Probably the only thing worse than saying a book like The Brothers Karamazov is bad is saying that it's pretty good. Of course this book is pretty muc...moreProbably the only thing worse than saying a book like The Brothers Karamazov is bad is saying that it's pretty good. Of course this book is pretty much universally regarded as one of the greatest novels of all time. In my experience, the way these "greatest ever" things work is that if it may not be exactly your cup of tea, but if it clicks for you, it clicks all the way. You don't hear people say that Revolver is a pretty decent rock album, or that Citizen Kane is a somewhat enjoyable film. But here I am, having recently finished one of the hallmark works of literature, one of the most imposing tasks on the books everyone should read list, and my reaction is.... ehh it's pretty good.
Okay, that's a bit disingenuous. Of course, The Brothers Karamazov is great, looked at as a product of it's time and as a book that still has value for modern readers. It deserves it's spot as one of the better works of art produced by mortal man, I'm not denying that. It's just that... Am I going to literary snob hell for suggesting that old Fyodor really needed an editor? I mean cause Jesus, the digressions this book takes. I think I got stalled for an entire week during the Zoisma section of the book. And the climax of the plot of the book is two closing arguments written down verbatim. I read Crime and Punishment years ago, but I never recall being bored after the first few pages. That was one of the most engaging and lasting reading experiences I've ever had. This, I mean, it took me a couple of months to read, counting the long break where I had to put it down.
Of course there are sections in the book that make up for the less thrilling aspects. But man, I don't know. Maybe it's best to read this in a class setting. Maybe there's deep subtext in some of the passages that I completely whiffed on. Maybe I need to let a few weeks since by to let the full work fully seep into my brain but... I reamin somewhat underwhelmed for now. (less)
The Missionary Position, by the sake of its cover alone, is arguably one of the most bold polemics in recent memory. The title itself forces you to picture the wrinkled, ancient, and now deceased, woman on the cover.... well, let's just say engaging in an activity that we have good reason to believe she abstained from for the entirety of her life. Let me pause while I shudder quickly. Despite the pure shock power of the title, Hitchens' originally preferred title may have been more appropriate, The Sacred Cow. Because if you were unaware of Hitchens' argument, Mother Theresa of Calcutta seems to be one of the least appropriate target for such harsh criticism, even when the bile is produced by such a virulent contrarian and secularist as Hitchens.
However, Hitchens makes clear that his ire is not directed at Mother Theresa herself, or devout Catholics who consider her a saint. This book is for the secular or casually religious who consider the late nun as the exemplar of charity, compassion, humility, and devoutness. Hitchens argument is that all the modifiers but the latter are inappropriate.
Hitchens main point is that the good Mother Theresa did for the world were means to the end of promoting a specific and retrograde worldview, "to propagandize one highly subjective view of human nature and need, so that she may one day be counted as a beatific founder of a new order and discipline within the Church itself." Hitchens also points out that when the welfare of the poor conflicted with any of her religious beliefs it was the former that were sacrificed. This is not only relating to her frequent pronunciations on the evils of birth control. The Catholic Church, and Theresa as one of the most outspoken mouthpieces of the organization on this subject, is liable for the millions of deaths and and an untold amount of suffering worldwide by its unbelievably outdated position on the subject. But wait there's more. Hitchens cites testimonials that make it appear that people under the care of the Missionaries of Charity suffered needlessly not because of a lack of funds, but because Mother Theresa sought to maintain conditions of poverty. Better care for patients under their care was not provided, not because Mother Theresa was unable to provide, but because she was unwilling to provide it.
Hitchens also ridicules Mother Theresa's supposed refusal to engage in politics. Of course this was only the case where politics didn't involve moral issues, and she didn't hesitate to give her blessings to demagogues who shilled her line. Also, her supposed non-engagement freed her up to be used as a pawn by thugs, dictators, and crooks who were eager for a photo-op. One such engagement was when she wrote a letter to Judge Lance Ito, appealing for leniency in the sentencing of Charles Keating, the perpetrator of the Savings and Loan scandal. She had the gall to cite how Keating donated money to her charities as proof of his better nature, while never addressing the fact that this money was stolen by Keating through fraud. When faced with calls to return these stolen funds she answered with complete silence.
Hitchens has several more bones to pick that I won't get into. Hitch's screed is more of a pamphlet than a book, coming in at just under 100 pages scarcely filled pages that will take at most a couple of hours to read. Because it's so brief, I'm going with three stars instead of four. Hitchens is the kind of guy you would never want to get into an argument you want to win with. Here, he takes aim at the previously unassailable and manages to but a few dents in her secular halo.
Three Things I Learned About Evelyn Waugh From the Everyman's Library Edition That Contributed to my Reading of Brideshead Revisited.
