Apparently I am one of the dozen people in the world who didn't have to read Lord of the Flies in high school. It's one of those books that everybody...moreApparently I am one of the dozen people in the world who didn't have to read Lord of the Flies in high school. It's one of those books that everybody has read, and everybody has an opinion about, so I don't really have anything to add in terms of a substantive review. I liked the book, but wasn't blown away. The ending felt like a bit of a cop out. However, there were a couple points I thought was interesting to think about.
In particular, I think the novel is hurt by several things that were frankly out of Golding's control. Even before I read Lord of the Flies I was familiar with the broad outlines of the plot. Kids crash on an island, form a primitive government, pass the conch, hunt pigs, then things their rudimentary society begins to fall apart. Something bad happens to the fat kid. I don't ever recall someone telling me the plot outline of the book, the story has just seeped into my awareness through different pop culture references. Therefore, there was no way for the story to have the affect on me that it did on readers when it was first published.
As an example, as I was reading I kept thinking, "wow, this really reminds me of the first season Lost. There's more than just the people stranded on a tropical island setting. Survivors begin to organize, gravitate to an obvious leader, hunt pigs, fear a mysterious monster, and begin to gravitate to an alternative leader who's good at hunting boars. Other than Lost, there have been other works that deal with the breakdown of social order in difficult conditions. These have all been influenced by Lord of the Flies. While they aren't always necessarily better, they've added a lot to the genre. I'm not a big fan of considering a work's influence in assessing my reaction to it. I realize The African Queen was a forerunner of many adventure movies, and its got Bogart in it, and Bogart always kicks ass. However, Raiders of the Lost Ark is unequivocally in my mind the better film. Battleship Potemkin was interesting to watch on a historical level but I'm not going to be rushing out to buy the DVD any time soon. While I was reading Lord of the Flies I kept feeling Golding could have done more with certain situations.
Now, this is hardly Golding's fault, but it raises kind of a weird conundrum: a novel has such a profound impact on pop culture that, a generation or two later, the actual experience of reading the novel is significantly weakened. Success can be a double edged sword.
This can be seen as a weakness of the "modern day fable" genre of literature. Once you learn the moral of the fable and the broad outline of the plot the actual reading experience is in danger of turning, well boring. The one exception I can think of is Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, whose philosophical musings in the final passages were so beautifully thought out and written that it awarded the slow pace of the plot. (I'm not saying other exceptions don't exist, I just can't think of them off the top of my head.)
Lord of the Flies, is a quick read, and it's probably worth reading, even for the sole purpose of avoiding having to admit you never read it. If you've been able to remain ignorant of the plot points I've picked up over the years you may be enthralled. If not, there is enough to keep you interested. (less)
My quick reaction to the inevitable comparison with 1984 is that, while Brave New World is the more interesting, challenging (in a good way), and perh...moreMy quick reaction to the inevitable comparison with 1984 is that, while Brave New World is the more interesting, challenging (in a good way), and perhaps relevant book, Orwell's is the much better novel. (less)
The past couple of months, two activities have dominated my leisure time: reading and watching NBA hoops. After reading CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, I...moreThe past couple of months, two activities have dominated my leisure time: reading and watching NBA hoops. After reading CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, I was reminded of a hoops argument that I think should carry over to modern literature as well. The argument has to deal with the unceasing quest for the so-called next Michael Jordan.
Michael Jordan was the transcendent athlete, if not public figure, of my childhood. There are a generation of kids who still drink Gatorade, buy Nikes, and wear Hanes solely because at some point in their childhood they wanted to be like Mike. Whenever I play a pickup game, or even just shoot around I find my tongue subconsciously hanging out of my mouth when I drive to the basket. What separates Jordan from similar figures is he actually justified this adulation. Watching Jordan was watching a real life folk hero. I remember my Dad, who isn't an NBA fan, during the MLB strike of 1994 ranting about how all professional athletes are overpaid, then pausing and adding "with the exception of Michael Jordan. This is a guy who averaged a couple grand a minute during the late '90s. The Flu Game, The Shrug Game, The Blindfolded Dunk, The final shot of the 1998 Finals. No other athlete since Babe Ruth has been able to summon similar myth-making moments.
