I'd heard great things about The Forever War, so I was eager to dive in. But about halfway through, I was disappointed. I loved Haldeman's exploration...moreI'd heard great things about The Forever War, so I was eager to dive in. But about halfway through, I was disappointed. I loved Haldeman's exploration of time dilation's impact on individual and communal lives, and how he used the disorientation caused by time dilation to represent the ambivalent and sometimes hostile reception soldiers like him received upon their return from Vietnam. I also really enjoyed getting to know Haldeman's everyman anti-hero William Mandella. And the messages of corrupt power and the uselessness of war resonate deeply with me. But Mandella's homophobic tendencies and the book's furthering of the Falwellian notion of gayness as an indicator of civilization's slide toward Gomorrah? I'm not a fan!
Then came the last quarter of The Forever War. My disappointment turned to surprise and joy. Alongside the message of angst, hopelessness, conspiracy (UN promoting of homosexuality as population control strategy and part of broader eugenics program--John Birch Society talking point anyone?), and soldiers-as-simple-cannon-fodder, there's a genuine relational sweetness to the story. In the end, Haldeman doesn't let clinical nihilism win over love and friendship. It's listening and effective communication--not state-of-the-art weaponry--that build peace. Even in battle, the mystical messiness of life breaks through the dehumanizing fog of war:
I felt my gorge rising and knew that all the lurid training tapes, all the horrible deaths in training accidents, hadn't prepared me for this sudden reality ... that I had a magic wand that I could point at a life and make it a smoking piece of half-raw meat; I wasn't a soldier nor ever wanted to be one nor ever would want--
With Mandella's ongoing pacifist streak and the brief epilogue as supporting evidence, I can say without hesitation that The Forever War is a life-affirming work. I couldn't wipe the poop-eating grin off my face for quite some time after finishing. Who knew a tale of a twelve-centuries war could leave a reader feeling giddily hopeful? A book deserving of the "classic" label.(less)
Such a weird and amazing read! Diana Wynne Jones takes standard fairy tale and fantasy elements--a girl coming of age, wizards, witches, shapeshifters...moreSuch a weird and amazing read! Diana Wynne Jones takes standard fairy tale and fantasy elements--a girl coming of age, wizards, witches, shapeshifters, a scarecrow, demons, a questionable stepmother, castles, princes and kings--and does something utterly unique with them. I've never read anything like Howl's Moving Castle. What to say of a story where everything's exponentially stranger than initially thought? I loved it.
Sophie's such a cool character. Unlike a typical fairy tale, she doesn't need a knight in shining armor to rescue her from danger or an ennui-filled existence. Sophie's tenacious in going after a better life. And what a fantastic grump she is as an old woman! Her courage and no-nonsense approach stand in stark contrast to Howl's careless-but-fearful way of being. There'll be nothing easy about Sophie and Howl's happily ever after. They anticipate an "eventful",'"hair-raising" and exploitive life together.
My one criticism of Howl's Moving Castle is the fever-pitched ending. A host of people and storylines come crashing together in the end. So much happens in the final 10 pages! I could have used a little gentler winding down to affairs. But maybe a hectic ending is just what a hair-raising ever after demands. Whatever the case, my criticism of the ending doesn't rise to the level of docking a star from my rating. Five stars all the way for this one.(less)
Wow. You know you have an eclectic comic series on your hands when Gilbert/G.K. Chesterton makes an appearance, and a near-super-heroic one at that! T...moreWow. You know you have an eclectic comic series on your hands when Gilbert/G.K. Chesterton makes an appearance, and a near-super-heroic one at that! The portly one knows his chivalry and how to sweep the knee.
Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes is really good, but it can't hold a candle to Watchmen. The Doll's House really goes for it. It's smart and disturbing as hell. My favorite moment occurs toward the end where Rose Walker and Dream philosophize separately about their lack of free will:
ROSE It means that we're just dolls. We don't have a clue what's really going down, we just kid ourselves that we're in control of our lives while a paper's thickness away things that would drive us mad if we thought about them for too long play with us, and move us around from room to room, and put us away at night when they're tired, or bored.
DREAM We of the endless are the servants of the living--we are NOT their masters. WE exist because they know, deep in their hearts, that we exist. When the last living thing has left this universe, then our task will be done. And we do not manipulate them. If anything, they manipulate us. We are their toys. Their dolls, if you will.
