Man, what a ton of fun this is. And how weird the cumulative effect of all these stories: deeply cynical, resigned, pessimistic, but without losing an...moreMan, what a ton of fun this is. And how weird the cumulative effect of all these stories: deeply cynical, resigned, pessimistic, but without losing an overarching impishness.
This is a clean, smooth translation by VS Vernon Jones for B&N Classics, and the lengthy intro is terrific. It comes with wonderful illustrations by Arthur Rackham.(less)
The other day we were talking about the Awkward Role of Technology in Fiction: tech talk tends to sound instantly dated and embarrassing. Bleeding Edg...moreThe other day we were talking about the Awkward Role of Technology in Fiction: tech talk tends to sound instantly dated and embarrassing. Bleeding Edge takes place in 2001 as the tech bubble was bursting, and it's a prime example of that problem. Pynchon actually does have a pretty good handle on the state of the internet in 2001 - I say this as someone who was right in the middle of that - but it still doesn't really work. A lot of scenes remind me of Gibson's trippy descriptions of hacking in Neuromancer, but without the graceful "I'm not even trying" feel that Gibson gave it. (And I believe what he's referencing with DeepArcher is Second Life, a weird little corner of the internet that should never have gotten the attention it did.) It takes place far enough back that everything sounds dated (Shaq reference! "That time they had all the naked chicks out in the fright elevator covered with Krispy Kreme donuts!") but not far enough back for nostalgia.
Another major problem is that this wears the costume of a mystery, but it doesn't proceed fairly. Instead of dropping clues that one might follow, a guy with a magic nose just shows up and tells you, "I smelled that this guy did it." That feels unsatisfying.
And then there's Daytona, who would like to know, "What you be lettin all these ghetto-ass g's walk in here all the time?" If that's not actively racist, it's certainly not pleasant to read either. Pynchon is making a point here - he's aware of how that will make me feel - I just think it's a stupid point.
And then there's the language. Would you like "says" to be spelled "sez"? Are you sure you'd like that, even after the 100th time? What about this construction: "A single beet, sitting, one would have to say insolently, on a plate." That happens a lot. I thought it was funny the first three times.
Because this is a book set in Manhattan in 2001, one knows one major plot development going in. And just when you thought you couldn't hate Bleeding Edge any more, Pynchon lends serious weight to the Truther conspiracy theorists.
So: we've covered theme, plot, language and politics. What else? Sex? Female protagonist goes undercover as a pole dancer. And I sez man, why you be writin this, one would have to say terrible, fucking book?(less)
Pericles (495 – 429 BCE) didn't invent democracy - that was Cleisthenes - but he was its biggest hero, or its biggest goat, leading Athens through its...morePericles (495 – 429 BCE) didn't invent democracy - that was Cleisthenes - but he was its biggest hero, or its biggest goat, leading Athens through its golden age and also setting in motion the Peloponnesian War that Athens totally lost (404 BCE). Which was really more of a minor setback; I always thought Sparta ended Athenian democracy, but actually Sparta's occupation was relatively brief . It was Alexander the Great who put an end to it almost a century later (338 BCE).
But still: Athens under Pericles is the Athens we know, the Athens of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Euripides and Socrates. Athens in the 300s was a shadow of itself, and Athens might not have entered (or stayed in) the Peloponnesian War if not for Pericles' stubbornness. So one could say, if one were feeling dramatic, that Pericles both created and destroyed the Golden Age of democracy. It's Pericles Sophocles is talking about in Oedipus Tyrannus; it's Pericles who was foster father to the great traitor and Socrates-fucker Alcibiades; it's Pericles who's responsible for the greatest defense of Athenian democracy, the Funeral Oration. It's also Pericles who was probably an atheist, btw. It certainly seems, then, that he deserves a great biography.
