sticking to it.
How you feel about both series may depend on whether the qualities of your novel's heroes must be aligned with your personal interests and/or political convictions. As an example, I once met a lady who didn't like the Russell Crowe movie version of O'Brian's works because there weren't any women in it. Apparently, every movie she saw had to have a major female character. This seemed odd to me (although I did not tell her so) because, while there were inarguably no distaff characters in that particular movie, it seemed possible that a movie could have no important female roles and still be good, just as a movie could contain no major male characters and still be good.
In Ghosh's case, this series seems to be an attempt to remove white European males from the heroic place they occupy in the narrative mind of O'Brian and similar writers, and rewrite history to replace them with types of people the author thinks more worthy of admiration, specifically, women, Asians, artists, people of non-traditional sexuality, and lovers of flowers. Does that bother you? Then don't read this book.
Personally, I don't get exercised about the personal details of my fictional heroes, as long as there are heroes in evidence (modern novel with no sympathetic characters? Won't touch it). So, I am in the happy situation of being able to enjoy both O'Brian and Ghosh for simpler, perhaps more frivolous, reasons: a good story, fun and interesting historical details, interesting characters, and a lost world richly evoked. (less)
The period of 1940-60 in Malaysia were interesting times, in the sense of the phrase “May you live in interesting times”,...moreA gentle book about cruelty.
The period of 1940-60 in Malaysia were interesting times, in the sense of the phrase “May you live in interesting times”, which is said to be an ancient Chinese curse but apparently is not. In any case, while we here in my home country were enjoying the sunny morning of our empire, the present-day Malaysia was mired in a brutal occupation, followed by a Communist insurgency with ethnic overtones, followed by successful repression of C. i. with e. o.
Recently I read a newspaper article on sleeping better. It recommended that time-honored technique of reading, and added that it might help if the material was a little dull. This book was not, in my sight, dull, but most of the nastiness is only referred to. When described, it is with restraint. People spend an extraordinary amount of time talking about gardens. Scenery is described at length, sometimes by the narrator, other times by characters. It's relaxing. From where I sit, that's praise. Also, the book's peacefulness is a good sleep aid. I speak from experience.
It's also nice to see an author with enough self-confidence in his own power to refrain from attempting to shock.
Some interesting words:
holbol (p. 33) – definition: concave-convex, richly profiled mouldings (from Wikipedia). Usage in this book: A holbol gable with a plasterwork of leaves and grapes capped the porch.
godown (p. 47) – definition: a warehouse in a country of southern or eastern Asia (from Merriam-Webster.com). Usage: The factory was the size of a wharf-side godown.
nock (verb – p. 136) – definition: to fit an arrow to the bowstring ready for shooting (from Kindle's onboard dictionary). Also used as a noun for the notches, both in the bow and the arrow, for holding the string. Usage: He nocked an arrow to the string of his own bow...
nightjar (p. 205) – definiton: a noctural insectivorous bird (from Kindle's dictionary). Usage: A nightjar calls out, then stops.
pollard (verb – p. 270) – definition: to cut off the top and branches of a tree to encourage new growth (from Kindle's dictionary). Usage: He asked us to pollard the pine trees at the perimeter of his garden.
Words from Chinese, Malay, or Afrikaans (yes, Afrikaans) are also sprinkled liberally through the book, in italics, often untranslated but guessable from context. "Google Translate" makes this much less annoying that it used to be. (less)
I am long of frame and grumpy of disposition. Thus, when wedged into a bus seat during the inevitable holiday trip to the family, I find a well-done n...moreI am long of frame and grumpy of disposition. Thus, when wedged into a bus seat during the inevitable holiday trip to the family, I find a well-done novel set during the grimmest moments of modern history really hits the spot because such a novel of this type can be both diverting and can pointedly remind that, however long and congested the New Jersey turnpike seems to be, it is not nearly as bad as European capitals were immediately after World War II.
So this year I read City of Thieves (set in Leningrad) on the way towards the ancestral homestead; this novel (Berlin) passed the time very satisfactorily on the way back.
The novels starts a bit of the busy side, what with the swift introduction of a dead mobster-spy-dwarf in a steamer trunk, a gang of feral youth, a pet monkey, and sundry intelligence operatives and prostitutes, shoved onstage pretty quickly to get your attention focused. But soon things settle down a little and we’re off on a nicely-plotted adventure in search, eventually, of the inevitable microfilm.
