This feels very much like the first book in a series, in that the author seemed to spend a lot of time establishing the main character and his backgroThis feels very much like the first book in a series, in that the author seemed to spend a lot of time establishing the main character and his background, his circumstances, and the atmosphere. She did this pretty well, and New Orleans in the 1830s must certainly have been an, ahem, interesting place, particularly for a "free man of color," as she puts it. (shudder)
The problem I had was that Hambly spent so much time on all those things that she seemed to sort of forget about the plot. She'd have bits of things happening every now and then, amidst all the description and characterization, and then suddenly, in the last 50-70 pages or so, it's as though someone said to her, "Time to wrap it up" and all at once a dozen things happen. Again, interesting (and unexpected) things, but somehow the balance seemed off.
I'd like to read at least another in the series, though, to see how it works now that she's got everything set up....more
A good book, altogether--good pacing, good ideas. It was frustrating, though, in that a few small changes could have made it really great.
I didn't lovA good book, altogether--good pacing, good ideas. It was frustrating, though, in that a few small changes could have made it really great.
I didn't love the beginning, as it seemed a little unfocused--jumping from character to character in different chapters often works, but it can seem choppy, as it did here. But as the story picked up steam everything else started to fall into place, and the ending worked pretty well.
Most of my complaints are sort of niggling, but they added up.
- The main character kept calling her dad by his first name, which was both distracting and oddly distancing.
- Same chick, the daughter of a lexicographer, going by the alias/nickname "Alice," fails to recognize Lewis Carroll's real name, CL Dodgson? Quite a stretch, even factoring in bits like she doesn't seem terribly bright, she's very stressed, etc.
- The numbers are too small. Supposedly, the device that changes the world, the cell-phone-on-steroids-like Meme, has become so powerful because it's ubiquitous--everyone has one, so doctors are going out of business, etc. But at one point, someone is explaining this, and says that 100 million Americans have Memes--that's nowhere near enough for the sorts of changes described. Heck, that's less than one-third of the US population. Also, the time frame is too tight; the sorts of huge societal changes described simply couldn't happen as fast as they're supposed to have.
That sort of thing.
My biggest complaint, in many ways, was a lack of motive on the part of the bad guys. Yeah, yeah, corporate guys are evil, I get it, but they're usually evil in a rational, greedy way. Setting the world on fire just to watch it burn is not their general approach. Yes, it makes sense that hackers/terrorists might think that way, but then it's unclear why the corporate guys would have hired them. I can make it work if I struggle (maybe the suits thought they could control the hackers?) but at that point, I'm really doing the author's work for her. Just a few paragraphs in key spots would have made this a lot stronger.
And here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: This book would have been better if the author had read a little less Hegel and a little more Stephen King. Less theorizing about the importance of language--aka preaching to the choir--and a little more description of the chaos that actually results when language is so thoroughly corrupted could have made all the difference between a merely good book and a really memorable one....more
No stars is my system for saying "couldn't finish," and that's what this collection gets. It started well, too, which is frustrating, but by the end oNo stars is my system for saying "couldn't finish," and that's what this collection gets. It started well, too, which is frustrating, but by the end of the third essay, I was so annoyed/bored I was done.
The first essay started out with our narrator as a medical actor, which was interesting. It then moved into a discussion of her personal medical issues, which was much less interesting. It turned into a repetitive, tedious mess, which could perhaps have been saved by some sharp editing but sadly, was not.
I actually double-checked one bit, because I thought the author had literally repeated a sentence (and not in an intentional way). She hadn't, but she came damn close. Worse, I got it the first time. Realizing that you want your boyfriend to "feel what you feel" isn't such a difficult concept that it bears repeating on pages 19 and 25. Honestly, have some faith in your reader.
The second essay was about people suffering from an controversial disease, Morgellons (which some consider more of a psychological problem). It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good, either; nothing about it made me really care about the people with the disease or, again, the narrator's personal history with disease in general.
The third essay was a short piece about our narrator attending a literary conference in a Mexican border town, and it was a snooze. Yes, she went to one of the most violent, terrifying places in the world, a center of narco-war and terror, but somehow, by focusing on the area's lame poets and writers, even that seemed dull.
