Apparently, I'm in an authors-who-met-a-tragic-demise phase. First it was William Lindsay Gresham, author of Nightmare Alley who overdosed on sleepingApparently, I'm in an authors-who-met-a-tragic-demise phase. First it was William Lindsay Gresham, author of Nightmare Alley who overdosed on sleeping pills and died with business cards in his pocket stating "No Address. No Phone. No Business. No Money. Retired." Now it's Nathanael West who, one day after his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald died, ran a stop sign in El Centro, California which caused a collision and killed he and his wife Eileen McKenney. But I digress.
In A Cool Million, West takes a bludgeon to the eternally optimistic, rags-to-riches success mythology of Horatio Alger. West's is extreme, biting satire. Gone is Dick the bootblack who takes his first five dollars, invests frugally, and attains middle class respectability. (See Alger's Ragged Dick.) Now it's the world of a truly pathetic hero, Lemuel Pitkin. During the course of the novel, Pitkin's robbed, cheated, falsely accused, arrested, beaten, exploited. He loses his mother, an eye, every one of his teeth, a thumb, his scalp, and the lower part of a leg. His love interest and orphan Betty Prail is raped, abused, and sold into sex slavery. Things get even worse, but I refuse to play the spoiler. Throughout his ordeal, Lemuel never loses his sense of optimism and gullibility. Like I said, a pathetic story.
There's plenty of humor here. The former President's name is Shagpoke Whipple, for crying out loud! But much of West's humor appears to be gratuitous brutality unless readers know he's closely satirizing Horatio Alger. I suggest reading Alger's Ragged Dick before diving into this cringe-inducing dismantling of wholesome young people. ...more
Due to the use of "racial pejoratives and stereotypical depictions of dark-skinned people" (from the Forward), The Story of Doctor Dolittle had lost fDue to the use of "racial pejoratives and stereotypical depictions of dark-skinned people" (from the Forward), The Story of Doctor Dolittle had lost favor with many parents over the years and had been allowed to go out of print. This new edition substitutes Michael Hague's colorful paintings for Hugh Lofting's original black-and-white drawings. Additionally, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack have "gently revised for modern sensibilities" some sections of the story "so as to preserve and emphasize Lofting's message of universal caring and understanding" (from the Afterword).
Here's Lofting in his own words: "If we make children see that all races, given equal physical and mental chances for development, have about the same batting averages of good and bad, we shall have laid another very substantial foundation stone in the edifice of peace and internationalism." (Also from the Afterword, though I'm not sure of the quote's origin.) Racial stereotypes have no place in such a vision for a peaceful, cooperative world. I suspect Lofting wouldn't mind the tweaks to his original language and drawings.
The kids loved the story, and couldn't get enough of the adventures of Dolittle and his animal partners/cousins. It's a fun read! And Hague's beautiful paintings added plenty of visual interest to the bedtime reading experience. If you're a literary historian, grab the original version for your studies; if you're a parent trying to raise your children as world citizens, grab this revised version. You won't be disappointed....more
Another book of tongue twisters by Dr. Seuss. Oh Say Can You Say? sucks, while Fox in Socks has reached legendary status, prompting adults to developAnother book of tongue twisters by Dr. Seuss. Oh Say Can You Say? sucks, while Fox in Socks has reached legendary status, prompting adults to develop drinking games with stumble-free reading as the objective. Read the two books one after the other at bedtime, and see which one elicits the most laughter and sheer joy in the reading. My guess? Fox in Socks wins by a landslide.
Reciting the fox's "cheese trees/free fleas" almost made my mouth explode. The kids found my stumbles hilarious. We had fun!...more
While I've known for a long time that William Lindsay Gresham's "Nightmare Alley" (1946) was an established classic of noir fiction, I was utterly unp
While I've known for a long time that William Lindsay Gresham's "Nightmare Alley" (1946) was an established classic of noir fiction, I was utterly unprepared for its raw, Dostoevskian power. Why isn't this book on reading lists with Nathanael West's "Miss Lonelyhearts" and Albert Camus' "The Stranger"? It's not often that a novel leaves a weathered and jaded reviewer like myself utterly flattened, but this one did. - Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World column, Thursday, May 13, 2010
Dirda's Classics for Pleasure, a collection of his book reviews through the years, remains one of my favorite works of literary criticism. So, when Dirda speaks, I tend to listen. I came across his review of Nightmare Alley after finishing the book and feeling a strong need to hear from others who've read this well-written, psychologically-astute, gut-wrenching, should-be classic. "Utterly flattened" - that's as good a description as any for how William Lindsay Gresham left me feeling after reading the final sentence.
