I loved this Shjespeare-by-way-of-Steinbeck Lear of the Corn. I read it directly after a re-read of Lear, so some of my pleasure came from seeing how...moreI loved this Shjespeare-by-way-of-Steinbeck Lear of the Corn. I read it directly after a re-read of Lear, so some of my pleasure came from seeing how clever Smiley is with her source, but it's a tremendous book in any case.
It's insanely ambitious to try to write Lear as a novel at all; it's a crazy play and most of it doesn't make any real-world sense. Realism isn't really the point there. But Smiley has figured most of it out. She makes dad's Alzheimer's explicit, of course, and adds some backstory that helps to explain the extreme nature of everyone's emotions and actions - I suppose some might call (view spoiler)[the revelation that both Ginny (Goneril) and Rose (Regan) were raped by their father a bit of a low blow, since it necessarily puts us on their side (hide spoiler)], but it made sense for me. She ducks a few things: probably wisely, she doesn't try to do Harold's (Gloucester's) fake suicide, which doesn't really work in Lear either, and she drops the character of the Fool.
But most of the characters, and most of the major plot developments, are there, interpreted in ways that I found interesting. Smiley throws in these tiny details: pelicans appear in a moment of crucial decision, echoing Lear's weird dis on his daughters: "Twas this flesh begot Those pelican daughters. Back then people thought pelican mothers would cut their own breasts and let their babies drink their blood. I know.
But she kinda punks out on the ending, and I'm not sure why. (view spoiler)[I love the idea of the poison time bomb sausage - really, that's one of the best murder weapons I can remember - but Rose never eats them. Caroline (Cordelia) survives, as does Jess (Edmund). Why? Did Smiley just look into the abyss and blink? I doubt it; I'm sure she had her reasons. But I was kinda looking for everyone to die, because this is Lear and the central event of Lear is that everyone loses and dies. (hide spoiler)] So that was a minor bummer for me. Or bumming lack of bummer.
Billy Budd, another in Melville's oeuvre of nautical tales of gay passion, is shorter than his masterpiece and not as rewarding. The problem is that i...moreBilly Budd, another in Melville's oeuvre of nautical tales of gay passion, is shorter than his masterpiece and not as rewarding. The problem is that it's kindof boring and not much happens.
It was Melville's last work, and he never really finished it - he just left a ton of scribbles and sketches and conflicting drafts kicking around - and maybe that's why it feels like a bit of a mess: because it literally was, before various people tried to stitch it together.
Your basic story is that there's this super-pretty guy, Billy Budd, and this other dude on the ship, Claggart, is deeply closeted and therefore confused and eventually enraged by his unstoppable attraction to him. So of course he (view spoiler)[accuses him of plotting mutiny, and then Budd punches him in the face and kills him, and then the also-possibly-closeted captain has Budd martyred. (hide spoiler)] And that's about it, and there are the usual Melvillian tangents into, like, the history of mutinies and whatever.
"But," you say, "What makes you so sure this is a story of gay unrequited love? Maybe Claggart doesn't like the guy." Glad you asked. I underlined all the stuff that sounds kinda gay - what, you don't do that? - and I have a lot of underlines.
[Claggard gazed at Billy,] his eyes strangely suffused with incipient feverish tears. Then would Claggart look like the man of sorrows. Yes, and sometimes the melancholy expression would have in it a touch of soft yearning, as if Claggart could even have loved Billy but for fate and ban.
Melville's playing this game where he keeps using words like "romantic" that could perfectly well mean two different things. "A mantrap may be under the ruddy-tipped daisies," he says in one of his less subtle sallies.
"But," you say, "Melville goes out of his way, once or twice, to be like 'It wasn't a sex thing!'" For instance, in a long discussion of Claggart's "depravity according to nature," in which he's described as "a nut not to be cracked by the tap of a lady's fan," Melville specifically says "the depravity here meant partakes nothing of the sordid or sensual." And "well," I respond, "I said closeted."