It's excellent fun, but it is slow going. Not because it's dull, buHitchings had my heart the moment he quoted John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure.
It's excellent fun, but it is slow going. Not because it's dull, but because there's so much interesting material stuffed into each paragraph, and I needed time to absorb it. I had a similar reaction to Margaret Visser's The Rituals of Dinner, another marvelous book jam-crammed full of thought-provoking material; the difference was that a lot of Visser's information was new to me, while I know a bit more about English.
Some folks have complained about the lack of a clear narrative, which I think is a bit unfair. There is one; it's just a bit broad, in that it's the whole history of the English language, going back to the various invasions of Britain and the ensuing linguistic mixings of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, French, Scandinavian, etc.
I liked Hitchings' description of the way these mixtures resonate today: "Often we have three terms for the same thing--one Anglo-Saxon, one French, and one clearly absorbed from Latin or Greek. The Anglo-Saxon word is typically a neutral one; the French word connotes sophistication; and the Latin or Greek word, learnt from a written text rather than from human contact, is comparatively abstract and conveys a more scientific notion." He goes on to list "go, depart, and exit" as examples, which works pretty well.
Hitchings also emphasizes the long history of people complaining about the decline of English, which I always find both comforting and amusing. Having grown up in a deeply prescriptivist home, it's reassuring to encounter folks who say (and can prove) that people have been whinging about the decline of the English for hundreds of years; there were no "good old days," as it were, so it's okay to relax a bit (Jack Lynch does much the same thing in The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of "Proper" English, from Shakespeare to South Park).
I also appreciated the occasional asides. I smiled when, in discussing British travel guides of the nineteenth century, Hitchings quoted one as advising people "not to attempt sentences; but pronounce boldly and baldly the one or two words which mainly imply the meaning"--and then promptly added, "No change there, then."
He even provides the tiniest glimpse of his more personal tastes; in explaining how the Yiddish zaftig "tends to be used of voluptuous women," he adds, rather tartly, "and thus increasingly of any woman who doesn't resemble a matchstick."...more
Good fun. I admit, I prefer Moore when he's off on his own track of silliness, not doing theme and variations on more serious stuff like this, but I sGood fun. I admit, I prefer Moore when he's off on his own track of silliness, not doing theme and variations on more serious stuff like this, but I still enjoy these books, too. Besides, how serious can it be when a man being ravished by a sea monster is a plot point?
Plus, I learned some new phrases that I now desperately want to work into conversation, specifically "holy ripening fuckcheeses!" and "a squirming stein of squid spooge."...more
Excellent fun. I like Heyers' snippy, upper-class characters, and her plots aren't bad, either. Though I confess, I did find myself feeling rebelliousExcellent fun. I like Heyers' snippy, upper-class characters, and her plots aren't bad, either. Though I confess, I did find myself feeling rebelliously fond of the most sarcastic character, even when he was saying outrageously rude things to people. In person, I'd probably be pretty shocked, but here, I could just relax and laugh guiltily....more
I liked it, but I don't think it really needed to be a graphic novel. To my mind, Ellis's prose is so vivid that it just doesn't gain much from illustI liked it, but I don't think it really needed to be a graphic novel. To my mind, Ellis's prose is so vivid that it just doesn't gain much from illustrations. This is not intended as a slam on the illustrator, btw--the pictures are densely detailed, and entertaining in their own right--but they just don't feel necessary. I get a perfectly clear image of Spider and his world from the text.
I do have one minor question, though: At the beginning, Spider complains, "I was having a mildly paranoid day, mostly due to the fact that the mad priest lady from over the river had taken to nailing weasels to my front door again.” It's a great line, but then, just a couple of pages later, he talks about all the great defenses he has on his property, minefields and intelligent guns, etc.