Is this the source of Dream's hope from P&N? That humanity eventually can transcend their need for the endless? Not sure yet. Gaiman has plenty of 'splaining left to do before I understand the mythological makeup of his universe.
While the entire collection's a must-read in my book, Collectors stands above the rest. As with 24 Hours from P&N, it'll make you squirm. But stick with it to the end. It's well worth the effort.(less)
Perfection. From the introductory quote of the "shibboleth" passage in the Bible, through the Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic, to the frant...morePerfection. From the introductory quote of the "shibboleth" passage in the Bible, through the Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic, to the frantic return to Haiti, this book is history, tragedy, thriller, and inspiring story all wrapped into one. Haitian American Edwidge Danticat knows how to weave a soulful tale. I read this book before traveling to Haiti with a joint medical/divinity school team from Duke University. If you're traveling to Haiti and want to better understand the nation's tragic history extending well beyond recent hurricanes and earthquakes, there's no better place to start than Danticat's The Farming of Bones. It's a serious, well written, thought provoking work.(less)
Say you're a young person hard on your luck. Maybe you killed someone, committed arson, and fled to a major city to live anonymously on the streets du...moreSay you're a young person hard on your luck. Maybe you killed someone, committed arson, and fled to a major city to live anonymously on the streets during the Great Depression. Then you get your big break. You're a published author! And one patron whose identity remains unknown can't get enough of your ham-fisted erotica, and is willing to pay for it. You're off the streets! Things are looking up! Until you learn that Hitler's your patron. Yep, that Hitler. You're Captain Evil's personal smut guy. Even better, your pathetic pulpish porn is fueling Hitler's passion for world domination. So much for hitting it big by writing the "Great American Novel" in your picket fenced-in white cottage. Your work's putting the "mega" in megalomaniac.
My description may make the storyline sound fairly straightforward. Trust me, it's not. Erickson's Tours of the Black Clock circles from end to beginning. His 20th century universe forks into two streams - Hitler's war-filled century of absolutes (good and evil, black and white with a smidge of greyness that is pornographer Banning Jainlight) and Einstein's peace-yearning century of relativity. Reality and dreamworlds intermingle throughout. History and myth become indistinguishable from one another. And Erickson refuses to put a tight little bow on the ending. It's "What the heck just happened?" from start to finish. I definitely didn't read the final sentence and then feel an overpowering urge to whistle zipadeedoodah. The two rivers/universes become one again. Absolutism and relativism battle for supremacy. A happy ending for human history? Not yet. At least even the worst tyrants die. That's something, I guess.
If you want to smile, read Pritchett or Wodehouse. If you want to squirm in the cloud of unknowing, read Erickson. He's good. He writes sentences like: "The vague blue innards of his head hint at themselves like the meat in a Chinese dumpling." and "What's the revenge of killing a man who's forgotten his own evil?" He personifies an entire century as a young girl who kills men by dancing and becomes the sperm-soaked muse of Banning's pornographic imagination. Tours of the Black Clock may be beautiful, dreamy, and relevant, but it's not recommended for the squeamish.(less)
Laura's all grown up! Well, she's 16 or so. By the end of the book and her wedding to Almanzo, she's 18 and a whole heck of a lot more mature than I w...moreLaura's all grown up! Well, she's 16 or so. By the end of the book and her wedding to Almanzo, she's 18 and a whole heck of a lot more mature than I was at her age. I didn't possess the self-confidence to stand in front of others and teach or speak until I was in my early 30s. I'm impressed with her!
I've heard that Rose - Laura's daughter and queen of the American Libertarian movement - played a significant role in transforming Laura's journals into the historical fiction accounts of her pioneer life. That might explain some of the strong individualist currents running through the series. Was it Laura that had the problem with the notion of obeying husbands as put forth in the marriage vows? Or were Rose's ideas of personal liberty finding voice in the stories? An interesting research topic for another day.
I found These Happy Golden Years to be the most bittersweet installment in the Little House series thus far. Laura leaves home for good to be with her new husband Almanzo. Try not to get sentimental and a bit teary when Pa helps Laura into Almanzo's wagon for the final time as the primary man in her life. It's sweet, and I couldn't stop thinking about a similar "passing of the torch" in Sigourney's and my still distant future. The lump in my throat hasn't receded yet.