Unfortunately this isn't it. This is pretty boring.(less)
Sweet and charming, but also clunky and corny. Maybe a good YA book - bonus: your child can learn about the value of condoms - and I imagine if I'd re...moreSweet and charming, but also clunky and corny. Maybe a good YA book - bonus: your child can learn about the value of condoms - and I imagine if I'd read it when I was like 14 and really into the wilderness, this might be a cherished book for me. But as a grown-up it's just okay.(less)
I've always wanted to read some Horatio Alger! I have the impression that he's terrible - "There is no doubt that what he wrote was bilge, but it was...moreI've always wanted to read some Horatio Alger! I have the impression that he's terrible - "There is no doubt that what he wrote was bilge, but it was inspired", says someone or other - but still.
There are apparently some homoerotic touches in his books, which all feature a teenage boy who's taken under the wing of an older man; and he apparently left a church post over "the abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys" - he was 34 at the time, the boys 13 and 15, which puts him squarely in creep territory. He never had a public relationship with any adult. There is some controversy over whether he had further relationships with teenaged boys.
Note: do not confuse this with Ragged Dick, which seems to be...well, maybe the same story but more explicit.
You know what's funny? Comparing book reviews on Amazon to those here. You'd think they'd be similar, but they're generally not; reviews on Amazon are dumber. This book is a good example. The top Amazon reviews are positive: - "This story teaches lessons that anyone can benefit from"; - "Good values and good history" Average review: 4.3 (18 reviews) Top reviews on Goodreads are way more negative: - "Didactic, heavy-handed, and oblivious to everything but its own propagandist missive." - "Hilariously preachy!" Average rating: 3.18 (1,479 reviews)
Judging only from this one book - it'd be nice to have more examples, and maybe I'll seek some out - there are many more reviews on GR than on Amazon and they're better sources of information.
On the other hand, I feel like I've found better translation comparisons on Amazon than here. I wonder why that is.(less)
This looks cool and all, and Joanne even has the accompanying boxed set of CDs. Which makes it more of a project than a book, so I'm psyched to get to...moreThis looks cool and all, and Joanne even has the accompanying boxed set of CDs. Which makes it more of a project than a book, so I'm psyched to get to it sometime when I have a month of Sundays to kill.(less)
The 18th century is a tough nut to crack. Its mostfamousbooks are boring. It's an explosively smutty era, but even most of the smut isn'tthatgreat...moreThe 18th century is a tough nut to crack. Its mostfamousbooks are boring. It's an explosively smutty era, but even most of the smut isn'tthatgreat. But there are a few weird gems that slip through the cracks: the furious Candide; the sensational Monk; and the masterpiece of smut Dangerous Liaisons.
Epistolaries were big back then, and LaClos makes better use of letters than anyone since Shakespeare; it'll take Wilkie Collins to match him. The letters are the plot, making this metafiction; they shape and drive the action. This is the best advertisement for Snapchat I've ever seen.
It's known as an immoral novel, and it was banned almost immediately and permanently, and you could think of it as an anti-Pamela: where those letters were supposed to be a guide to a virtuous life, these are a master class in corruption.
The filth is one reason it's fun, but the reason it's great is its terrific character insight. Valmont and, most of all, the inimitable Merteuil are perfectly, subtly, carefully drawn; their (view spoiler)[tragic (hide spoiler)] arcs clearly laid out and never escapable. They say a lot on paper; they say more between the lines. You root for all of them. Even the (view spoiler)[casualties(hide spoiler)] minor characters are fully fleshed out and sympathetic. It's bizarre that LaClos only wrote one book; he seems perfectly in control of every sentence. This is a page-turner, a thriller, a gamechanger, and one of my favorite books.
Translation notes: Helen Constantine's recentish one for Penguin got good reviews in my research, and I totally loved it. The voices are distinct; the language is readable without being distractingly modern. The introduction is more or less total bullshit.