Yet as soon as he retired (for the second time) the media and basketball fans have become obsessed with finding the "Next Jordan." Around a dozen guys have been nominated as candidates, and while these guys are all extremely talented, it's doing them a disservice to compare them to Jordan. Jordan is Gretzky, Young Sandy Koufax, Mohammed Ali before the draft, and The Beatles combined, a truly once in a lifetime talent.
I've started to notice a similar thing going on in literature concerning David Foster Wallace. More and more it seems the DFW comparisons are used talking about contemporary authors. For Christmas, I received two books explicitly name checked Wallace on the back cover. This really doesn't bother me, and I don't think it causes the reader or the publishing industry any harm. When I think about it, there's nothing like a good DFW comparison to get me interested in a newly published book. But at the same time, I worry a little bit about it. The problem with the next Jordan controversy is that while Vince Carter has (or more aptly once had) the capacity for in-air improvisation that Jordan had, Dwyane Wade has the ability to put a team on his shoulders and almost single-handedly win playoff series, and Kobe has the clutch instincts and competitive intensity Jordan had, none of these guys are on MJ's level. While these guys, and others I haven't mentioned are very good to extraordinarily good at individual faucets of the game of basketball, Jordan was the best at everything you can ask a shooting guard to be good at.I wouldn't go so far as to completely equate the respective greatness of MJ and DFW, but there is an analogy here. Because, let's face it, anybody who reads an author expecting a David Foster Wallace doppelgänger is probably going to be disappointed as those who expected Harold Miner to be the next Michael Jordan.
Now that that's said, while this argument came to me while I was reading CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, I'm not sure this review is the best place to expound upon it. For starters, George Saunders writing style and story telling are both fundamentally different from DFW's. If you were to make a Venn Diagram of George Saunders and DFW, the overlapping segments of the circles would be a mere sliver, at least based on this book. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if Saunders never read any Wallace before he wrote any of these stories. There are certain traits that Saunders and Wallace share. Both are able to write about a world that is fundamentally different from ours in very profound ways, but, at the same, make the reader feel some sense of almost eerie familiarity. Be it descriptions of wheelchair bound Quebecois assassins who were disabled in a bizarre rail-jumping ritual, or an account of an employee at a Civil War Era theme park seeking advice from the ghosts of an actual Civil War era family, both writers have an uncanny ability to treat the other-worldly in a causal manner. They both have incredible imaginations, but are able to resist what must be an overwhelming urge to let the "otherness" of their narratives overly dominate the storytelling.
I feel like I'm doing people a disservice when I tell them what the plot of Infinite Jest is about. While the world Wallace constructs is unbelievably intriguing, that's not what the book is "about." If you go into the book expecting to learn about The Entertainment and find out what's wrong with Hal, you're going to be somewhat disappointed. I feel similarly about the stories here. While the settings might suggest genre fiction, Saunders' writing reminded me more of Raymond Carver than Philip K. Dick or DFW. My one quibble may be is that while Saunders is definitely a unique storyteller, and I enjoyed all of the stories, there is nothing that really resonated with me or kept me up thinking at night. Beyond the polish of the background, I'm not sure exactly how much is new there.
I haven't come close to reading the complete DFW bibliography (or Saunders'), but it still pisses me off to no end that one day that wells going to run prematurely dry. Because, just as there was nothing like watching Jordan in his prime, there is nothing out there quite like reading David Foster Wallace. What makes experiencing greatness so extraordinary is the uniqueness inherent in it's nature. Like I said, I'm not sure how far anybody has ever gone with the Wallace comparisons to Saunders, so I'm not sure if any of this applies. And there's nothing wrong with comparing recent experiences with fondly recalled past experiences. But I worry that holding something to the level of past greatness, be it MJ, DFW, The Beatles, Brando, Scorsese, etc., does a diservices to both the new experience by holding it up to a standard that is impossible to reach without some glimmer of nostalgia, and the old experience by causing us to forget how unique the first was. (less)
I, Claudius is more of a fictional work of history than a historical work of fiction. What I mean by that is that Robert Graves isn't content with tel...moreI, Claudius is more of a fictional work of history than a historical work of fiction. What I mean by that is that Robert Graves isn't content with telling a story that takes place in a different era using historical events as devices that move along the narrative. Instead, the historical events are the narrative. Claudius, our narrator is a figure in the events, but he is approaching the events and other characters as a historian rather than as a participant. Graves' Claudius is a uniquely appropriate figure for this task. Although he is a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, his physical handicaps make him seem an imbecile and black sheep. Claudius' infirmities camouflage a keen mind, which allows him to give a insiders account of the turbulent consolidation of the Roman imperial system from an outsiders perspective.
The fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of Empire is one of those bits of history that have become a archetype for fictional works.* Needless to say, an account of the original is eventful enough. One of Graves main theme is the effect of absolute power and cult of personalities on both the individual and societal level. The main drama focuses on members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which easily qualify as the most dysfunctional family in literary history. Graves does an admirable job of creating real characters out of figures we tend to think of as marble statues. Claudius early in the book points out that members of the Claudian family tend to be either good or bad, there isn't much room for grey. All the characters in the book, with a few exceptions, are usually completely virtuous or completely despicable. However, the despicable characters still maintain some motive.
Graves was a historian and his knowledge show. I, Claudius isn't supposed to work as a description of everyday Roman life during the time of Christ. However, Graves does impart some cultural information without disrupting the flow of the narrative. He doesn't put in extraneous historical detail to show off his research, unlike some historical-fiction writers.
This is one of the books that makes me wish that you could give half stars or rate on a skill of ten. While I really enjoyed the book, I really didn't find it mind-blowing. I had some issues with the book. At times it got a little melodramatic, dry, and repetitive. This isn't necessarily Graves' fault, he's just repeating history, but the inter-family betrayals and double-crosses wear a little thin after a while. Actually, the whole reign of Tiberius was a little slow. If Augustus was the decent benevolent, yet manipulatable, tyrant and Caligula was the sociopathic culmination of history, the Tiberius was somewhere in between. You need the progression to get to the result (Caligula), but it can be slow going. Also, some of the minor characters can be hard to keep track of.** If I could I would give the book 4 1/2 stars.
I'm look forward to eventually reading Graves' followup, Claudius the God. It seems that Graves reached the culmination of all his themes in the closing pages of this work. It should be interesting to see where Graves goes in the sequel.
*A prime example of this is the Star Wars films. Excuse the digression, but I, Claudius works as one of the prime examples of how much more interesting the prequel trilogy could, and should, have been. Instead we get sloppy storytelling with no real human feeling in it.
**I usually don't have this problem. However, the cast of characters is so large and family ties are so important in this novel it can get confusing. Characters marry each multiple different times, producing children from each marriage, and sometimes from adulterous affairs. Take Caligula for instance: His father was Germanicus who was brother of Claudius. Germanicus and Claudius were the sons of another Germanicus and Antonia. Germanicus the elder was the brother of Tiberius. Tiberius and Germanicus were the sons of Livia another Tiberius. Livia divorced the older Tiberius and married Augustus who later adopted both Germanicus and Tiberius. Claudius and Germanicus' mother was Antonia who was the daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia (Augustus' sister). Caligula's mother was Agrippina who was the daughter of Agrippa (a close ally of Augustus) and Jullia. Jullia was the only natural child of Augustus by his first marriage. Jullia and Agrippa had several different sons who are major characters and she later married Tiberius (Germanicus' brother) and had a son by him, who is also a main character. All these family relationships are important to the narrative, I recommend making a family tree and updating it as you go along. (less)
I don't like the idea that literature is written "for" or "not for" any people. Sure, you might be able to appreciate War and Peace better if you are...moreI don't like the idea that literature is written "for" or "not for" any people. Sure, you might be able to appreciate War and Peace better if you are a member of the 19th century Russian intelligentsia. But you're a fool if you let a smaller share of comparative appreciation get in your way. I mean, I can't let the fact that I'm middle class and white distract me from the fact that I enjoy listening to Public Enemy. I'm not comfortable with the idea that anything is beyond my empathy. What I'm saying here, however inelegantly, is that I don't want my background fucking with the way I react to novels or movies or music. I say all this because, although I enjoyed The Finkler Question, my background totally kept getting in the way and kept me from giving it a higher recommendation.
