I loved this. Rather unexpectedly. I picked it out because it is so oft-cited - in other works of fiction, in news and opinion stories - and I liked tI loved this. Rather unexpectedly. I picked it out because it is so oft-cited - in other works of fiction, in news and opinion stories - and I liked to read things that are part of the popular imagination. Also (I thought to myself, upon making my selection), I have not read much of The Russians, and I thought this would cure part of that lack.
Which is to say, I've read SO little of the The Russians that in fact I didn't really even know who The Russians were. I really had Nabokov clumped together in my brain with Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. I just assumed they were all part of the same literary tradition. I knew Lolita was shorter that War & Peace, but I fully expected Lolita to be a 19th century social commentary, somewhat dry and not always related to my own sphere of existence. Oops.
I was also a little wary going into this because everything I knew about the book before beginning was "it's about pedophilia!" and my (admittedly prudish) sensibilities don't usually go in for novels that thematically cross the lines of sex or violence very far. As background themes? Fine. As occasional scenes? Fine. But a whole book dedicated to a topic? Could I handle it?
And perhaps that is why I am so surprised at my enjoyment of this story. Were the acts of a sex criminal depicted, sometimes graphically? Yes, but somehow never indecently. I liked that I, the reader, was not involved in this story as a voyeur would be, but as a member of a convicting jury. From the opening of the story with the "introduction" from the lawyer, I was invited to pass judgment on Humbert. I was given permission to both disapprove of the actions described while enjoying the craft that went into their telling.
And such craft! Nabokov's writing is utterly beautiful. His vocabulary is a bit out of control - I saw words in this novel I've either never encountered or haven't encountered since studying for the GREs in every single chapter. But I even loved that. I loved how it was part of the narrator's personality, even. The flowing phrases and the word games (even knowing I only understood a small handful of these) are artistic genius.
My favorite aspect, however, was all the beautiful paradoxes: Humbert as a miserable foreigner who was somehow better at being American than many Americans; how Humbert waxed poetic about Lolita's perfection while at the same time describing for me a child who was perfectly horrible; the way he was so concerned about preserving everyone else's opinion of him while never doing anything other than what he personally wanted to do.
I had to do some reading up on this novel after I finished it because I felt like there was so much more going on beneath the surface than what I had gleaned. I would love to go over this book in a literature class. From what I read, though, I didn't do too badly, even if some of the more obscure symbolic imagery passed me by (the mythological and entomological implications of the word "nymphet," and all the associated imagery that went along with it).
Here's the one thing I noticed that I simply didn't see in any of the lit analysis commentaries I read: Humbert's original lover is depicted as being Annabel Lee from Poe's poem by the same name. Lines of the poem are outright stolen and reproduced as the words of Humbert in his descriptions of his first love. The setting and circumstance are identical to those of the poem (with the exception of the protagonist curling up to keep his love company after her death). Was Lolita, then, written as a kind of sequel to Poe's poem? Or was Humbert aware of the poem and consciously co-opted it for himself? Humbert mentions Poe within the narrative, which makes me first theory problematic, even though I like it better, but makes the second theory quite likely. The only mentions I could find about this question said that Poe's poem inspired this novel, though to me it felt like much more. (Perhaps all this stuck out to me because "Annabel Lee" was one of the first poems I liked enough to memorize, so I know it well enough to spot every reference.)
/tldr. I really liked this. I will go check out more of Nabokov's works....more
Before I start picking on this book, let me point out that I really enjoyed reading it. The premise was very interesting and the story plotted out resBefore I start picking on this book, let me point out that I really enjoyed reading it. The premise was very interesting and the story plotted out respectably well. My gripes are all about narrative technique, and they are perhaps a bit gripier than they would normally be considering my previous reading project.
So that first: I have recently finished reading Gardens of the Moon, a book famous for its intricately detailed world and for its author's refusal to explain that world to the reader, instead forcing the reader to figure it out on her own as she reads. I really enjoy that - I like it when the author trusts me to figure things out (even if, occasionally, I'd wish for a little more clarification. Stevenson's response to my plea for more context was most often a literary middle finger ["because you asked, I will introduce thirteen new characters in this chapter!"]).
Eh hem. So coming off of that rather chewy reading experience, now I have this. Scalzi starts the novel with a very helpful and fairly comprehensive introduction in the form of an encyclopedia entry detailing the history, social, and political implications of Haden's disease. It's a beautiful set up for the story, giving us all the information we need to proceed directly into a plot set in the world thus outlined, without having to bog the narrative down with a bunch of info dumps meant to convey the same information.
... Except then he bogs the narrative down with a bunch of infodumps meant to convey the same information.
Well, they're not precisely infodumps. Instead, there are a lot of conversations between characters that remind me of that melodrama I acted in a few years ago:
::picking up the telephone:: "Hello, Muldoon Manor, home of the mysterious Lady Muldoon whose husband disappeared three years ago this Friday under misty and mysterious circumstances, how may I help you?"