I read somewhere that, if a playwright mentions a gun in the first act, it has to go off in the last act. The monkey served that purpose here. In the last act, the monkey goes off, metaphorically speaking.
There’s some nice post-modern writerly tricks in here too, including shuffling time back and forth and starting with a narrator who seems at first third-person omniscient but in the end turns out to be a character in the story.
Worth a read if a grim story is your thing. Of course, it's not really any grimmer than holidays with the family.(less)
Warning: At no time does the action in this book actually occur in Prague, except in the fetid imagination of the book's omni-bigoted forger anti-hero...moreWarning: At no time does the action in this book actually occur in Prague, except in the fetid imagination of the book's omni-bigoted forger anti-hero Simonini, when he is plagiarizing and/or fabricating the materials that will become The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
I sometimes read serious books for unserious reasons. In this case, I thought, “Oh, U. Eco will surely have some interesting and/or entertaining things to say about the history of Prague.” Alas, no. Most of the book takes place in Paris, a place which – I am led to understand – pleases some people. Paris just doesn't float my boat the way Prague does. Fellow Prague-lovers: seek elsewhere.
New topic: I couldn't decide while reading if Eco's apparent decision not to allow Simonini even the slightest smidgen of lovable-rogueness was a wise or an unwise one. It's hard to spend so much time in the company of a hateful character, making the reading of this book something of a chore. In the end, though, I decided that it was a good thing, specifically, a moment of authorial discipline, in which the writer refuses to take the easily entertaining way out. A lesser writer might do so out of sheer egotism, as if to say, “See the extent of my literary chops? I can make this horrible person into someone you are rooting for!” U. Eco presumably wouldn't be caught dead performing such middle-brow literary magic tricks.
In addition to the hateful main character, there's some other reader-alienating techniques between the covers of this book, such as various narrator voices (each with a unique font) and a mystery concerning a split personality, one or both of whom's personalities may be experiencing a case of amnesia, or faking same. On top of all of this, various real historical characters and events go zipping in and out. I enjoyed all of the above except the multiple-personalities-with-possible-amnesia thing, which could have, in my opinion, been left out of the book.
It's a busy damn novel.
That last sentence would be my deeply inadequate one-sentence elevator pitch for this novel. Others, more in tune with the spirit of the age, have dug deeply into the lint-filled change-purse of modern cultural references into order to sum up this novel in a memorable way. My completely unscientific research showed that those groping on the Internet for a memorable metaphor for the reprehensible main character reached for the following (in order of popularity) comparable characters: Forrest Gump, Zelig, Flashman. This probably reflects more on the level of recognition of these characters in our society, rather than the appropriateness of the comparison in this case. All of them capture an element of Simonini's personality. I considered writing a cranky review in which I would advocate the honorable retirement of one or more of these metaphors. After a nice lie down, I decided against. Some people very admirably want to warn other people about a book's contents so that they (the second group of people) go into their novels with an idea of what they're getting into. Maybe I should try that.(less)
A great novel, fast-moving and smart. It distracted me from my worries and gave me something to look forward to every day. In short, it did everything...moreA great novel, fast-moving and smart. It distracted me from my worries and gave me something to look forward to every day. In short, it did everything that great novels are supposed to do. I was surprised that it didn’t get more attention/awards from the arbiters of good literature. Maybe they were biased because the author is a successful screenwriter and married to a starlet.
I often look at a book's one-star reviews. I’m not sure why - I certainly have enough aggravation in my life already. In any case, a lot of the one-star reviews here are critical because of the coarseness of the language, the raunchy talk by the main (male) characters, and the casual violence. This caused one-star raters to stop reading the book.
To them, I have to say: this is war is like. People are coarsened, worsened, sometimes turned into monsters. If you don’t want to read about it, that’s understandable, but don’t fault writers for stating the obvious. (less)
I had never before considered the possibilities for psychological release inherent in looting and pillaging. As an effective antidote for hypochondria...moreI had never before considered the possibilities for psychological release inherent in looting and pillaging. As an effective antidote for hypochondria and an over-protective mother, this book makes a convincing case for the cathartic value of Viking-like behavior. Since, alas, the opportunities to relieve defenseless European villages and monasteries of their treasure are somewhat thinner on the ground in the modern world than one would ideally like, it may be necessary to content yourself with the vicarious thrills generated when following the adventures of Red Orm, the hypochondriacal and mother-ridden Viking hero of The Long Ships, doing what comes naturally around the year 1000 A.D.