Let's start here. The Finkler Question is about three friends. Two are middle aged, one is elderly. Two are Jewish, one is a gentile who is obsessed with Jewishness / convinced of his Jewishness / attempting to transcend Jewishness and become some sort of uber-Jew. Two are recently widowed, the other aspires to widowerhood. All three are Londoners. I was aware of most of this going in, as I am similarly aware that some of this might not absolutely resonate with me, a 20-something, single, American, Irish-Catholic agnostic. Although, like Treslove (the gentile) I sometimes feel like certain tastes, beliefs and idiosyncrasies could be better explained if there were some trace Semitic branches in my family tree. Nobody wants to just interact with fictional characters exactly like themselves. But you do want some relatable sentiment. For me, through no fault of Howard Jacobson, there was a lack of this. And there are certainly parts of the novel that I throughly enjoyed. But a lot of it left me feeling like a witness to an engaging debate whose interference would be unwelcome. The best way I can put it is this: the table next to you at a restaurant is having a intriguing but non-obtrusive family argument. Even if you want to put your two-cents in, it would be wildly inappropriate, and it's likely they could give a shit about your two cents. While this argument of strangers may be engaging, you still can't really relate to it.
As of now, there aren't a ton of reviews on this site, so let me go into greater details gist-wise, if anybody's interested. - There isn't really a plot to speak of, and the elements of plot present don't matter. - The novel is mainly concerned with the relationship its characters have with Judaism and "Jewishness."The novel explores what it means to belong to a group, what obligations you have to this group, and what obligations this group has to you. A lot of this can be implied to anything, such as country, religion, family ect. - Jacobson is very talented, and often funny. He deals with serious issues but never loses grasp of his sense of humor. - I'm from the South, where all forms of bigotry and prejudice haven't exactly been eradicated. However, I was somewhat shocked at this novel's depiction of London's contemporary anti-Semitism. I mean, I know it's not extinct or even close to it, but I had no idea it was as prevalent as Jacobson depicts it. - Israel is almost the MacGuffin of the novel. Jacobson gives an interesting cross-section of how the policies of Israel both unite and divide the Jewish community.
I'm not wildly enthused, with this review, it's not particularly well-thought out, and I've feel like I've spent too much time worrying about, to steal a joke from Always Sunny. dropping the "hard J." but I've spent too much time on the damn thing to scrap it. Let me try to somehow tidily sum up what I'm basically saying. It's not that you have to be Jewish & English & middle aged & widowed to enjoy this novel. I'm none of those things, and I did enjoy it on many levels. However, this book actively seeks a certain intellectual engagement that can only come through fully with a sense of relation. Therefore, any lack of relatable feelings might compromise your enjoyment of this book.
Ugh, look don't take my word for it. I don't regret spending time on this and it has giving me a good share of things to ponder on. Maybe you guys should figure this one out for yourself. (less)
In honor of Michelle Bachman accidentally comparing herself to John Wayne Gacy I thought I'd post a quick review. I read this last January and since t...moreIn honor of Michelle Bachman accidentally comparing herself to John Wayne Gacy I thought I'd post a quick review. I read this last January and since then I can't count how many times I've seen the news or heard snippets of conversation and thought to myself, "Jesus Christ, this reminds me of the Perlstein book." The 1964 election seems somewhat non-consequential in retrospect. History buffs might be able to think of the Daisy ad and Goldwater's "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice... moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue " line at the GOP convention. But in the end, Johnson crushed Goldwater. Johnson won over 61% of the vote, the highest since 1820 and one that has yet to be matched.