From traumatic childhood, to carny, to mentalist, to a sketchy minister of the spiritualist Church of the Heavenly Message, to hobo, and back to a bottom-of-the-barrel carny position, the tale of Stanton Carlisle is on of pseudo-rise and complete fall of a confused person. One moment, Stan's at a posh party noticing "one of the season's debutantes, who had already made the papers with an affair. . . . She sat primly holding a highball on her knee, her white dress so low-cut that Stan fancied he could see the aureoles of her nipples." Soon after, sex-motivated Stan shows his vulnerable, philosophical side: "Oh, Christ, why do you have to grow up into a life like this one? Why do you ever have to want women, want power, make money, make love, keep up a front, sell the act, suck around some booking agent, get gypped on the check -- ?" Don't be fooled by the pulp feel to the title of the novel, there's nothing pulpish about Nightmare Alley. Gresham has given us a masterpiece of the noir genre and beyond.
Gresham's own story is no less tragic and rich than Nightmare Alley. He experienced Marxism, psychoanalysis, Christianity, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Rinzai Zen Buddhism before killing himself at age 53. Also fascinating for me was Gresham's marital relationship with American poet Joy Davidman, to whom he dedicated "Nightmare Alley." Ultimately, she separated from Gresham and left for England where she met, then married C.S. Lewis. The depth of the love between Lewis and Davidman can be witnessed in the film Shadowlands and A Grief Observed. While Davidman died loving and deeply loved by her soul mate; Gresham died alone in Manhattan at the Hotel Carter, the very same place he frequented while writing Nightmare Alley. Like Stanton Carlisle, Gresham never stopped moving along his own Nightmare Alley. Personal angst turned to literary gold. No wonder the book left such a strong, uncomfortable impression on me! You'll have to read it yourself to believe it....more
I stumbled upon Anthony Powell and his A Dance to the Music of Time series while reviewing the recommended reading lists of people who fascinate me. TI stumbled upon Anthony Powell and his A Dance to the Music of Time series while reviewing the recommended reading lists of people who fascinate me. Turns out a painting from 1636 by Nicolas Poussin served as Powell's inspiration for the 12-novel cycle. The overlong quote below from narrator Nick Jenkins, found at the beginning of A Question of Upbringing, sums up much about the series:
“For some reason, the sight of snow descending on fire always makes me think of the ancient world – legionaries in sheepskin warming themselves at a brazier: mountain altars where offerings glow between wintry pillars; centaurs with torches cantering beside a frozen sea – scattered, unco-ordinated shapes from a fabulous past, infinitely removed from life; and yet bringing with them memories of things real and imagined. These classical projections, and something in the physical attitudes of the men themselves as they turned from the fire, suddenly suggested Poussin’s scene in which the Seasons, hand in hand and facing outward, tread in rhythm to the notes of the lyre that the winged and naked greybeard plays. The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outwards like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure: stepping slowly, methodically, sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognisable shape: or breaking into seeminly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the steps of the dance."
Apparently, Powell plans to lead us readers on an extended exploration of life's transience as revealed through the ever-changing nature of human relationships.
A Question of Upbringing is more of a meander than a plot-driven work. Readers observe; Powell divulges the significance of what's been observed. Powell serves as meaning-maker for us reading rubes. At a younger age, I would've hated Powell. Now at the age of 46, I find him truthful. Confusion over the strange bodily feelings connected with first love; friendships that end gently but abruptly as young lives evolve and life paths fork; a sense of disorientation as school days gives way to work weeks - I can relate! Powell's truthiness (Stephen Colbert term) makes me want to continue with the series....more
Our daughter Sigourney read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to Amanda and me repeatedly over the past two days. As part of the Beginner BooksOur daughter Sigourney read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to Amanda and me repeatedly over the past two days. As part of the Beginner Books collection, the book does its job as one of the "exacting blends of words and pictures that encourage children to read - all by themselves." In my opinion, anything that both gets a child reading and spawns another Dr. Seuss fan can't be anything but good. A fun, eclectic experience for young readers and older listeners alike....more
"Bud packed up, got out, brainstormed some more--pimp war clicks, clickouts--Duke Cathcart had two skags in his stable, no stomach for pushing a 14-ye
"Bud packed up, got out, brainstormed some more--pimp war clicks, clickouts--Duke Cathcart had two skags in his stable, no stomach for pushing a 14-year-old nymphet--he was a pimp disaster area. He tried to click Duke's pad tossed to the Nite Owl--no gears meshed, odds on the (blacks) remained high. If the tossing played, tie it to Cathcart's 'new' gig--Feather Royko talked it up--she came off clean as Sinful Cindy came off hinky. . . ."
