I was expounding on my love of Dracula to my poor long-suffering mother yesterday, and realized I should probably confine my effusions to a more opt-i...moreI was expounding on my love of Dracula to my poor long-suffering mother yesterday, and realized I should probably confine my effusions to a more opt-in format.
I first read Dracula as a teenager, breathlessly turning pages of a library edition late at night while coyotes howled around the little bungalow where I was staying alone. Even as an adult, in less conducive conditions, the story holds up for me.
It is in deadly earnest, and the emotions are grand, the stakes high: if you can't put your cynicism aside, it probably isn't for you. It builds slowly, accumulating unease and unearthliness, until you reach the first vertiginous climax -- and then again, you return to normalcy, waiting to be slowly, sickly drawn to the next dramatic break in the fabric of the world. It takes a while to reach a breakneck pace, but it's well worth it.
I'd call Dracula an anxious book. Not just tense, or thrilling, but profoundly anxious. As a teenager, I found the Victorian anxiety about carnality and sex dripping from the pages interesting: Jonathan's revulsion from the incongruously lush lips of the Count, the menace of the castle ladies, and above all the hectic loveliness of Lucy. It's a terrifically clear look into the Victorian psyche, bringing the cultural subtext so close to the surface it pulses like an exposed vein.
As an adult, I've enjoyed the other thematic obsessions: the clash of science/technology/modernity with magic/superstition/occult; the West versus the East; the train and the typewriter set against ancestral earth and the evil eye; the pagan versus the holy; eternal carnal life at the cost of the heavenly beyond.
Perhaps others who aren't English majors, history readers, or obsessed with Victorian foibles and fables won't find those contrasts as compelling as I do, or greet the intrusion of shorthand, typewriters and railroad time tables with the same affection. But these themes play out on characters we care about, for all their occasional preciousness: the slightly fussy Jonathan, the garrulous Lucy, the careful and self-reliant Mina. They play out in deliciously high drama, memorable scenes, iconic images. A hundred years of progress and easing (or replacement) of cultural neuroses can't rob Dracula of its charm, its pathos, or its terror.
P.S. To audiobook readers: A multitude of unabridged productions exist, many of them with multiple readers to bring the diaries and letters of the various characters, male and female, English and Dutch, to life. I have bought, and often return to, the Brilliance Audio version. Most of the readers and accents are quite good, although Michael Page, who reads Seward's journals, is as usual scenery-chewing. I haven't tried the Audible original, chock full of famous names, so that might be another option -- but I do recommend getting one with multiple narrators, to really do the epistolary style justice. And do listen to samples -- there are some very fake English accents running around claiming to be Jonathan Harker of Exeter.(less)
Beautifully drawn and designed, gorgeously interwoven with Quran stories and Arabic calligraphy. The story is brutal in places, but ultimately, I thou...moreBeautifully drawn and designed, gorgeously interwoven with Quran stories and Arabic calligraphy. The story is brutal in places, but ultimately, I thought, redemptive and beautiful. Unlike many stories I read or hear, it interrogates the brutality to women it depicts and tries to balance female self-sacrifice and understand it. The themes are beautifully woven into the narrative and the art both -- and there is really no difference between art and story, here.(less)
The mystery plot was a little tighter in this second book in the Medicus series, In general the plotting was quite well done: little bits of foreshado...moreThe mystery plot was a little tighter in this second book in the Medicus series, In general the plotting was quite well done: little bits of foreshadowing, necessary information and so forth were woven quite invisibly into the fun, interesting setting and the characters I care about. I especially appreciated some of the tension Downie created between Ruso and others even when I was chafing desperately against it -- so it must have been good!(less)
This sequel to Rogue Squadron is less dogfight-heavy and even more adventurous than the first. Our heroes hang up their flight suits in order to infi...moreThis sequel to Rogue Squadron is less dogfight-heavy and even more adventurous than the first. Our heroes hang up their flight suits in order to infiltrate Coruscant, the central planet of the Empire and bring down its defenses. This was almost a sticking point for me -- really, fighter pilots? Don't you guys have Bothans for this sort of thing? -- but since it was such fun, I decided not to quibble. There's another plot point, involving Kessel, that I thought was wrongheaded, but everything after that was jolly good fun.
The depiction of Coruscant -- its highs and lows -- was great, and the eventual fights and adventures there were 3000% more interesting than anything that happened on Coruscant during the prequels. Maybe more than 3000%. Seriously, people. Dodging skyscrapers and pedestrian bridges while atmosphere-fighting TIEs! Taking tea in a heavily secured Imperial building large enough for a Star Destroyer to park in the atrium! Escaping one group of criminals to fall directly into Imperial crossfire!