However, Perlstein persuasively makes the case that the '64 election meant a lot more than voting results would suggest. 1964 is arguably the birth of the modern GOP. This election is where the Southern and Western conservatives finally were able to choose a candidate of their own as opposed to one imposed on them by Northeastern businessmen. This is where the GOP transitioned from the Eisenhower/Taft/Dewey Era to something resembling the modern party. For the first time since Reconstruction the Republican party won the Cotton Belt. This election set pieces in moving that would dominate the party for the next generation. As well as featuring the political resurrection of Richard M. Nixon the election of '64 witnessed the emergence of Ronald Reagan as a national figure on the right.
The election is intriguing for more reasons than as an augur of the future. Barry Goldwater was a new kind of candidate. He was not the establishment's man. Indeed, the Republican establishment desperately sought a possible anti-Goldwater. What enable Goldwater to prevail* was a strong, structured, and well-funded organization. This backing extended beyond traditional power brokers into something akin to grass root support. At the heart of this grass root support was the John Birch Society. This is were similarities with contemporary events really jumps out at you. If you're not familiar with the Birchers, they were a group of rabid anti-Communists who were convinced that the mainstream media and establishment were card carrying Pinkos. They weren't satisfied calling Kennedy, Marshall, and Truman commies, they were convinced Eisenhower was red. Perlstein's writing on the Birchers is perhaps the most entertaining and insightful writing in this book.
*In addition to other potential candidate's hesitation to run and Nelson Rockefeller's public divorce.
Before the Storm is a well titled book. In more ways than one, 1964 is a transition point in American history. The major mid-century cultural and historical trajectories all had some sort of turning point in '64. The year witnessed the passage of the CIvil Rights Act, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, and much more. Perlstein is a talented historian, and he is just as natural describing political gamesmanship as he is describing the cultural impact of Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.
Perlstein subtitles this book "this unmaking of the American Consensus." Of course partisanship has been a part of the American political tradition since before there was a United States. But the storm that, according to Perlstein, was on the horizon after November 1964 was a growing sense that the other half of the political spectrum were out to destroy everything that was truly remarkable about America. The other side became transformed from an adversary to an enemy.**
** This trend wasn't unprecedented, just that the last time it was so prevalent we ended up in a civil war.
Nixonland, Perlstein's most recent book, is another fantastic book. In it, Perlstein gives an account of the cultural wars of the latter half of the sixties and early seventies, and makes the argument that much of the acrimony surrounding these battles was the personal creation of Richard M. Nixon. Perlstein argues, and presents a convincing case, that we are still living in Richard Nixon's America. However, I think Before the Storm might be the more relevant work. Nixonland explains the past fifty years, but through some twist of history, Before the Storm seems to often explain the present.
When I rate a song on iTunes, the other rating system I use that features a 5 star method, I am usually communicating that I hate the song. Since I wo...moreWhen I rate a song on iTunes, the other rating system I use that features a 5 star method, I am usually communicating that I hate the song. Since I wouldn't have a song that I hate on my iPod, I hardly ever rate something 1 star. Therefore, the 1 star rating above my review looks excessively cruel. After all, there were times while I was reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that I enjoyed myself.
However, when I hover my mouse over the second star, the message notifies me that the book "was ok." This doesn't fit my feelings about the book. This is the first book I've read in a long time where I felt I wasted my time and my money after I was finished. When it's over the first star, I am told "I didn't like it," which is about as close a description of this book that the rating system offers.
Maybe it's the fact that I spent a decent chunk of change on it has something to do with it. I bought it last fall for a road trip, listened for a couple of hours, lost interest, and switched to music. I didn't put it on again for a couple of months, but then started getting into the start of the primary mystery. I was invested, however, my iPod crashed shortly afterwords, and I didn't have it backed up for some reason. So I bought the book on my Kindle and picked up from where I left off.
The book is divided into two mysteries, one which I found dull and the other which I found interesting. I don't really love the mystery genre, so I have to be engaged to keep interest. Once the Vanger family mystery picked up, I thought Larsson might be on to something. However, after a couple of obvious red herrings, the Vanger plot peters out into an unsurprising resolution. The antagonist in the "sheeps clothing" is absolutely no surprise to anyone who has read any "who done it" mystery. If the novel was solely focused on the Vanger section, I might have given the second star.