Speaking of three year old Sigourney, These Happy Golden Years is her least favorite Laura book. As the series has progressed, the number of Garth Williams's illustrations has decreased dramatically. The books are meant for older kids anyway, so the lack of illustrations has not helped Sigourney's read along experience. I suspect she'd give fewer stars than I have. But for me, it's an easy five star rating. What a great series! I look forward to the re-read when she's older.
Oh, one last thing. There's a scene with a butcher knife wielding housewife in this one. Very dramatic! Intrigued yet?(less)
Awe-inspiring. Saddening. Maddening. Enlightening. The Bridge on the Drina is a truly great work of historical fiction. It's amazing to me that, in a...moreAwe-inspiring. Saddening. Maddening. Enlightening. The Bridge on the Drina is a truly great work of historical fiction. It's amazing to me that, in a story that includes great human tragedy (impaling, beheading, suicides, nervous breakdowns, and heart attacks), it's the destruction of a bridge that left me feeling the emptiest. I grew to love that architectural work. It provided a sense of permanence for the riverside communities during 330 years of sometimes tumultuous social change. Then it's dead in a flash, as is the bridge-building Turkish Vezier's line. One era ends and another begins with an explosion. The book ends ambiguously with no hint at the future following the bridge's demise. Since Andric wrote this novel while living in Belgrade during World War II, chances are he wasn't overly optimistic. A Hitler'll do that to you, no doubt. And Andric didn't live to see the Kosovo crisis and trial of Slobodan Milosevic as a war criminal. Assassinations and bombings of bridges didn't begin or end with Yugoslavia in WWI. History's repetitive, always a work in progress.
I remember CNN's coverage of the Gulf War in the early 1990s. General Norman Schwartzkopf was briefing the media, providing commentary on satellite footage of a car just barely making it across a bridge before smart bombs destroyed the span completely. The General joked that the driver was "the luckiest person alive." A book like The Bridge on the Drina makes me challenge that assumption of luck. Survivors can't always be described as lucky. And what about the community surrounding the span? Was the bridge an ancient bequest? Did the bridge have a kapia where community happened? Did the bridge's destruction represent fragmentation, the end of customs, rituals, and cross-river relationships? Probably. Here in the Twin Cities, we experienced the collapse of the 50-year-old 35W bridge. It sucked on numerous levels. Bridges help strengthen communities. Destroy them, and people suffer.
Here's Alihodja's mythological views on the importance of the bridge built by Turkish Vezier Mehmed Pasha:
'When Allah the Merciful and Compassionate first created this world, the earth was smooth and even as a finely engraved plate. That displeased the devil who envied man this gift of God. And while the earth was still just as it had come from God's hands, damp and soft as unbaked clay, he stole up and scratched the face of God's earth with his nails as much and as deeply as he could. Therefore, the story says, deep rivers and ravines were formed which divide one district from another and keep men apart, preventing them from traveling on that earth that God had given them as a garden for their food and their support. And Allah felt pity when he saw what the Accursed One had done, but was not able to return to the task which the devil had spoiled with his nails, so he sent his angels to help men and make things easier for them. When the angels saw how unfortunate men could not pass those abysses and ravines to finish the work they had to do, but tormented themselves and looked in vain and shouted from one side to the other, they spread their wings above those places and men were able to cross. So men learned from the angels of God how to build bridges, and therefore, after fountains, the greatest blessing is to build a bridge and the greatest sin to interfere with it, for every bridge, from a tree trunk crossing a mountain stream to this great erection of Mehmed Pasha, has its guardian angel who cares for it and maintains it as long as God has ordained that it should stand.'
We destroy such sacred works at everyone's peril.
I mentioned in one of my updates that Andric's first installment in his Bosnian trilogy is damn near flawless. My opinion after completing the read hasn't changed. Andric combines epic scope with intimate relational detail. He blew me and the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature Committee away. Awesome stuff. Enjoy the ride!(less)
Okay, MHL has me right where she wants me. I swear these stories have gotten sweeter and sweeter as the series progresses. A beloved prodigal brother/...moreOkay, MHL has me right where she wants me. I swear these stories have gotten sweeter and sweeter as the series progresses. A beloved prodigal brother/uncle returning to Deep Valley after years away, the welcoming of a new friend (Winona) to the Betsy-Tacy-Tib triumvirate, the encountering of world changing technologies like horseless carriages and telephones, the launching of Betsy's career as an author, heart-warming interactions between Betsy and a lonely former actress, the frenetic joy of children at Christmas - MHL's toying with my tear ducts, I think. The ending has a Tiny Tim "God bless us, everyone" sort of feel to it. My smile grew and grew as Sigourney and I approached the ending together. So innocent; so likeable!