Another potential upside to this novel that I can personally testify to: you can score literary style points amongst the sort of people who care about this sort of thing by ostentatiously bringing up the fact that you are are reading a (fairly) modern novel translated from another language, without having to endure the reading tedium inherent in the sort of arty modern novels that tend to get translated. No one needs to know that you are reading a novel which is often actually more entertaining than television. It can be our little secret.
In summary, the best novel I’ve read, certainly this year, and for a while before that too.
Instead of getting all excited on Goodreads about the introductory endorsement by literary pin-up boy Michael Chambon (as others have, you know who you are), I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that this book was recommended in the pages of Foreign Policy magazine, of all places, by soon-to-be ex-President of the World Bank Robert Zoellick (link here, scroll to bottom). Like Red Orm, Zoellick in his time may have caused a leader of a nation, or two, to beg for mercy, and thus may be in an excellent position to judge the verisimilitude of fictional depictions of same. Take his world for it, and mine. Read this excellent book.(less)
As a recovering New Yorker, my favorite line in this 11-hour, two-part unabridged Audible download was: “That’s the problem with being born in New Yor...moreAs a recovering New Yorker, my favorite line in this 11-hour, two-part unabridged Audible download was: “That’s the problem with being born in New York … You’ve got no New York to run away to.”
New topic: It’s interesting to see how readers (and listeners) here on Goodreads and elsewhere deal with, or fail to deal with, the challenge of the problematic political and social baggage inherent in the author’s life story, i.e., that he is a male and an apparently successful investment banker, who wrote an acclaimed and successful novel about social climbing in the voice of a poor young woman from Brooklyn. I found his distaff authorial voice convincing, but then again, what do I know about being a woman? However, the objections about a man writing in a woman’s voice reminded me that we’ve come full circle from about 100 years ago, when Henry James (not normally a thought of as a feminist) jumped to the defense of a woman novelist who was criticized for presuming to write a novel about military life, featuring mainly male characters.
On the other hand, unless you are more saintly than I, it is hard not to dwell on unfairness when a person who already has achieved a measure of success in one field of life goes on to achieve success in another, when many of us are quickly approaching retirement age without even one success to speak of. Maybe if I spent less time reading books ... Nah, it’s not worth it.
New topic: This novel has been characterized, not unfairly or inaccurately, as a Depression-era ”Sex in the City”, although I found it much more enjoyable than the television series. In any event, the last few times I was in New York, I found the pursuit of points of interest connected with Carrie and her friends, esp. the cupcake place and Carrie’s home (both in the West Village), was a popular pasttime of out-of-town tourists. In case Rules of Civility tours become the fashion, be advised that the butcher ”Ottomanelli’s”, at which the heroine shops (see download part two, chapter two, time 9:55, or book chapter 15), is O. Ottomanelli & Sons, still operating at its original location at 285 Bleecker Street, nr. the corner of Seventh Avenue. This is not to be confused with Ottomanelli Brothers, a chain of butcher shops and restaurants located at, among other places, at 1549 York Avenue. See a discussion of this controversy here, and accept no substitutes.
All 110 of George Washington’s Rules of Civility are read at the end of this audio book. (less)
Q: What did my long-suffering wife say when I remarked that Rana Dasgupta's novel Solo, set largely in our...moreA: “Melancholy seems appropriate for here.”
Q: What did my long-suffering wife say when I remarked that Rana Dasgupta's novel Solo, set largely in our present home of Sofia, Bulgaria, was kinda melancholy?
I recently saw Dasgupta speak; his talk was titled (if memory serves) “Writing into the Unknown”. In it, he politely took a tire-iron to the habitual exhortation to young writers that they should “write what you know”. Since this seemingly-reasonable advice has resulted in endless reams of uninteresting fiction about the personal problems of privileged but unhappy 20-somethings in creative writing programs or just “come down” from Oxbridge, I listened to his talk with sympathy.
Dasgupta said that, many years before, he had read somewhere that there was no reason for anyone to be at all interested in Bulgaria. He knew next to nothing about Bulgaria himself, but some sort of circuit of intellectual cussedness kicked in and he decided to learn. Many hours in libraries and in country are evident, which I mean to be a compliment. He invests an ordinary-appearing life with a great deal of interest and observation. It's admirable that Dasgupta took a principled position about the role of a novelist, and followed through on his position in his work.