However, after the main resolution, there is still 20% of the book left. For this, Larsson switches back to the first mystery that he has all but abandoned for the heart, and best parts, of the book. I found this part unbearably dull.
There just wasn't a lot for me in the book. The prose was unremarkable, there were no passages that sent me scrambling for my highlighter. As the novel went on, I found myself increasingly disliking and annoyed with both of the main protagonists. I've never been a fan of the "torture porn" seen in modern horror movies, but it seems that Larsson was, and some of his most descriptive passages are dedicated to depictions of incest and rape.
My final impression of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is that it is a page turner with a disappointing resolution and no literary value. Dan Brown without the research, James Patterson without the suspense. Maybe one star isn't low enough.(less)
"By no means the least of the consolations now available to the unbeliever, and to those who live outside the lines of conventional virtue, is the tho...more"By no means the least of the consolations now available to the unbeliever, and to those who live outside the lines of conventional virtue, is the thought that if we turn out to be mistaken in our Cartesian wagers, and find ourselves in the long, long chute to a smoke-and-brimstone filled afterlife, Christopher will be there at the bottom to welcome us with a drink and, why not, a cigarette."
First off, let me say I saw the film first. I can't really recommend doing so or not doing so because some of the times I was glad I did and some of...more First off, let me say I saw the film first. I can't really recommend doing so or not doing so because some of the times I was glad I did and some of the times I wish I had not. The movie adaptation is very true to the source, and while there are new scenes and minor differences, I was fully aware of all the turns McEwan takes. However, it was still a tremendous read that I flew through in a couple of days. Knowing the plot twists, and the ultimate trick McEwan plays on the reader freed me to fully realize the small things, like the beautiful prose and McEwan's skill at taking the perspective of a multitude of characters. There are also subtle hints that McEwan drops throughout the text that might not have been caught until a second reading. So, I recommend you read the book, regardless of if you've seen the movie. However, the story is best experienced as a book. While it's not rare to see several different stories in a novel, McEwan combines several different novels into a single story. I am hardly the first to point this out, but the four different parts of the novel could function as four different novellas or short stories. However, the voice is consistent. McEwan's characters grow and undergo life altering events, but McEwan's viewpoints remain consistent. You can still hear the 13 year old girl in the voice of the 77 year old novelist. For me, the best part of the novel (and the film) was the Dunkirk section. The evacuation of Dunkirk is always taught as the Allied Forces' triumph, and with the benefit of hindsight, it was. However, the tragedy of the event is rarely focused on. A scant twenty years after the War to End All Wars, the war that wiped out a generation of young Europeans, Europe was going to war again. A year later, the Allied forces were being steamrolled by the German Blitz, and it seemed like all that sacrifice had gone to waste. Atonement more than any other work, fiction or non, describes the disaster, and the sense of inevitable doom in the retreat. It's also some of the best description of the mind at war that I've read. I finished reading Roth's American Pastoral about a week ago and and I find the works oddly similar. Atonement and American Pastora are meditations on perception, memory, misunderstanding, grief, and history, both personal and in the long run. They deal with the loss of the idea, the cruelty of history, and the destruction of the family. Both feature protagonists who are haunted with regret and grow old trying to deal with previous tragedy. Both works show that the past cannot be tamed or denied.(less)
Every time I picked up Winesberg, Ohio I started thinking of the Tom Waits song "Johnsburg, Illinois" off the album Swordfishtrombones. The two works...moreEvery time I picked up Winesberg, Ohio I started thinking of the Tom Waits song "Johnsburg, Illinois" off the album Swordfishtrombones. The two works really have nothing in common besides the fact that they are relatively short, and their titles are small midwestern towns. I love that song though. There are moments of beauty in this book, but I think Waits is more beautiful in a minute in thirty five seconds. I know its not an unfair comparison, but it's how my mind works.