The characters spend a LOT of time telling each other in great detail about things the speaking characters all already understand clearly. These dopey conversations do convey a lot detailed information to me, the reader, that I might not have been able to figure out by myself, but in a lot of cases, I feel like I wouldn't have missed any depth in the story without that info. Or maybe it could have been explained more gracefully in a non-conversational fashion.
I was also annoyed with Scalzi's propensity for reminding me of things that I already knew. A simple example is how he kept referring to the husband of a big corporate boss (male) as "his husband," as if Scalzi was worried that I would miss the social implication he was trying to make. It's okay, man! I got it the first time! It was a nice touch until you bludgeoned me with it for the fourteenth time.
Narrative peeves aside, the story was fun. I liked exploring the social implications of this disease that causes people to be locked into their bodies so that they have to function either in digital environments or through the manipulation of robot avatars. Really interesting, even when the directions the socio-political aspects of the background were a little confusing (why would locked-in people who necessarily depend on people in the physical world to do things like take care of their bodies and build the components for their avatars think that forming a locked-in-persons-only society would be practical...?)
I liked the protagonist and the little literary game Scalzi played with his female partner, Vann, being a stereotypical hard-boiled detective.
All in all, a very solid 3.50-star "liked it" for this book, and despite my gripes, I'll surely read more of his novels....more
Oops. Took too long to write this review, and now most of the particulars have slipped my mind.
I enjoyed this book. I liked that it was told from a mOops. Took too long to write this review, and now most of the particulars have slipped my mind.
I enjoyed this book. I liked that it was told from a male perspective, and thought the authors did a nice job capturing the teenage perspective in general. I liked that the protagonists were both just dumb, lost teenagers and that the romance was teenage-flavored rather than svelt and perfect in (actually) magical ways.
The narrative style was fine, though three or four times I noticed very minor narrative inconsistencies (this is the part where I waited too long and now can't remember any actual examples, but they were very minor. No giant plot holes). Some parts of the ending struck me as altogether implausible, however: (view spoiler)["Gee, these kids all hate me and there's my cousin who's trying to get me killed but I think I'll go party with them anyway, despite how terrified I am that something might go wrong." No. Why? Because she wants so badly to be a normal teenager that wanting the popular kids to like her trumps a FEAR FOR HER LIFE?! I have a really hard time buying that. (hide spoiler)]
Oh, and I have no idea what the title has to do with anything in the story.
But it was entertaining while it lasted. I may check out the next ones if I run out of other audiobook options...["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Listened in the car on the way home from Yellowstone with Matt and Francy. It reads exactly like a TV episode, which was goofy, but I enjoyed it anywaListened in the car on the way home from Yellowstone with Matt and Francy. It reads exactly like a TV episode, which was goofy, but I enjoyed it anyway. ...more
Confession first: I listened to this on audio, and whether it was author's narrative or the audio's narrator, I could not stay awake. Dustin had to keConfession first: I listened to this on audio, and whether it was author's narrative or the audio's narrator, I could not stay awake. Dustin had to keep catching me up.
So I really can't say much about the quality of the mystery part of the story. I was pretty confused about that for most of the read. However, the excellent way Roberts depicted life in the last years of Rome's (in)famous Republic were well worth sticking it out for. I liked how he characterized the players, giving them humanity but not shying away from the devious and twisted motives of life in that time. I liked his depiction of the city itself, with all its grandeur and grit. I even liked the way the story's narrator was speaking from a time in the future, dropping hints that helped the reader find context for the story's contemporary action among the solid facts most of us know from studying Highlights of History 101.
And Dustin really liked it (I think), so I suspect we'll find sequels on the menu. ...more
A fascinating read. I like Pollan's narrative style, and the histories and sciences he relates are very interesting. I enjoyed hearing more about theA fascinating read. I like Pollan's narrative style, and the histories and sciences he relates are very interesting. I enjoyed hearing more about the true tales of John Chapman. I like learning what made Dutchmen go nuts for particular tulips. The discussion of our brain's natural THC production is totally bizarre and really provided a new perspective on the idea of getting a high. Pollan's treatment of GMOs was much milder and unbiased than I expected when that section started (though you get a definite understanding of his personal views as well).
I struggled most with the idea that plants manipulate humans to enhance their evolutionary odds of survival. If you accept the premise that flowers evolved to make themselves more appealing to bees, of course it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to believe that flowers can evolve to make themselves more appealing to people. And yet, and yet... The difference between what motivates a bee and a person is so large that I struggle to jump the gap. Wouldn't Occam's Razor suggest that certain species of plants have just gotten lucky? (And then, in the end, Pollan even points out that our attention to some plants may eventually lead to their downfall. That's not a very evolutionary concept.) [But then, you say, isn't evolution mostly about luck anyway? Meh. There are many reasons why I don't delve too deep into the theories of evolution. Here's one.]
All in all, very interesting and enjoyable, even if sometimes it felt a little more philosophical than strictly biological. ...more