Melville is like Shakespeare in that if you suspect his words may have a double meaning, you'd be a sucker not to assume he knows what he's doing. He's a master of language; if he can mean two things, he generally does. And here, thanks probably in part to his natural desire to leave things open (he is a terrific writer, after all, and the best books aren't easily defined), and in part to the fact that he himself was (I think) a closet case (whose own unrequited crush on Hawthorne ended up causing a rift between them), and of course also due to the obvious fact that back in 1924 one couldn't just run around writing gay love stories whether or not one wanted to - a fact that Oscar Wilde could still attest to 75 years later - he's written a book that never explicitly says it's a story about the thin line between closeted love and hate.
But, I mean, let's be serious, that's clearly what it is.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Ehhhh, I liked The Magician King so much that I thought maybe I was coming around to Grossman, but this one was just okay again. It turns out that I r...moreEhhhh, I liked The Magician King so much that I thought maybe I was coming around to Grossman, but this one was just okay again. It turns out that I really just liked the one story - Julia's hedge witch odyssey, excepting the end of it - and everything else is just...too Narnia for me.
And man, that ending. Whew. Musta thought it was Super Obvious Metaphor Day. It ain't Super Obvious Metaphor Day, is it? Nah, it ain't Super Obvious Metaphor Day.(less)
A People's History's 750 pages can be boiled down to two statements:
1) America sucks; 2) The only way to change it is to organize.
Both of these things...moreA People's History's 750 pages can be boiled down to two statements:
1) America sucks; 2) The only way to change it is to organize.
Both of these things are true, and Zinn makes his case with comprehensive thunder. The extermination of Native Americans; the genocide of slavery; the systematic fight against civil rights, socialist and labor movements; all the way up to the horrors of Vietnam, Zinn shows us how America's interests have always been big business at the expense of the people. "To give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control," says Zinn, and you're like oh snap.
It's certainly a valuable book: one of the best broadsides against the Establishment ever written. But it suffers from two big problems:
First, as he says right in the title, one of Zinn's goals is to tell a different kind of history - one not dominated by individual heroes and villains, but a story of people who come together to change the direction of American society. That's nice, but we learn best when information is presented in the form of stories, and stories work best when they have protagonists; Zinn's refusal to give us protagonists makes it hard to keep straight what's going on. It unfortunately makes the book feel somewhat like the textbooks you used to know and loathe during high school - just long lists of events and numbers and happenings, that make your eyes glaze over. Only a masochist would count the number of times Zinn says, "[x] people marched at [somewhere] to protest [a thing], and the police beat the shit out of [y] of them." It's a lot. I was left with a chaotic sense that lots of people have been unhappy with lots of things, and generally gotten beat up for it. This is very well-written, for a history textbook...but that's not saying much.
Zinn's disdain for the mechanics of storytelling is also manifested in his dreadful taste in books, by the way. When he cites literature, it tends to be stuff like Edward Bellamy's boring proto-scifi Looking Backward or Jack London's dreadful dystopia Iron Heel - well-intentioned but terrible. Makes you think Zinn might be a pain in the ass to have over for dinner.
Second, Zinn's consciously biased tone ends up making it easy to disagree with him. He makes his point so many times, so persistently, that even I found myself at times wanting to argue - and I'm firmly on his team. It's just...when a guy repeats himself a thousand times one's natural inclination is to be like "Shut up." That's just how it goes. Zinn freely admits that this is
a biased account, one that leans in a certain direction. I am not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction - so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people's movements - that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.
And Zinn's right: I remember dismissing my high school textbooks out of hand because they were so clearly biased that I felt immediately that they couldn't be trusted. The problem is that although Zinn is philosophically opposite, the effect is the same. Anyone who's not already inclined to agree with Zinn will find it all too easy to dismiss his entire book, which means that A People's History is doomed to do its preaching only to the converted. Top reviews of it on Goodreads tend to be five stars or one, divided by whether the reviewer already agreed with Zinn or not.
As the converted, this still had value for me. Zinn makes the very clear point that I am exactly the problem: the former activist who's settled comfortably into the middle class and therefore deactivated. I got mine, right? I'm actually mentioned in this book: Zinn describes a Boston protest against the first Gulf War that I was at. But it's been a long time since I took to the streets. So, okay, as an extra-credit assignment in Zinn's Shitty History 101, I promise to get back out there, as long as I don't have brunch plans.(less)
Resident Norse expert Zad suggests this longest (but still not super long) of the Norse epics as the other Norse lit book to get to next. The first be...moreResident Norse expert Zad suggests this longest (but still not super long) of the Norse epics as the other Norse lit book to get to next. The first being Saga of the Volsungs. The translations I've marked here will be just fine, according to him. (I guess I should do some cursory research to make sure I agree.)(less)
This is an interesting thing. Despite the title, it contains neither blood nor vampires. It's a melodrama, and certainly sensational, but it's a tidy...moreThis is an interesting thing. Despite the title, it contains neither blood nor vampires. It's a melodrama, and certainly sensational, but it's a tidy package and tightly plotted.