However, sometimes it appears as if Dasgupta, after much struggle, ended up with two or more related fragments of novel, and eventually just decided to paste them together and move on. In my fantasy of the book's construction, the author looked at his novel fragments and thought that the better of the incomplete stories, in which an ancient blind man sits in his Sofia apartment and thinks back on his tragic life through the 20th century, was concluding on an overly-depressing note (see melancholy remark above). So he shoved the lesser story of rescue in the face of peril, followed by subsequent success and tragedy, to the end, so the reader wouldn't go away from the book thinking something like “There's a guy who needs to cheer up” or “Booorrrriiinnng!”
Especially, the part set in former Soviet Georgia, and later involving the same characters elsewhere, is a disappointment. Some of the dialog made me laugh out loud, and not in a good way (e.g., p. 272: “Let's not forget it was also the best performance of the Schnittke sonata we've ever heard!”) It also has a bad case of Poet As Tragic Hero Disorder, wherein an unprepossessing Poet is secretly a moral and swashbuckling (but still sensitive) talent, indifferent to public acclaim but possessing a loyal and eccentric following. He seems to have no money or job but, when the plot demands it, is able to produce, on no notice, effective false passports, complete with necessary visas, and a pair of airplane tickets to spirit an endangered young woman (his sister) from the clutches of gangsters to safety. I was willing to believe that Harry Potter could stop colossal forces of evil by pointing a stick and uttering faux-Latin gibberish, but certain things are just beyond the pale. Anyone who has even seen poets and gangsters in their Eastern European habitats would know that, in a situation like this, if the sister did not save them both, they would have ended up a bloody heap on the street. (less)
Oh, and the sex. OK, that’s six words. Not as dramatic. Can’t be helped.
Lose the magic. I really wanted to...moreThree words for the author: lose the magic.
Oh, and the sex. OK, that’s six words. Not as dramatic. Can’t be helped.
Lose the magic. I really wanted to like this book, because I saw the author speak and he said a lot of things I agree with about the negative effects of ”writing what you know”, for example, all those tedious novels and short stories about unhappy English professors and unhappy participants in graduate school writing seminars. I was disappointed because I wanted to see this opinion fleshed out in an effective manner. I was doubly disappointed because this book also seemed to come with a promising High Concept (a series of stories told by people waiting in an airport to pass the time), which would allow the author to be able to show off his stylistic chops by writing in an entertaining variety of voices.
But, alas, all the stories are told in the same ”once upon a time” voice, which is OK the first or second time but loses interest on the fifth or sixth appearance. Even the plots have a certain sameness about them, as they all start out within one standard deviation of normal and get progressively more bizarre, with magical and/or grotesque elements introduced to no apparent purpose or internal consistency except, sometimes, to get the author out of the narrative corner he’s written himself into. An example: in one story, the author for narrative purposes needs to get a Turkish girl from the Turkey to Germany. Presumably to avoid getting sidetracked on a lot of unimportant details about visas, he says that she came through a magical underground hole from Turkey to Germany, which is apparently unknown to anyone else, before and after, and is not used or mentioned again.
Please take my word for it that there are many further examples of this type of thing.
I’ve read the second novel by this same writer. Like this one, the introduction of fantasy elements sent the story completely off the rails. I’d love to see this writer try something completely based in observable lived experience, meaning, no convenient magic tunnels. Not even one.
And the sex. I thought that the brother-sister incest early in the book would be the most cringe-worthy sex scene. I had underestimated the author because, later on, there is a scene between Robert DeNiro and a Chinese laundress, and, after that, there is a scene between a Japanese entrepreneur and the sex doll he constructs out of prosthetic body parts, both of which are even sillier. It is difficult to tell why these scenes take place. Are they supposed to showcase the writer’s ability? Did the publisher cynically demand sex scenes to boost sales? Perhaps scenes like this were designed with the intention of shocking me out of my bourgeois complacency, but be assured that my bourgeois complacency, made of very durable materials indeed, continues to envelope me like a great comfortable fuzzy blanket.
I probably appear to be some sort of decrepit killjoy, taking mean-spirited pleasure in bashing a writer’s uninhibited creativity. I can only reply: that’s ”Mister Killjoy” to you, friend.(less)
NOTE: possibly useful information if you haven't started The Tin Drum yet.
There are two English translations of this book: an award-winning 1961 trans...moreNOTE: possibly useful information if you haven't started The Tin Drum yet.