I find myself liking the book the more I think about it though. Some of the stories were really great, some of them didn't do a lot for me. I know people say that this Winesberg was a huge influence on American literature, which I suppose its true. I'm not really in a position to comment on that though. I haven't read a collection of short stories in ages, so I might be rusty to the form. For me, its one of those things where I enjoyed having finished the book more than the actual reading of the book. It really is quite lovely in retrospect.
Come to think of it, "Frank's Wild Years" would fit in quite well with the rest of the stories. "Never could stand that dog." (less)
My first experience with Mr. Dick, besides seeing adaptations of his movies of course, was one that made me want to come back for more. Nothing earth...moreMy first experience with Mr. Dick, besides seeing adaptations of his movies of course, was one that made me want to come back for more. Nothing earth shattering stylistic-wise, but his concepts are so ingenious that five stars is justified. For example, the way he treats time travel as a form of regression, or unique perspective of a form of life after death. I read a couple of short plot previews before I read the book, and they all failed. Perhaps this is because previewing the plot in a couple of paragraphs isn't possible or even desirable. As you read the book you feel like you figure out what the book is about but then the plot veers. The novel could be justifiably labeled as science fiction, dystopian, mystery, corporate-espionage, horror story that ruminates on the nature of death, the truth of reality, and dangers of capitalism. The novel is suspenseful, imaginative, and very funny. I never considered myself a huge fan of literary science fiction. For instance, I was very underwhelmed by Dune and was never able to get past the first The Lord of the Rings. However, I may have to reevaluate my tastes because in the recent months I've really enjoyed this novel as well as Snow Crash. Ubik is not going to change the way anybody thinks about the world. Dick's prose isn't as memorable as say Vonnegut's, but at the same time he is not a sloppy writer. I would say his style is very efficient, he touches on a wide array of topics and tells a multilayered story in 200 pages where other writers would waste space. I found Ubik highly entertaining and suspenseful story that makes you think. (less)
One of the most interesting things about history is thinking about perspective. Very few people lived their lives with an intention of being known as...moreOne of the most interesting things about history is thinking about perspective. Very few people lived their lives with an intention of being known as a villain of history. Yet I think all of us fall into the trap of thinking of the past in moralistic terms sometimes. This is a function of generations of storytelling and cultural indoctrination. There are facts that we don't ever necessarily learn, or at least can remember learning, that we don't pause to consider.
My favorite thing about Wolf Hall is how it turns previous conception of a much discussed period of history on its head, while maintaining complete plausibility. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing, but I always thought of Thomas More as a great man of learning and advocate of free speech, while Thomas Cromwell was a ruthless, unprincipled yes-man. Mantel effectively exploits facts to make you completely reverse your feelings about the two characters. In truth, More was a religious fundamentalist, the man tortured and executed people who strayed from the Church's dogmatic beliefs, hardly a free speech advocate. Cromwell's rise to power would be inspiring if it occurred today, all the more so that he did it almost 500 years ago. Mantel almost does too good of a job of making Cromwell likable, but you are completely ready to buy it. I didn't realize this until I watched the film A Man For All Seasons and found myself becoming upset with its portrayal of Thomas Cromwell. I think this is Mantel's greatest accomplishment, she reverses 500 years of preconceived notions.
The book isn't a necessarily easy read. Mantel throws you into the world and she doesn't give you a ton of exposition or remind you who characters are and how they relate to each other. I frequently had to consult the character list and the genealogical charts at the beginning of the book for a reminder. One night, I stayed up until 4 reading the wikipedia entry on the War of the Roses to refresh myself on that subject. (I actually highly recommend potential readers doing this. Mantel frequently references the events and it also gives you good context of why the production of a legitimate male heir was deemed such an immediate necessity.)