1. Waugh sought a...moreThree Things I Learned About Evelyn Waugh From the Everyman's Library Edition That Contributed to my Reading of Brideshead Revisited.
1. Waugh sought a three month's leave of absence in the midst of World War II for the specific purpose of writing this book.
He didn't use another excuse. There was fake family or personal emergency. He requested a three monts leave of absence from the English Army in early 1944 for the explicit purpose of writing a novel. And it was granted! I think this may be the most English fact I've ever heard.
You must have a sense of humor to be able to pull this off, and Brideshead is chock full of exhibitions of Waugh's humor. I knew the book was humorous, but I didn't expect the book to be so funny (If that makes sense). There are several passages that had me giggling to myself, a habit I usually try to avoid. Just to give an example, the account of Rex's attempted catechism lessons was have been the funniest thing I've read in a while.
2. Waugh converted to Catholicism in 1930, and was a strict Catholic until his death.
As a lapsed Catholic, I find it somewhat surprising that the the best examination of Catholic guilt I've ever read was written by someone who was converted! Did he not know what he was getting into? The ending makes the Catholic Church, or religion as a whole, the unblemished protagonist of the story, which is a little uninteresting if you ask me. For example, the protagonist, a life-long agnostic, observes this family sacrificing happiness and healthy familial relationships, while torturing themselves for decades, and by the end of the novel he appears to be willing to sign up for the root cause behind it.
Thinking back on it, I really think Waugh was not completely comfortable with his religious beliefs and it shows in this book. Maybe it's my callous, agnostic heart, but the redemption of the characters at the end of the book seemed unbelievable, and somewhat heartbreaking.
3. Waugh's first wife's name was... you guessed it, Evelyn.
This didn't really help me appreciate Brideshead Revisited any more, but hasn't stopped giving me delight. (less)
I'm struggling with transferring my thoughts of this book to actual concepts, so I'm cheating a bit. Basically, I...moreConcept: A
Plot Execution: B-
I'm struggling with transferring my thoughts of this book to actual concepts, so I'm cheating a bit. Basically, I thought American Gods was entertaining, but somewhat disappointing. Gaiman creates an awe-inspiringly creative universe. But I thought that many parts of the novel were very reflective of his comic book background. I'm not trying to bash that form or anything, but sometimes he seemed to rely on some of the frustrating aspects of comic-book storytelling. For instance, the characters often resembled comic book characters. Look, I realize that that isn't very persuasive, but to paraphrase Potter Stewart, I don't know what the definition of a comic book character, but I know one when I see one.
Also, Gaiman isn't an unbelievably talented writer. Of course, neither am I. I don't want to make it sound like I'm being too harsh on the novel, because I did enjoy it more than I didn't. Maybe I'm being unfair in demanding something more than an author provides, but hey, its my review.
Let me try to sum up my scattershot thoughts the best way I can. For me, a great book should in some way, even very slightly, change the way you think about things. I love books that I think about for weeks after I finish. When I talk to someone has read one of these books, it automatically leads to a great conversation. For me, the longer the conversation is, the better the book. I really couldn't imagine any long conversation about American Gods. Maybe, I'm incorrect, but the most damning thing I can say about the novel is I can't really think of what to say about it. (less)
I love the way Christopher Htichens writes. Its like being lectured by an arrogant bastard that talks as if he is perfectly aware that he can literal...more I love the way Christopher Htichens writes. Its like being lectured by an arrogant bastard that talks as if he is perfectly aware that he can literally mind rape you but you are left transfixed by because the fucker is probably right and he has a masterful command of the English language. The first I read of him was his writing in Slate leading up to the Iraq war. I disagreed with many of his thoughts, but not in a way that turned me off. I held off on reading this book for awhile, mostly because I really didn't need persuasion of the author's thesis. However, I picked it up at the library (somebody had turned it around so the pages were facing outward) and couldn't put it down. A big problem with discourse today, especially in the political realm, is that people don't think about what they are told. There are a good deal of people who hear something on Fox News, or MSNBC I guess, and accept it verbatim. Hitchens doesn't dwell on this, but I think that may be one of religion's greatest sins. From a very early age it encourages people not to think. You enter into consciousness believing in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and a bearded fellow in the sky. Except, eventually beliefs in the myths are abandoned, but, for some reason, the religious faith is maintained. I'm not calling for people to abandon their beliefs. That's one critique I have of Hitchens. Although the title is effective in communicating the book's apparent thesis, it can be off putting to believers. Therefore, Hitchens may be preaching to the choir. However, I think Hitchens real intent is to challenge the reader to think about the world, and to question religions usefulness. If you are a believer or not, Hitchens writing is a great device for doing so.(less)