After recently working (and I do mean working) through DFW's The Pale King, I picked this up as a kind of intellectual holiday, and it did serve thatAfter recently working (and I do mean working) through DFW's The Pale King, I picked this up as a kind of intellectual holiday, and it did serve that purpose. I quipped that you could read it with your eyes closed, and, in fact, that is almost true, as I found I had frequently roused myself after turning several pages, not conscious of having read anything, but never losing a plot point or needing to re-read. The story is one big plagiarism from everyone's sub-conscious of a depression-era circus; everything you think you know -- train jumping, prohibition, evil-hearted ring leaders, humane elephants -- is all confirmed in this text, like reading a daydream without any subtext. It's one big atmospheric setpiece that never proceeds past Act 1. However, the book was exceedingly easy to read, and is evidence that the book, I believe, is technically well-written, just lacking in relevance and resonance. Gruen has perfected her writing craft, but has not found her art. Apparently, most readers don't mind.
For kicks I performed a first-sentence experiment on my kids (they're young, 8 and 11, so it's not quite fair), using the titles that happened to be in arm's reach. The experimentees had no prior knowledge or bias of included titles. I read the first sentence of a handful of these random titles, and asked them to choose the sentence that was most compelling:
A) Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook. Water for Elephants
B) Dawn crept up out of the trees, defining a bole, a burl, a leaf at a time the world he'd spent the night trying to comprehend. Hell at the Breech: A Novel
The boys liked how the first sentence starts in the middle of an action -- three people are left implies that more were there recently, and they're interested in knowing why and where they went. Also, the red and white awning reminds them of a circus or garden party, and "grease joint" is an unfamiliar but seductive phrase to a perpetually hungry boy. "Dawn crept out of the trees" is nice -- we begin at the beginning, but boles and burls are isolating words that aren't contributing to their comprehension of what may have just occurred. They're not sure where this is going...
The boys leaned toward this one a lot, as they appreciate the sentiment and quite agree. But alas, they'd heard it before, and it didn't build their curiosity for what comes next. Even an 8-year-old can recognize a cliche. They picked A again.
D) The wise thing, the seemly thing would have been for him to get up off his knees with the rest. But he remained where he was while their cassocks and wooden crosses went by him, flapping or knocking against his side. The Godforgotten
OK, I cheated by including the second sentence. But the boys wanted more information before they would make a decision. So, the first sentence did the work of creating curiosity that impelled us to the next. Cassocks and wooden crosses got them rather excited, with an image of marching crusaders and a narrator who doesn't do the "seemly" thing. But alas, the grease joint still held sway. A again.
E) Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb's-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother's soft hand on your cheek. The Pale King
After I gently woke them from their naps at the kitchen table with a soft hand on their cheeks, I asked them what they thought of that sentence. "That was one sentence?" Well, more of an extended participle phrase...should I keep reading? "NO...thank you." I know, I know, how unfair to subject them to DFW in this kind of test, where his first sentence is fair warning that you will be subjected to a microscopic investigation of your world as seen through DFW's piercingly observant eyes. The sentence is as perfect as there ever was for this particular book, but it's the fat geeky kid in the room for this test. Hands down, A wins again. And so. My children, good readers, but inexperienced with what levels and insights good writing can achieve, chose the red and white awning of the grease joint. They want to know what kind of chaos has ensued at the circus, not because it means anything, but because there's likely to be an intriguing story. And that must be the draw that has made this a best-seller -- a juvenile desire for story, told in a technically accurate, if not inspired, style. There are plenty of instances where I recognized good narrative structure, easy-flowing dialogue, uncluttered descriptors. But resonance? Maybe when you've put a few more books under your belt, you may learn to expect more......more
So it's no secret that I love to read. I've been doing it aggressively for several decades now. I read widely, unrestricted by most genres, for entertSo it's no secret that I love to read. I've been doing it aggressively for several decades now. I read widely, unrestricted by most genres, for entertainment, for inspiration, for transport, for curiosity. But I cannot name for you the literal moment that little light went on that said, " I like to read." There was no one book that changed my attitude towards reading, no author that opened up my brain and showed me "the way." And there was certainly no evil Nazi holding a gun to my head, saying "READ!" I do not exaggerate when I tell you that this book features evil Nazis doing just that, and it really pisses me off.
There appears to be a trend in contemporary best-selling novels in waxing poetic about the beauty and satisfactions of reading (perhaps selling that idea sells more books). The Elegance of the Hedgehogreally got off on telling us how book-lovers are too good for this world. The Book Thief does it, too. I'm not saying that reading doesn't have an effect on who we are, and can contribute to changes in how we see the world, but I'm tired of leaning the whole sentimental story on such an idea. The whole set-up -- reading books in order to support your alibi of attending a literary society that breaks curfew -- felt like a black-and-white episode of the Andy Griffith Show. All the folksy folks reading high falutin' litratoor, and some of them even like it!