Marryat was a huge success in her time, writing something like 70 best-selling novels, most of which most critics hated. We're familiar with writers like this today: we book snobs turn our noses up at them. There's apparently some sort of backlash wave happening for the Victorians, though, where these best-selling, unappreciated Victorian authors are being reexamined, and Marryat's undergoing a bit of a Renaissance. Based on this one book, I'd say it's deserved; Blood is deeper than it looks.
The vampirism in Blood is invisible. There's no biting here. The "vampire" isn't even consciously harming anyone. Since there's no possibility for proof, the idea that she's a vampire at all is completely circumstantial.
Blood is clearly a metaphorical book about The Woman Question. (And race, as well; Miss Brandt, a quadroon, is a direct descendant of Jane Eyre's Bertha Mason.) As Greta Depledge points out in an informative but wicked thesisy introduction, you can replace the word "vampire" with "hysteric" throughout the book and it still reads perfectly well. ("Hysteria" was the diagnosis for any woman who didn't rigidly conform to societal expectations, or showed a glimmer of libido, or did anything else men weren't crazy about.)
But its ambiguity, which must be intentional, allows for two opposite interpretations of the book. In the most obvious, the hysterical Brandt sucks the life out of people around her; in this reading, Marryat is a conservative. (view spoiler)[ But since, again, there's no proof whatsoever that Brandt is a vampire, the second reading is that she's an innocent free-thinker who's victimized and eventually murdered by patriarchal oppression. (Now I'm the one who sounds thesisy.) How do we even get the idea that she's a vampire? From a physician who decides that it's the best explanation for a now-dead baby she was fond of holding. That, obviously, is a ludicrous diagnosis, even for a Victorian doctor.
That second reading is tempting, but problematic for one reason: the physician predicts that if Brandt marries, her husband will die, and he obligingly does so. (hide spoiler)]So let's not say there's conclusive evidence either way on this. Just that it's an interesting, complicated book. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
A puritan may go to his brown-bread crust with as gross an appetite as ever an alderman to his turtle. Not that food which entereth into the mouth defileth a man, but the appetite with which it is eaten. It is neither the quality nor the quantity, but the devotion to sensual savors.
Thoreau and I have an essential difference of philosophy: I am an Epicurean, and he is an asshole.
Walden has some great moments. I appreciate that Thoreau was not just the original hippie, but the original of a particularly cool kind of hippie: the money / mouth kind. I grew up around people like this in Western Mass - people who were really running small farms, building their own shit, forging their own ways - hippies with practical skills, as opposed to the groovy kind. They're a terrific sort of people. Doing the stuff of life yourself is great.
And I've always loved that most famous quote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." No matter what's going on for me, it makes me feel good. When things aren't going well, it makes me feel less alone. When things are going great it makes me feel smugly superior, and that's nice too. It's a line for all seasons.
I heart introverts I liked parts of the Solitude chapter. Everyone's probably heard this quote:
To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.
But here's a passage I like even more:
We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day,and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are. We have had to agree on a certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war
Ha..."give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are." Awesome.
And he doesn't fuck around My edition includes On Civil Disobedience, wherein Thoreau - who, as you may know, went to jail for refusing to pay his taxes in protest of the criminal Mexican War - does some pretty fire and brimstone shit:
When a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military laws, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty so much more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army...Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.
Kinda makes you feel like a wiener, still complaining about Al Gore, right? Thoreau was a badass.
But he's sortof obnoxious I think one thing that bugs me is, he's constantly banging on about how easy life would be if everyone just did like he did. And partly, as he says himself, that's because he "simplifies" - he gives up almost every luxury, so it's much easier to meet his needs. I don't think he even has the internet, so that alone saves him like $40 a month. But partly it strikes me as dishonest.