The Imperial plot against the Rebellion here is fiendish and Machiavellian, and promises to pay off amply over the next few books. The Rogues' devices to bring down Coruscant's shields are inventive and awesome. Despite a lot of coincidences (it's the Foooooorce!) and a not entirely Leia-ish conversation with Leia, this is a really involving, exciting little adventure story, packed with stuff that feels entirely at home in the Star Wars we know and love. This was the way to expand the universe. Good stuff.(less)
This is a book that does what it says on the tin, which is more impressive than you might think. My first flirtation with Star Wars tie-in no...more3.5 stars
This is a book that does what it says on the tin, which is more impressive than you might think. My first flirtation with Star Wars tie-in novels was disappointing, despite the fact that I was ten years old and ready to like anything with Princess Leia on the cover. Unlike the novels that were such a mixed bag for my younger self, this series focuses in on new and secondary characters, rather than trying to ventriloquize the main characters. It also focuses on non-mystical adventures, rather than brainstorming new and kooky Force-related plots and villains to throw at Luke. In short, it's the Star Wars novel I should have been reading when I was ten, and it's still like stuffing my brain with caramel corn now.
Beloved secondary character Commander Wedge Antilles ("Get clear, Wedge! You can't do any more good back there!") is one protagonist here, rebuilding the famous yet often ill-starred Rogue Squadron. The other main character is Corran Horn, a Corellian ex-cop and hotshot fighter pilot. Adventure! Dogfights! Strategy that actually makes sense! The new characters ring true to the universe and are easy to like, and the uneasy tensions within the Rebellion -- between races, between former members of Security Forces and the Imperial Military and shadier characters like smugglers -- are an interesting backdrop. The space battles are actually interesting, and the tactics are much more detailed and awesome than you could depict on film.
Why only three and a half stars? There's a little clunk to the prose now and then, but it's not bad. Actually I docked it for two things: if you aren't very visual indeed, the dogfights will be a struggle to assimilate -- and there are a lot of them; and Corran's character arc in this book -- "Oh, I have to be a teamworker even though I'm a hotshot?" -- is a little infantile and yawnworthy, I found. Not an issue in the next book! (I told you, I'm inhaling these things like popcorn.)(less)
I've finally gotten around to finishing off the Harry Potter series. I was probably dilatory in this mainly because I found the last few book...more3.5 stars
I've finally gotten around to finishing off the Harry Potter series. I was probably dilatory in this mainly because I found the last few books very disappointing.
I find this one a little hard to judge, because like any book that has achieved giant success, it ends up being about more than itself. Does this series convey some Harmful Messages to Our Young People? Well, yes. Quite apart from all the kids-in-danger and not-telling-trusted-adults objections I've heard to the earlier books, I am not mad on the idea that everyone meets their True Love by the age of 17. But I think all that stuff may be too much burden to put on what is, after all, pretty much a YA fantasy book. I'm not sure it's fair to put some extra societal standard pressure on it just because the series was a runaway success.
So setting all that stuff aside, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this last installment. The characters were not as whingingly immature (aka, devastatingly accurate depictions of teenagerhood) as in the last few. While there was a certain amount of stumbling around on the part of our heroes, the eventual plot reveal was compelling and surprisingly tight after seven sprawling books (obviously this is a woman who knows how to outline!) In the end, the plot managed to hit several necessary/foreshadowed points, fulfill some suspicions and expectations, surprise me, and yank on my heartstrings. I was really pleased with some beloved secondary characters' arcs. In short, the last third or quarter made the book for me, and I finished listening with a complacent heart about the series as a whole. Pretty impressive, given my previous disaffection.
That's not to say that I was completely happy: I did feel like certain inter-character squabbles were repetitive (from previous books), a little undermotivated, and generally pumped up to add conflict to a slow section. I have some niggling concerns about the nature of evil and how many of the characters, despite a few notable exceptions, are ugly outside if they are inside, and vice versa. And perhaps most importantly, I do feel like Rowling has gotten "too big to edit", which isn't necessarily her fault -- even if you're sweet and unaffected by success, that success will intimidate people into silence or sycophantism -- but this book definitely had hundreds of pages of flab that could have been cut to the benefit of the whole.
Short version: Despite my misgivings and its occasional flab, it made me smile and cry, and put a nice bow on the series.(less)