Uh, Wuuut? For almost 500 pages, Ellroy heaped such concise, dense, gruesome, discomfort-inducing language on my melon. One sentence provides a paragraph-plus of brain fodder. Adjectives, verbs, nouns - you name it - all are expendable for Ellroy. His narrative style's unique, to say the least. Think Hemingway, Hammett, Hannibal Lecter, and Hunter S. Thompson all wrapped into one.
If you like novels with blurry lines between good and bad, gang rapes, corpse mutilations, a string of brutal prostitute murders, racism, a police officer shaped by the experience of his father handcuffing him to a bed and being made to watch while Dad beat Mom to death with a tire iron, violent pornography, incest, heavy consumption of opium, bestiality, torture, and unfamiliar slang, then L.A. Confidential's for you.
With all of that said, I loved the book. Sure, Ellroy confused me at times with his narrative flow. And I challenge you to find a single likable character in the entire tome. But when I got used to the Tarantino-like violence and stopped being anal about keeping up with Ellroy, I found myself not wanting to put the book down. It's a stomach-churning page turner! The Village Voice describes the reading experience perfectly - "You can get sliced just turning the pages." By all means, accept the challenge of reading L.A. Confidential, but be careful....more
Volume 2 in the Legends of the Guard series holds up in comparison to Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, Vol. 1. I loved Bill Willingham's "The VeteraVolume 2 in the Legends of the Guard series holds up in comparison to Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, Vol. 1. I loved Bill Willingham's "The Veteran", but Bill fell just a touch short of my (and Petersen's) favorite - Christian Slade's "Love of the Sea". The love story between a sailor and mermouse proved to be immensely popular with Amanda and the kids as well.
The anthology-with-guest-authors format has made reading the "Legends" series fun for our family. We'll give Volume 3 a look as well....more
“Well,” said the third (dwarf). “Somebody’s got to do the honours.” “I shall,” said the queen, gently. She lowered her face to the sleeping woman’s. S
“Well,” said the third (dwarf). “Somebody’s got to do the honours.” “I shall,” said the queen, gently. She lowered her face to the sleeping woman’s. She touched the pink lips to her own carmine lips and she kissed the sleeping girl long and hard.”
For me, Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories represents the standard for anyone looking to retell fairy tales. But her work's for older eyes. The Sleeper and the Spindle is suitable for young adults and possibly even some middle graders. Our little ones are well below Gaiman's target age. That said, they enjoyed the fairy tale mash-up at a different level, where dwarfs and a fierce queen battle pseudo-zombies and ornery witches. The large twist at the end, following on the smaller twists throughout the book, makes for a fun bedtime read.
An additional note on artist Chris Riddell. He's amazing! His beautiful black-and-white-with-touches-of-bronze illustrations, in combination with Gaiman's elegant writing, make The Sleeper and the Spindle a must-read, in my opinion....more
Beautiful work by both Creech and Raschka. Creech's poetry makes me nostalgic not for fishing, but for golfing with my Dad. She uses subtle repetitionBeautiful work by both Creech and Raschka. Creech's poetry makes me nostalgic not for fishing, but for golfing with my Dad. She uses subtle repetition of phrase to great effect with me. I related to the Father's yearning for an idyllic past, and to the Son's desire to know more about his Father's past while also living together in the present. (FATHER REMINISCES: "Oh, where is that house?? And where are those fields and that river and that father and that boy?" SON RESPONDS SIMPLY: "Right here.") Past and present collide happily, making for a very satisfying bedtime read with our six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son. They asked great questions throughout.
Raschka's watercolor illustrations remind me of Marc Chagall's work. I've seen some criticism of the artwork's complexity. I can see the point. However, I found that the illustrations brought out more good questions during the read-a-long. All worked together well....more
Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse gets different ratings depending on what readers might want. Story? 2 stars. Aesthetics? 5 stars. The artwork's stuGoth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse gets different ratings depending on what readers might want. Story? 2 stars. Aesthetics? 5 stars. The artwork's stunning, as are the purple-edged pages and silver-foiled end pages. I also love that Riddell included an attached-ribbon bookmark.
The story's another matter, however. Riddell jams in so many puns, literary and cultural references that they begin to distract. I'm guessing not many youngsters comprehend the references to Dr. Johnson and the repeated references to his famous quote: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." Granted, Riddell takes the references to such an absurd level that kids can enjoy the madcap action without having a clue about the authors intended cleverness. But still, plot suffers mightily at the hands of the extreme detail and non-stop pun-fest.
A Golden Age, Hollow Earth theories, UFOs, the survival of Hitler, secret Nazi bases in Antarctica, the hidden kingdoms of Agartha and Shambhala - souA Golden Age, Hollow Earth theories, UFOs, the survival of Hitler, secret Nazi bases in Antarctica, the hidden kingdoms of Agartha and Shambhala - sounds like a topic list for InfoWars! Joscelyn Godwin brings a scholarly point-of-view to areas often left for conspiracy theorists to feast upon. I found Godwin's thorough analysis of the polar mythological archetype fascinating and helpful in understanding how Nazism became a thing.