There are two English translations of this book: an award-winning 1961 translation by Ralph Manheim, and a 2009 translation by Breon Mitchell. Starting with the “Translator's Afterword” in the Mitchell translation might add your enjoyment and understanding of this book, no matter which translation you end up reading.
End possibly useful information. Begin opinion.
I must admit that I laughed out loud at the Afterword when I reached the part where Grass shyly criticized the first translation because it was too easy to read. His reasoning: the original German deliberately contained long tortured sentences, as well as multi-syllabic neologisms coined by the novel's insane hero, so why shouldn't the translation as well? Wouldn't that be more faithful to the author's vision?
Well, yes, but life is full of distractions. Those of us making the effort, in our spare minutes on public transit or before going to sleep, to read 582-page Important Modern Novels about emotionally-damaged characters and societies might be excused for hoping that the meaning of almost all words and sentences were more or less clear the first time that we read them. Still, once I read the Afterword, I realized that the style was not a bug but a feature, and somehow that seemed to make it better. However, given that this honkin' fat novel is a major investment of time and energy, a reader might choose Manheim's “easy” translation without covering him- or herself in shame.
As my literal-minded lack of patience makes me irritable when I have to read a sentence more than once, so also is my sang-froid agitated by prolonged calls for suspension of disbelief. (In general, we can conclude that I am not part of the target demographic for artistically-rendered magical realism.) So, when a character takes a job in a museum guarding a statue with a long association with gruesome death, and then starts talking to the statue in an extremely disrespectful manner, I found myself rooting for the statue to go ahead and dispatch this idiot, who clearly has never read or even heard of a supernatural tale in his life, and by doing so put the idiot, and us, out of our misery. Similarly, the third or fourth time that the anti-hero and anti-Peter Pan, Oscar, wrecks a great work of architecture and disturbs the public calm by unleashing his secret superhero power, a glass-shattering shriek, upon his friends and family, I waited in vain for one of them to calmly go home, hide his/her eyeglasses and wristwatch in some safe place, buy a good set of ear plugs, put on his/her stoutest pair of Kashubian marching boots, and return to plant a good swift kick deeply deeply deeply up Oscar's symbolically-German tiny white butt.
If you've read this far, you're probably saying, “If this book annoyed you so much, just stop whining and go read a novel about teenaged vampires already.” To which I reply, first, don't take that tone with me young lady, and, second, that books, like food, offer increased pleasure in variety. Sometimes you just have to sit yourself down with a fat serious novel like this one. The Tin Drum prompts you to think hard, self-generate ideas, and subsequently be more interesting society for your long-suffering friends and spouse, who've just about had it up to the eyeballs with the same old set of boring things that you keep mumbling into your Jameson's whenever you're in public. That's my theory, anyway. (less)
This entertaining novella plus long end notes, as of June 2011, is available as a Kindle download for $1.99 from amazon.com
Subtract one star if you ha...moreThis entertaining novella plus long end notes, as of June 2011, is available as a Kindle download for $1.99 from amazon.com
Subtract one star if you haven't read The Steel Bonnets by the same author, or possess a thorough knowledge of the Border region, because otherwise all this talk about Marches and evil Nixons might lead you to believe that this is some sort of obscure allegory about U.S. politics in the 1970s.
I'd file this under “excellent beach reads for the over-educated”, with a cross-reference in “shame it wasn't more commercially successful”. I don't know what film treatments are supposed to be like, but this seems a lot like one to me. To be clear, this is praise: you can see a film in your head, including details barely suggested in the narrative. I rather unimaginatively cast Russell Crowe (thief-turned-hero, handsome when covered in mud), Keira Knightly (well-born lady who must fight, frequent costume changes), and Ian Holm (priest with doubts, stealing the picture). Feel free to re-cast at will...
This book made me think about the strange sexual politics of book publishing in our times. Previously, I had read that Joanne Rowling became J.K. Rowling because the publisher thought boys wouldn't read a book by a woman. This didn't seem so bad to me because boys, well, they bring the very concept of childishness to life; you can't blame them for it any more than you can fault the rain for being wet. However, I also listened to a recent biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, also by a poor soul who had to resort to the same wheeze with the two initials so that grown-up history geeks would not be seen in public reading a book by a presumably cootie-inducing woman historian.