There's a smugness about Walden that puts me off. It's particularly grating in the Baker Farm chapter, where he lectures a poor guy with a wife and three kids about how much easier life would be if they just did it Thoreau's way. And I was like a) what if this dude thinks his kids should eat anything besides beans? and b) if you get cold you just go to your mom's house for the weekend, so your whole shtick is a little bit disingenuous, homie. Thoreau has a big safety net. Even the land he's living on is borrowed from Emerson. The poor Irish guy has no such advantages.
And he's pretty long-winded I mean, at one point towards the end he goes on for like five pages about sand. "I feel as if I were nearer to the vitals of the globe, for this sandy overflow is something such a foliaceous mass as the vitals of the animal body." Whaaaat the fuck, Thoreau, shut up.
So it's tough to know what to make of this book. I rarely enjoyed reading it, but I underlined like half of it. (Okay, sometimes it was just so I wouldn't forget what an asshole he is.) He's often right, but always annoying. There's a lot going on here, and much of it is worthwhile, but I can't exactly recommend it to you, because I doubt you'll like it. I didn't. I respected it. But I didn't like it.(less)
So this dude wrote this book and self-published it and then he got a major-league publishing deal, and then that got optioned for am movie...in the sa...moreSo this dude wrote this book and self-published it and then he got a major-league publishing deal, and then that got optioned for am movie...in the same week. That must have been a crazy week, huh? He seems like a nice dude. Here's an AMA he did on Reddit.
This is a book about a dude on Mars, and the hook is that Weir, who's a big space nerd, made it as realistic as he could. This is basically how an actual mission to Mars would go, if we were to do it, and I think most of the stuff that shows up in the book actually already exists, or at least we know how to make it.
That's a great hook, and it's actually really nicely executed here. You can see why it was such a success for Weir: he just happened to nail it. It's a great book.
Not, let's be clear though, for its writing style. The writing is...I mean, it's not shitty. It gets the job done. There aren't typos. But we're not talking about a master prose craftsman here. It's not graceful. It's good enough not to get in its own way, and that's about that.
A few times a year I try reading something just for fun, that's not friggin' Hawthorne or whatever old bullshit I'm currently reading. It's almost never a good idea. I usually hate it. But every once in a while, I run into a book that's just pure fun all the way. I was smashingly entertained by this book, guys. I dug it like a hole. On Mars.(less)
Nathaniel Hawthorne is an easy writer to dislike. He's stuffy and moralistic and he says "thou" a lot and he just makes you want to roll your eyes. An...moreNathaniel Hawthorne is an easy writer to dislike. He's stuffy and moralistic and he says "thou" a lot and he just makes you want to roll your eyes. And it doesn't help that if you read him it was probably in ninth grade, the apogee of human eyerolling.
He loves to rail about how shitty the Puritans were, stemming maybe from his own guilt over having a Salem witch-burning ancestor - Hawthorne's personal brand of secret shame. But the Puritans were such tightassed joykills that there's room to do a lot of clucking over them and still be a prig yourself, which Hawthorne is. He loves referring to Natives as savages, and he's prone to comments like:
Women derive a pleasure, incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil of the needle."
Which was maybe not a super rare sentiment for the time - 1850, contemporary with the Brontes - but plenty of writers were well past bullshit like that.
And he does himself no favors by starting The Scarlet Letter right off with a framing story that amounts to 50 deadly pages of bitching about his shitty job at a customs house. GOOD CHOICE HAWTHORNE. Skip that shit, it is terrible.
I read a few essays about Hawthorne yesterday, and also polled all my bookish friends, and the best anyone could muster was a tepid sort of "I respect him for what he does." Here's the intro to my edition:
"In the enormous mass of American fiction there is nothing particularly to our credit. But there is much cause for satisfaction in the wide prevalence of fairly correct technique."
So given all these marvelous reasons to dislike Hawthorne, why is Scarlet Letter a five star book? Because of the sheer force of its central image.
Hawthorne was obsessed with symbolism, as any glance into his stupid dark woods will tell you. His central symbol, the scarlet letter itself, isn't as powerful as Melville's Whale, and this isn't as good a book. But it does have its own power. Like the Whale, it means whatever it means for you: it's versatile enough to serve any function. Hawthorne was talking specifically about religious hypocrisy, but any hypocrisy - any secret or public shame - fits perfectly well, and I'm pretty sure we can all come up with something to fit there.