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown includes the funniest scene - Betsy, Tacy and Tib trying to hypnotize Winona so she'll take them to see a play - of the series to-date. The interactions between Betsy and Mrs. Poppy will make the sinuses of even cynical readers tingle. Then there's the nice way Betsy's parents handle their little girl's growing up and honor her developing interests as a writer. The telling of her first trip to the new Carnegie library is really well done.
Honestly, I'd give these books more than 5 stars if I could. MHL and illustrator Lois Lenski are perfect together. And the quote on the back proves that Bette Midler loves the Betsy-Tacy series as well. Not a bad endorsement! Have fun with this one, everyone.(less)
Between Laura Ingalls Wilder and Maud Hart Lovelace, the Upper Midwest in the 1930s and 40s did more than it's share in writing really good stories fo...moreBetween Laura Ingalls Wilder and Maud Hart Lovelace, the Upper Midwest in the 1930s and 40s did more than it's share in writing really good stories for children. Apparently, Lovelace has such a loyal following that a Betsy-Tacy convention has been held in Lovelace's home town and the series' setting, Mankato, MN/"Deep Valley". Whether or not the stories are convention-worthy I can't say. But three-year-old Sigourney loved the read along so much that I can say the stories resonate with little ones. I would describe the black-and-white illustrations of Lois Lenski as surprisingly lush and adorable. The combination of solid written and visual story-telling made Betsy-Tacy a lot of fun for dad and daughter to read together.
I love that Lovelace titled the book Betsy-Tacy and not Betsy and Tacy. The two five-year-old girls are too close to have their names separated by additional spaces and letters. Once Tacy and her family move in across the street, Betsy and Tacy's adventures begin. They play with paper dolls, dress up in adult clothes to call on neighbors, picnic, sell sand, climb hills, start school, take imaginary buggy trips to the magical lands of Milwaukee and St. Paul, and care deeply for one another. It's as if Betsy and Tacy have a telepathic (or at least deeply empathic) connection with one another, showing up for the other during trying times like death in the family or the jealousy-inducing birth of a baby sister.
One scene in particular made me misty. Tacy's baby sister Bee dies of an illness, and Betsy meets Tacy outside. They end up hiking together and putting an Easter Egg in a tree in Baby Bee's honor. Betsy shares with Tacy her belief that a bird will lug the egg to Heaven and give the gift to Baby Bee. That's pastoral care from a five-year-old! I think I was watching crayons melt in the Oklahoma sun at her age. But I digress.
With all this said, I very much enjoyed doing the reading, and Sigourney loved listening and telling me about the detail she found in each picture. A fun read along!
I was pre-warned of the meh-ness of The First Four Years. But after reading the first eight great books in the Little House series with our three-year...moreI was pre-warned of the meh-ness of The First Four Years. But after reading the first eight great books in the Little House series with our three-year-old Sigourney, there wasn't a chance in Hades that we weren't going to finish the job.
The First Four Years is short but not sweet. The magic's gone. Granted, things like depression, blindness, near-starvation, long winters and a knife-wielding housewife cropped up in earlier installments. But these tough times were always nested in a familial sweetness that made the stories must-reads. There's no sweetness here. The scene where the Boasts - long-time friends of the Ingalls and Wilders - offer to trade a horse for Laura's and Almanzo's new baby Rose is pathetic. The hardships suffered in the first four years pile up mercilessly. The book ends with an optimistic tone, but since the novella length makes events come and go at a feverish pace, it's small comfort. This one might just make you miserable.
The introduction explains why the series finale comes up so far short of the high standard set by the first eight installments. Apparently, the unfinished draft was found posthumously among Laura's documents. Friend-of-the-family Roger Lea MacBride speculates that, following Almanzo's death, Laura became disinterested in revising and completing the work for final publication. Despite the discovered draft's shortcomings, it was determined that the best course of action was to publish the material in its original incomplete form. Fair enough. But an incomplete work like The First Four Years should be judged on its own merits. No basking in the glow of prior excellence allowed here. Two stars it is! (less)