So, what goes around comes around. Although I understand that there are successful male romance writers (sometimes writing under women's names), perhaps Fraser, best known as the creator of the unredeemable arch-cad Flashman, simply could not be marketed to the romance-reading demographic. As a result, I imagine that Fraser's publisher just didn't bother to tell him to beef up this volume with longer periods of heavy breathing and a more conventional ending (although Fraser is not known for this style of writing, I feel he had a healthy enough interest in money, and sufficient talent, to do so if asked). As a result, this novella as it came out of his typewriter falls between two stools, not mushy enough for the romance-reading public, but too talky for lovers of ultra-violence in historical novel form.
But I loved it. At a mere 190 pages, this is perfect for a weekend at the beach...(less)
This book, in an abbreviated ESL reader, is an optional reading for the 2011 First Certificate in English exam, for which I am preparing my students....moreThis book, in an abbreviated ESL reader, is an optional reading for the 2011 First Certificate in English exam, for which I am preparing my students. So I, for reasons not really clear even to myself, decided to read the door-stop-sized original, written for a more elegant age when (rich) people had long dark evenings with nothing to do but read.
It is interesting to compare the Victorian era, well documented by a literate population, with our own. Like our age, it was periodically swept by hysterical fads of anxiety seemingly inspired by the most absurd and baseless fears of its people. Whereas it is now fashionable to waste your time fretting over cellphone radiation and bedbugs, the Victorian era had burial alive and wrongful incarceration in a lunatic asylums. The Woman in White both exploited and enlarged the latter fear, achieving record sales in the process. It's oddly comforting to know this and realize that we today look back on the Victorian era as a highly literate and refined age. Maybe we won't look so bad in 150 years, either.
Serious books don't have pictures, of course, but this one could have used some. Specifically, I needed some visual cues to convince me that the pale and fainting heroine/victim Laura Fairlie was such a major piece of Victorian babe-a-licious-ness that intrepid hero Walter Hartright would waste his time going all goopy over her when her clearly intellectually superior but “dark, mannish” (Hm, what could THAT mean? Does she have a little mustache?) half-sister Marian Halcombe is hanging around the same country mansion. I mean, I'm as much a sucker for a pretty face as the next man, but if I'm going to be lounging about some great Victorian pile on long summer days with no Xbox or Facebook, I'm going to want parlay with some womanhood who engages the old coconut. Wouldn't you? If you don't agree, just try reading this book and see if you, too, are not rooting for her in her efforts to pound the elegantly evil Count Fosco into the ground like a nail. Go ahead. I dare you.
This book is an optional reading text for students taking Cambridge ESOL's Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) test in 2011. I am teaching it in my...moreThis book is an optional reading text for students taking Cambridge ESOL's Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) test in 2011. I am teaching it in my class. It's the first one I've read in the series – I may have liked it better if I had read previous books. The characters seemed kind of colorless, like the author expected you to know and love them already.
I think there is a graduate thesis in a study of what qualities women mystery writers have given their men detective heroes. Here, as in many, the writer seems to want him to be an opinionated woman in trousers (not that there's anything wrong with that – just ask my wife). The hero has strong opinions about his neighbor's gardenias (also about gardenias in general) but doesn't care about football/soccer. He notices, analyzes, and has an opinion on the color and pattern of blouse a woman co-worker is wearing, but never her... other qualities. He meekly agrees when the same woman elsewhere asserts the intellectual superiority of women. I know he's supposed to be a man of unique qualities, but I wasn't convinced that the assertions above weren't simply a expression of the writer's own opinions. (less)
Add two stars if you are a non-Bulgarian who wants to understand Bulgaria.
If you are coming to Bulgaria to visit or live and want to read one book abo...moreAdd two stars if you are a non-Bulgarian who wants to understand Bulgaria.
If you are coming to Bulgaria to visit or live and want to read one book about the culture, instead of wasting your time reading a boring history book which is probably full of lies, read this book, a new translation of a classic work of Bulgarian literature. Here's why: -- At under US$20, it's relatively cheap for a new book. -- It's short. -- It's reasonably funny. -- The book is made up of an set of interlocking comic short stories, some of which can be read in their entirety in the time between the time when the stewardess tells you to turn off your electronic devices to prepare for landing and the time when you are allowed to turn them back on again. -- It was translated in sections by four native-English speakers who are clearly enthusiastic about Bulgarian culture and also know how to explain it to newbies. -- It was edited by one of the four translators, who pulled the various translations together into a seamless whole. -- The introduction provides excellent cultural and political background – it's worth reading before you start. -- All Bulgarians that you are likely to talk to here (meaning, anyone educated enough to speak some English) will have read this in school, know it, and have an opinion about it. They will be impressed that you have made the effort to read a work of Bulgarian literature, even in translation. If given a chance, they will spend a long time making sure you fully understand the historical, linguistic, and social context of the book, thus relieving you of the necessity of making conversation yourself, perhaps even for the entire evening.