But if he has such great defenses, how does the mad priest lady get to his front door to nail weasels to it--repeatedly?...more
It's not great literature, but it's always interesting to read an account of a largely shared experience. I too grew up as an only child, with a hoardIt's not great literature, but it's always interesting to read an account of a largely shared experience. I too grew up as an only child, with a hoarder dad (luckily, mine was held somewhat in check by my mom), in roughly the same part of the country around roughly the same time. Unsurprisingly, I read this with lots of recognition, and a sense of "Yep, I know what that's about." Oddly, the strongest sense of that came from the description of being shy and quiet as a young child around other children, but hyper-articulate and comfortable with grown-ups.
I do wonder if the author pulled her punches a bit, though, given that her parents are both still living. She describes coming home often as a young adult to perform regular clean-outs, when her parents are desperate; and while her descriptions of those seem spot-on, covering the frustration, the exhaustion, the hopeless sense of "not again," and the sheer humiliation of the whole mess, her parents' reactions seem off. They're embarrassed to need the help, but they're grateful for it, which sadly is not typical.
The embarrassment rings true, but the lack of anger does not. I'd love to be wrong, of course, but it felt off. Then again, it's perhaps not a fair criticism: "You weren't cruelly honest enough about your family!"...more
A fairly interesting look at something I care very much about, from someone who clearly has very different tastes. She backs up her arguments, though,A fairly interesting look at something I care very much about, from someone who clearly has very different tastes. She backs up her arguments, though, so it's sort of fun to see where we diverge--where's the fun in always agreeing? So Lesser doesn't like unreliable narrators, and I do; she has some decent reasons for her dislike, so I'll call that a fair cop. De gustibus, as they say.
I was a bit frustrated at how...common? typical? some of her favorites were, though. Oh, look, someone serious about books, and they're using illustrations from Dostoevsky, Dickens, and James. Yawn (and I say this as someone who likes James). I know it's a tough choice, though: If one talks more about lesser-known but more interesting writers, fewer people are likely to know the examples (I have to assume she's friends with Louise Gluck, though, given how inexplicably often she came up--and seeing that she blurbed the book). Lesser did talk about Murakami a bit, which was nice.
There were a couple of phrases that caught in my mind and kept me thinking, which is always good. One was from the translation part, when she was talking about having read multiple translations of Sebald and how they all worked pretty well, and she said that "great authors can never escape themselves." This set me wondering, though; does that mean that hack writers can escape themselves? As written, it sounds like something one would want to do--does she mean that great writers are trapped in some way that lesser writers are not? I suspect that she's trying to suggest that great writers have voices that are so strong no one can destroy them, which makes more sense but is not what she actually said.
The other phrase was an offhand reference to something that was merely anecdote, not art--which made me start trying to think of examples of anecdotes that could actually rise to the level of art. That's probably going to be a good mental exercise for a while....more
Oh, how I hated this book. I felt so sorry for the little boy, while thinking the whole time that pretty much all the adults needed to be shot out ofOh, how I hated this book. I felt so sorry for the little boy, while thinking the whole time that pretty much all the adults needed to be shot out of a cannon into the sun....more
I was really enjoying this book, up until the last sixty pages or so. It's funny, clever, engaging--everything good. I liked the main character, I likI was really enjoying this book, up until the last sixty pages or so. It's funny, clever, engaging--everything good. I liked the main character, I liked the entertaining situations he encountered, I liked the basic idea of the plot.
Unfortunately, it was too much of a good thing. By the end, I was actually getting tired of all the digressive jumps, as it were--and I'm the queen of digressions, so if I'm unhappy with them, an author has truly overdone it.
It's a bit of an odd comparison, but I felt rather the same way I did with Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler--a sort of intellectual coitus interruptus, as it were. In the Calvino, the whole book is essentially a collection of first chapters, and it drove me bananas; just as I'd be getting interested in a story, getting its rhythm, as it were (ahem), BAM--it stops. You never find out how the story develops, or more importantly, how it ends.
It was the same here; Holt kept giving little glimpses of other places, other stories, as it were, and then jerking me out of them. For a while, it was fun, because they were good (the Disney planet was my favorite, I think) but by the end all I could think was "STICK TO ONE THING AND FINISH IT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!"...more