The title Wolf Hall is taken from the estate of the Seymour family, minor characters in the novel. But the title accentuates what I would consider the theme of the novel, which Cromwell repeats to himself several times over the course. Homono homini lupus, man is wolf to man. Mantel's Cromwell is presented as a precursor to the modern politician. This is a hazardous occupation in a time where political missteps had much graver consequences than potential resignation accompanied by a lobbying gig as a fall back plan. In this way Wolf Hall could be labelled a political thriller. One of the thrills in the novel is how Cromwell manges to, excuse the bad joke, keep his head on his shoulders. Watch Cromwell survive the political crushing of his patron and political mentor. See him hazard the stormy rapids that was the Boleyn family. Marvel as he clashes wits with the great Thomas More.
What makes this even more effective is the novel is very well written. Mantel does a great job inhabiting familiar characters and making them come to life. Unlike other fictional works that have dealt with the same period, none of the characters are cliched or one dimensional. Her Henry VIII is my favorite depiction of the much depicted monarch since Robert Shaw's. Here, he is temperamental and often child-like, but also as intelligent and goodhearted. And as a rule, any confrontation with the Boleyn sisters will likely be very entertaining. As it was for Henry, though in a rather different way.
The plot tends to revolve heavily around such such confrontations. There will be plot movement, but most of the time it sets the scene for another meeting between Thomas and Anne, or Cardinal Wolsey, or Thomas More, or the Earl of Norfolk. Nevertheless, my favorite chapter of the book was one of the first, "An Occult History of England." This chapter is mostly exposition, but it works brilliantly as a kind of "how we got here."Combining politics, history, and legend, it reads like something Rushdie could have written.
I enjoyed Wolf Hall much more than I expected to. Although I know how the story ends for all the characters, the novel kept me entertained until the end. Now that I think about it, the novel really reminds me of Robert Caro's first two LBJ biographies which detailed Johnson's rise to power. While they don't retell the traditional hero's journey, a non-mythical path to power can be more worthwhile and just as entertaining epic.(less)
Yesterday, I came up with a new concept, at least new to me, the "guilty disappointment." Consider it the antonym of the guilty pleasure. To truly qua...moreYesterday, I came up with a new concept, at least new to me, the "guilty disappointment." Consider it the antonym of the guilty pleasure. To truly qualify as a guilty disappointment, a work can't just disappoint, it has to disappoint in a specific way. Much as a guilty pleasure involves enjoying a song that you feel you shouldn't, a guilty disappointment involves disliking something you feel you should enjoy. When you think about it, there is a sense of obligation and embarrassed involved in both concepts. For some reason, I feel obligated not to enjoy Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" as much as I do. There is a lingering trace of embarrassment when I argue that "you walked into the party like you were walking onto the yacht" is was of the best descriptive lyrical characterizations in pop history. Guilty pleasures and guilty disappointments are not merely reactions to a work, but reactions to reactions to the work. For instance, disliking The Godfather, Pt. III is a disappointment; while disliking The Godfather Pt. II may be a guilty disappointment.
I came up with this idea around page 160 of On the Road, about when I realized that the book wasn't going to turn into an enjoyable reading experience. Now that I finished it, I really can't say I connected with it on any level. I've read books that are considered classics that I didn't enjoy, but I can't recall an example of something that I've actively disliked since high school. I honestly don't get the appeal of On the Road.
The thing is, and this is where the guilt comes in, I would be crazy to deny the appeal. Arguing that On the Road is "overrated" would be like someone saying that Citizen Kane is a shitty film. I mean there are enough people out there (Hunter S. Thompson, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits can't be wrong) who swear by this book as "The Great American Novel" that it would take quite a bit of gumption to call them out on it, and I'm not so vain. I like my coffee cloudless.
So, I'm strangely willing, even eager, to admit I'm missing something. Maybe I'm too cynical, or too comfortable, or too focused on plot, maybe I would have loved it if I first read it when I was 18. However, Kerouac is not my trip. The book is in the American cannon, and not mine or anybody else's opinion is going to change that. This is one of the books that you feel like you "should" read. For these reasons, I'm glad I read it. However, I'm even more glad that I'm done.
My sense of guilt will allow me to recognize contrary opinions as equally valid, but will not bestow extra stars. I really didn't enjoy any part of On the Road, besides the "boys and girls in America have such a sad time together," bit, and that was mostly because of the Hold Steady song. Thus, one star. (less)