Bai Ganyo's full name is Ganyo Balkanski – “Bai” is a title of respect. He's a kind of caricature of a national type, roughly analogous to Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt in the US or Colonel Blimp in England. In the opening stories, he's a light-hearted satire. A travelling rose-oil salesman, he starts the book by barging through 1890's Europe in search of free food, drink, and lodging, suspicious of pickpockets everywhere. He's critical of whatever nationalities he's meeting in one breath, and talking about the significance of being European the next.
When he returns to Bulgaria, Bai Ganyo changes from being a comic yokel to a blustering hoodlum, and the stories take a darker comic turn. He fixes elections, starts an irresponsible newspaper, and hires thugs to beat people up. The book notes indicate that the author, an aspiring politician as well as a writer who was eventually murdered under mysterious circumstances, was able to draw on his experience on the receiving end of this type of behavior to make the stories believable.
But this book is not just a museum piece. A lot of the issues that pop up in this book are still in play today. With Bulgaria recently in the EU, there's still a tremendous amount of talk here about what it means to be European, whether it actually worth being European, and so on. Another example: the introduction talks about the difficulty in translating the flavor of Bai Ganyo's Turkish-influenced dialect, which was the “hillbilly-speak” of its day, marking you as a provincial. Today, the use of Turkish-derived words in popular and youth culture is still a matter of controversy; a sign of rebellion on one side of the cultural divide and a matter of much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the guardians of language purity on the other.
Everything old is new again. Read this book.(less)
A simplified version of this book is an optional reading for 2011 for the First Certificate in English exam, part of the Cambridge ESOL series. I will...moreA simplified version of this book is an optional reading for 2011 for the First Certificate in English exam, part of the Cambridge ESOL series. I will be teaching this book in my class.
This book reminded me of The DaVinci Code and certain other popular bestsellers. These book are gripping and fun to read. Writing well in this fashion is NOT a small accomplishment -- try it yourself. Anyone who can write well gets my respect, period. Life is hard and we all need some diversion sometime. You could do a lot worse than reading this book.
But if you base your opinions on the great problems facing the world on the information gleaned from these types of books -- well, just don't.
Note for those Goodreads members who are ashamed because they read and loved this book and books like it as teenagers: Don't be. "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." (less)
The rise and fall of literary reputations, like some kind of stock market for introverts, is a strange thing. This author's work, published in the Net...moreThe rise and fall of literary reputations, like some kind of stock market for introverts, is a strange thing. This author's work, published in the Netherlands over half a century ago, seems to be experiencing a “buy” signal largely due to the author, a German Jew who fled the Nazis and was hidden by the Dutch, surviving to see his 100th birthday recently. Happily, the author in this case deserves some attention. This is slender (literally and figuratively) story of bland yet decent people trying somewhat ineptly to do the right thing from a mixture of profound and shallow motives. Your reaction may depend on whether or not you can look upon the Holocaust without great emotion. Different from most books about this subject – give it a try.(less)
I'm already sure that I'm going to die broke and living in a cardboard box, so I'm giving free to all Goodreads patrons a sure-fire money-spinning ide...moreI'm already sure that I'm going to die broke and living in a cardboard box, so I'm giving free to all Goodreads patrons a sure-fire money-spinning idea. Well, maybe not, but if you could monetize this, the world would be a better place. Here it is. You know how, at Amazon.com, iTunes, or even here at Goodreads, you have that function that says “People who ordered this also liked...”. So, what if you did that with fictional characters! Then you could constantly have the pleasure of reading novels with main characters that you enjoy! Is that idea golden, or what? Like Count Dracula? You'll like Karl Rove!... OK, Rove isn't fictional but you get the idea.
I mention it only because... like Horatio Hornblower? You'll like Daniel Waterhouse, the hero of The System of the World! And vice versa. Waterhouse is like Hornblower without the lanyards: both are heroic guys who believe themselves deeply ordinary because they are doomed to see their own lives from the inside only. They both are also great fun for us introverted book geeks to read about, as they are both withdrawn, thoughtful, and somewhat melancholy souls who nevertheless have great adventures, accumulate and use power wisely, favorably impress the great minds of their respective ages, and successfully romance people richer and more attractive than they are, seemingly without trying too hard. What's not to like about that? Treat yourself to a 2,000-page, three-volume trilogy about this guy! You're worth it! And give me some change when you see me in that cardboard box.