A warning: the book reads like an encyclopedia/textbook. Don't expect to breeze through the material....more
Well-executed etchings combined with a simple, beautiful, magical story. There's a dragon, a singing toad, and a struggling wannabe magician named ThoWell-executed etchings combined with a simple, beautiful, magical story. There's a dragon, a singing toad, and a struggling wannabe magician named Thomas. Thomas looks a lot like Harry Potter, a fact that, along with the cute baby dragon and singing toad, helped the kiddos stay engaged for the entire bedtime read....more
Extremely well done graphic version of Baum's look at Oz as a socialist utopia. Shanower and Young have saved the best for last. Put this one on yourExtremely well done graphic version of Baum's look at Oz as a socialist utopia. Shanower and Young have saved the best for last. Put this one on your utopian socialism bookshelf next to Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000-1887 and Morris' News from Nowhere....more
Awwww, Llamas and Gnus hanging out together and sharing life lessons. My favorite aspect of the book? The texture of the canvas being visible with eacAwwww, Llamas and Gnus hanging out together and sharing life lessons. My favorite aspect of the book? The texture of the canvas being visible with each illustration. Personally, I enjoyed the flow of the rhyme in this book more than the jarring feel of Llama Llama Red Pajama. The kids prefer jarring, apparently. I suspect they'd reverse my ranking, giving the edge to "Red Pajama" over "Time to Share". Whatever. It's my GR account, so my druthers win out this time....more
Our 6-year-old daughter Sigourney, now in pre-ballet, was so excited to read Emma and Julia Love Ballet that I'd feel strange giving any fewer than 5Our 6-year-old daughter Sigourney, now in pre-ballet, was so excited to read Emma and Julia Love Ballet that I'd feel strange giving any fewer than 5 stars. Emma's about Siggy's age, frolicking her way through early ballet/creative movement classes; Julia's older, and a lead dancer in stage productions. One evening, Emma's in the audience as Julia performs onstage. The scene where Julia and Emma hug backstage after the show is sweet as hell.
McClintock depicts diversity in many forms - age, race, gender, experience, etc. Despite diverse life circumstances, we all do many of the same things each day. We're all human. Not a bad lesson for little ones to learn....more
Whuuuuutttt! We've been cliffhung! The plot thickens, requiring us to check out the next installment in the Three Thieves series immediately followingWhuuuuutttt! We've been cliffhung! The plot thickens, requiring us to check out the next installment in the Three Thieves series immediately following the MLK holiday....more
We enjoyed learning Drake's back story. And the cliffhanger endings just get better and better. My only criticism's the suddenness of some of the tranWe enjoyed learning Drake's back story. And the cliffhanger endings just get better and better. My only criticism's the suddenness of some of the transitions between Drake's past and present, making the narrative flow awkwardly and incoherently at times. Still a fun read that makes us want to jump into the next installment immediately....more
Cute. One reviewer compared Cecil's work to a combination of Kate DiCamillo and Brian Selznick. Not bad! I'll let that comparison stand. A good, not gCute. One reviewer compared Cecil's work to a combination of Kate DiCamillo and Brian Selznick. Not bad! I'll let that comparison stand. A good, not great, effort....more
Chantler holds serve with this one. Nothing special, just solid fun with a little romance thrown in for good measure. A noticeable dip in the swashbucChantler holds serve with this one. Nothing special, just solid fun with a little romance thrown in for good measure. A noticeable dip in the swashbuckle made this one less fun/gasp-inducing for the younger set at bedtime....more
David Petersen invites some of his colleague creators to take turns at telling short tales set within the Mouse Guard universe. Petersen stays involveDavid Petersen invites some of his colleague creators to take turns at telling short tales set within the Mouse Guard universe. Petersen stays involved by telling the bridge story that provides context and connects all the guest stories. Basically, Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, Vol. 1 is an anthology book with the parts nested in Petersen's whole.
It's fun to see the Mouse Guard universe depicted through sometimes drastically different illustration stories. As with all Mouse Guard installments, there's plenty of death. Karl Kerschl and Guy Davis take my awards for best guest efforts. And Katie Cook wins the morbid-story-made-cute-as-a-button-through-illustration-style award. (Not a surprise when you factor in Katie's work on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Omnibus Volume 1. She's awesome!)
With Petersen's advice and ultimate approval of the guest creators' efforts, the anthology remains true to the Mouse Guard mythos while also allowing the individuals enough freedom to bring something new to the project. Our family very much enjoyed the read. ...more