Adaptations: I just re-watched Cruel Intentions last night and it's still good trashy fun, but it doesn't do a very good job of adapting the book. The biggest problem is Valmont: the movie plays him too sympathetically, and also Ryan Philippe is not at all good enough for the role. And it flubs the ending. Sarah Michelle Gellar is adequate. Selma Blair seems to be acting in a different movie - a broad slapstick comedy - but it's fairly entertaining, and it's not like Cecile is a serious person in the book either, so that works out fine. Reese Witherspoon is good, but her breasts basically walk away with every scene they're in. That's got to be one of the all-time great cinematic portrayals of breasts.
It's been a while since I've seen the 80s Dangerous Liaisons with Glenn Close, Malkovich and Uma Thurman; I remember it being really good, but weren't the former two like way, way too old for those roles? Both were around 40.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I read Herodotus earlier this year, and among other things I thought, "What the hell just happened?" It's a long book, y'know? Everything happens in i...moreI read Herodotus earlier this year, and among other things I thought, "What the hell just happened?" It's a long book, y'know? Everything happens in it. I mean literally everything: Herodotus's goal was to write down everything known about the world, and over 700 pages, that's what he did. It gets mind-boggling.
I needed someone to help me process all that, so I turned to Kapuscinski, the great travel writer and philosopher responsible for The Emperor, a neat oral history of Haile Selassie, as well as some other books I haven't read. Kapuscinski, who died in 2007, has come under occasional fire for making some shit up; he's not exactly a travel writer, or not only a travel writer. Adam Hoschchild, a great writer himself, called his brand of whatever-it-is "magic journalism", a reference to the magic realism genre that seems as good a way to describe Kapuscinski as any.
So Travels With Herodotus isn't exactly about Herodotus, any more than The Emperor was exactly about Haile Selassie. It's not not about Herodotus either; there's plenty about him, and I actually do understand his Histories better now. Kapuscinski explains how Herodotus spends the first half of his book setting the stage: placing all the players known in the world, describing them. Then the action narrows down, focuses to the Persian / Greek conflict. Kapuscinski, whose name I am spelling out every time, btw, in case I ever need to know how to spell it, showed me a structure.
He also insists on talking about the reality of the things Herodotus describes. When a man is forced to castrate his four sons, Kapuscinski says, can you imagine what that was actually like, as it was happening? What did the man do? Did he beg? Did he grovel? Did he get it over with? I love that; it's something I like to do as I read history. When an army drinks a river dry, what does that actually mean? How many people does that look like? If you read a lot of history, sometimes you can forget to do this; it's exhausting, and besides, half of your mind is wondering if you should make tea. Kapuscinski never forgets.
And the book is also about himself: his experiences wandering the world, to places Herodotus never imagined the existence of. What it means to be among strangers. "I have only felt true loneliness," he writes, "when I have stood alone face-to-face with absolute violent power." He's just encountered two soldiers in the war-torn Congo. They asked him for a cigarette; each party was fully aware that if they shot him and took the cigarettes, that would work just as well. I've never experienced true loneliness, apparently. Kapuscinski learned a lot in his travels; here is some of it.
This is a strange book. It's neither fish nor flesh, or maybe it's both fish and flesh. If you want to read about Herodotus, maybe parts of this will frustrate you. If you don't want to read about Herodotus, maybe the other parts will. Once I gave in to the fact that it must be allowed to set its own terms, I loved it.(less)
I read this book like 20 times when I was a kid. Fun to revisit it; there aren't many books I know this well.
It's still good, too. The Macbethish witc...moreI read this book like 20 times when I was a kid. Fun to revisit it; there aren't many books I know this well.
It's still good, too. The Macbethish witches (who even quote Macbeth) are great characters, and Camazotz (which can't help but remind one of Mao) continues to be chilling. I realized that the description of tesseracts had primed me for books like The Hidden Universe, which uses similar imagery - a thread, two end points of which are brought together to demonstrate the concept of wormholes.
There's more stuff about God than I remember; L'Engle is about reconciling faith and science. She does it gracefully, and I had no problem with it.
I learned nothing on this re-read that would prevent me from putting this prominently on a young reader's shelves. It's terrific.(less)