That said, there were moments of very clever writing. But that almost made me angrier. In a book made of letters, it is easier to throw off some clever humor, as you're not encumbered by narrative description, scene change, progression of time, etc. It's all witty personality, all the time. And, damn, don't they all have the same brand of witty. If I could just relax a little and care a little less, I could probably enjoy this, as apparently thousands have. But that gun to my head was really irritating. ...more
There seems to be quite a bit of controversy concerning this title, so I will leave my opinion on the side lines: Walls is a talented writer with a noThere seems to be quite a bit of controversy concerning this title, so I will leave my opinion on the side lines: Walls is a talented writer with a novelistic style, and she's written a book that fits just perfect with the best-selling memoir package that Oprah-trained readers love to eat up. Walls writes what sells, and, as it happens, it's also quite good. I also believe she has ripped off the best-selling memoir formula directly from Mary Karr's Liar's Club. As for whether any of it is true or not, who cares? The characters are interesting and relevant to enlarging the map of human sensibilities that memoirs attempt to chart. No, there's very little emotional analysis on the part of the narrator. Is that necessary? I think the reader can respond emotionally for themselves; Walls just creates the framework for our own response, and that is all she needs to do. ...more
Everyone was right. The second in this trilogy moves along thrillingly -- never a dull moment. Lisbeth kicks ass, and Mikael is not the goof he couldEveryone was right. The second in this trilogy moves along thrillingly -- never a dull moment. Lisbeth kicks ass, and Mikael is not the goof he could have been. I'm not a huge mystery fan, and I'm intimidated and easily distracted from series, but I must admit I'll be reading number 3 as soon as its available around here. ...more
There's so much hype with this title, I'm a bit nervous writing my less-than-raving review. When an author gets this much attention, I expect the bookThere's so much hype with this title, I'm a bit nervous writing my less-than-raving review. When an author gets this much attention, I expect the book to blow me away. It was a good read, intriguing, interesting characters, and lovely bloody, explicit sexual violence. I loved the family saga surrounding Harriet. That story was neatly tied up and satisfying, until I realized there were still 100 pages to go. Ugh, the corporate fraud stuff. As interesting as Lisbeth is, the corporate crime didn't grab me, and I wanted it to just wrap up. I'm intending to give Played with Fire a go, because I hear each installment gets better as you go (this coming from someone who got their hands on the UK third in series), I just hope there's more lurid sex and violence (why else read a thriller?!) and less white-collar crime and libel issues. ...more
Pretentious, wordy, insincere. Paloma, stick to haiku and shut up; you're not enlightening me. Sum up: life sucks, but tea is nice, and some little thPretentious, wordy, insincere. Paloma, stick to haiku and shut up; you're not enlightening me. Sum up: life sucks, but tea is nice, and some little things. And then, you die.
OK, a few days had to go by and now I'm ready to come back and give a more thoughtful review. My stars still stay the same, but I first reacted with emotion, and now I've had time to analyze just what I was reacting to.
First, I'm really offended in the concept that art is meant only for "high-class" people. Or, only for really smart people. Madame Michel classes herself as a lowly peasant, and is ashamed to flaunt the fact that she is intelligent, and also that she enjoys "high art". I think it's a fundamental flaw to equate an appreciation for high art with class. Perhaps high art (this term is straight from the book, meaning an appreciation for literature, painting, classical music) is associated with the higher classes, one, because they are subjects taught in higher education, and two, because only the higher classes have the leisure to pursue them. But here's Madame Michele, who's never attended college, who has a natural tendency to pursue and understand them. That's a bit remarkable, but it also requires that she has the leisure to pursue them. Her "lower class" status doesn't quite convince me, when she has the time and resources to attend museum presentations and read 600 page novels. Pretentious Paloma is characterized as naturally appreciative of high art because of her natural intelligence, and I don't buy it at all. There are no influences in her life pushing her that way,and I can't follow how her disdain for the masses, when there are no individuals showing her a different viewpoint. Secondly, Madame Michel is convinced not to flaunt her appreciation of art (to me, not the same thing as intelligence) because of the experience of her sister. Her sister gets into a relationship with someone of a higher class, gets pregnant, is abandoned, then dies along with the baby. How does Michel equate choosing a lover and getting dumped (a consequence that happens over and over regardless of class differences) with choosing to read Tolstoy? I just can't believe that art belongs to a particular class -- Tolstoy writes about peasants, after all -- and admitting to friends that you like to read will, in the end, kill you. It's foolish and ridiculous and offensive. I'm wondering how all these people who love this book, who I must assume also love to read, are swallowing this surmise. ...more
**spoiler alert** Niffenegger is very good at creating flawed but likeable characters and throwing them into an unusual environment and watching how t**spoiler alert** Niffenegger is very good at creating flawed but likeable characters and throwing them into an unusual environment and watching how they react. HOWEVER, she absolutely failed in making these characters react in believable, characteristic ways. She didn't "watch", she manipulated. By the last 50 pages of this book I was so mad I wanted to drown this book in the toilet. The potential was there for something very moving, but she absolutely lost the thread. It makes a reader very angry when a character they've come to appreciate suddenly acts in ridiculous ways; I feel cheated....more