This is what your grandma thought was good airplane reading, and she had better taste than you. And by now it's also charmingly old-fashioned; if thes...moreThis is what your grandma thought was good airplane reading, and she had better taste than you. And by now it's also charmingly old-fashioned; if these criminals had had cell phones, the book would have been over in ten pages.
Some people read books also vampires and zombies to get scared but, for me, ordinary people are terrifying enough without supernatural embellishment. In this case, Ambler's "hero" is your average overweight sociopath with no apparent problem with completely trashing people's lives because of some imagined slight, or maybe just to get some spare cash. He really comes to life and seems like he could be like any person passing you on the street. And then, to top it off, Ambler manages to make this guy look sympathetic by mixing him up with a bunch of characters who are far, far worse. They don't write 'em like this anymore.(less)
I hereby call for a Truth in Labelling of Humor Act. This is the second book I've encountered in two months that, although marketed as a comedy and la...moreI hereby call for a Truth in Labelling of Humor Act. This is the second book I've encountered in two months that, although marketed as a comedy and labelled ”hilarious” (NY Times, 6 May 2010), turns out to be about reasonably well-off people fighting desperately against loneliness, hopelessness, exploded dreams, sexual humiliation, fear of aging and dying, and the long-term consequences of their own selfish behavior. Hardy-har-har, right?
I mean to say: an author should write about these things if they inspire him/her, but don't market such a novel under false pretenses. To do so is to alienate the already-small demographic willing to chance a first novel like this one.
The book is well-written and -plotted, however, and I'd like to urge the author to keep trying, while developing more sympathy for human weakness (especially in women) and a better ear for American speech patterns.
I listened to this book on unabridged audio recording. (less)
This book was enjoyable but it's just hard to believe that it was the best novel published in 2009, as the National Book Award claims. It's a sentimen...moreThis book was enjoyable but it's just hard to believe that it was the best novel published in 2009, as the National Book Award claims. It's a sentimental meditation on life's rich pageant, a point of view that I associate with the Irish. I found it a little uneven, but overall good. The segment about the wealthy grieving mother of a dead soldier, trying to hold herself together, was very powerful. But the bits set among the poor and downtrodden seemed to have a slight case of tin ear, meaning, it just didn't make me feel like I was really seeing the way they were. Also, there were many instances of jarring possible anachronisms: for example, it was hard to be transported by the narrative when I kept wondering “Did poor African-Americans really use 'word!' as an affirmation in 1974?” Maybe they did, but I think they didn't. An author has to use these details carefully, or leave them out, if he is really an award-winner. (less)
This novel, like its predecessor and successor, is a historical novel for science-fiction geeks. I enjoyed it: well-written, vigorous, funny, smart. H...moreThis novel, like its predecessor and successor, is a historical novel for science-fiction geeks. I enjoyed it: well-written, vigorous, funny, smart. However, this book is not for everyone. If you have been paying attention to the same things the author has, then you'll enjoy his in-jokes: if not, not. For example, in mid-novel, Leibniz converses with another character about a (ridiculously impractical) system for organizing a library wherein each subject is assigned a prime number. Books about more than one subject are assigned the product of two prime numbers, one for each topic. (For example, “3” is the number assigned to all books about Plato, “5” is assigned to all books about birds. A book about Plato's view of birds would then be “15”. ) If you have been paying attention to developments in computer encryption in the last 20+ years, you'll recognize this as a concept that plays an important role in Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and other methods of encryption. If not, the whole conversation will seem a massive waste of time, since it does not really serve to advance the plot. Similarly, on page 691 of my (hardcover) edition, Enoch Root says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a yo-yo”. (Please don't ask why.) This is similar to a popular science fiction axiom: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, which is attributed to Arthur C Clarke. There must be dozens of other similar inside jokes which I did not pick up on.
I am also enjoying this series as an antidote to all of today's tedious books, movies, video games, etc., about the Apocalypse. As a subject for fiction in any form, the Apocalypse has passed its sell-by date. If you agree with this statement, you may enjoy this book, because it's about an era in which a lot of short-sighted idiots when around wringing their hands needlessly about the end of the old order, completely missing the fact that something new and wonderful was being born. Sound familiar?(less)