And the story itself is just about perfect. Hawthorne's pace and language never falter. It moves briskly and it gets out when it's done. And he's a wonderfully visual writer: images like Dimmesdale standing on the scaffold in the middle of the night, in the stunning "Minister's Vigil" chapter, are awesomely cinematic.
Like Moby-Dick, Scarlet Letter is basically inscrutable. What I found in all those essays I read was major debate over how much Hawthorne believes his own bullshit. Was he at heart a Puritan? He moralizes like one, frequently, Some dude named Arthur Symons, for example, says, "All Hawthorne's work is one form or another of 'handling sin.' He had the Puritan sense of it in the blood." Henry James responds that Hawthorne deals with those Puritan values "from the point of view of entertainment and irony. The absence of conviction makes the difference; but the difference is great." The question is, how much irony is there? My own sense is that Hawthorne struggled with it himself: that he was both a humorless old prick and smart enough to realize it: Scarlet Letter isn't sure how seriously it takes itself.
Scarlet Letter is like no other book. It's not even like Hawthorne's other writing, which is never as good. I don't know exactly what to make of it. But I think it's awesome.(less)
I hadn't heard of this book until recently, when it made a surprise appearance on The Guardian's Best 100 English Novels list. It's an early spy novel...moreI hadn't heard of this book until recently, when it made a surprise appearance on The Guardian's Best 100 English Novels list. It's an early spy novel, written in 1915 and set just before WWI, and a smashing and brisk read. It was written by a John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, and I did not make that up. Baron Tweedsmuir.
Baron Tweedsmuir, at your service sirrah
It cites Kipling and Conrad as influences, appropriately, and there's some mention of Holmes as well, but its primary influence is clearly Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. There's a scene involving hiding and sweltering on top of a dovecote that's a direct play on a similar one in Kidnapped, but above all they share Scottishness, which manifests itself in a love of running about on moors and in a general unawareness of the existence of women. There are zero women in this book. Seriously, you never even pass one on the sidewalk.
And very little happens in The 39 Steps that doesn't have to do with them. Buchan's hero, Richard Hannay, is a master of disguise: his transformation into a road worker at one point is wonderfully detailed. His Moriartyesque nemesis is even better, which leads to a denouement that isn't really believable but gets the job done.
This is more of a novella than a novel, and - arguably aside from some semi-interesting talk about the philosophy of disguising oneself - it's not very deep. It's a nonstop thrill ride, is what it is. But it's a hell of a good time.
You know what else is a good time is just saying Baron Tweedsmuir. Hello, Baron Tweedsmuir. We meet again, Baron Tweedsmuir.
Prisoner of Zenda is a little slip of a book: its influence is heavier than its pages. Filmed numerous times, including (as El pointed out) once when...morePrisoner of Zenda is a little slip of a book: its influence is heavier than its pages. Filmed numerous times, including (as El pointed out) once when it was called Dave and had Kevin Kline in it.
And it was the major influence on Nabokov's Pale Fire, which basically amounts to an extended trippy metafictional cover of the same story. (Here's more on the similarities, if you need convincing.)
The story: what, you haven't seen Dave? What's your problem, that movie is awesome. Fine: the king is incapacitated and a normal guy who happens to look just like him is convinced to stand in for him. And then there's some buckling of swashes, and this terrific villain, Rupert Hentzau, who very nearly runs off with the story. (You can see Hope itching to switch to him, and in fact he wrote a sequel called Rupert of Hentzau that I wouldn't be against reading myself.)
It's a great plot, executed well and leanly; this might not be the world's heaviest book, but you could certainly do a lot worse with your weekend.(less)
Wonder Woman Unbound feels like category three to me, and not one of the better examples. (And in fact I just confirmed that this was his Masters thesis. Nailed it!)
I picked it up because Wonder Woman's creator, William Moulton Marston, is a super interesting dude. The polyamorous inventor of the polygraph test and a respected psychologist, he believed that we would live in a utopia as soon as we accepted that women should be in charge of the world. He created Wonder Woman specifically in order to sneak this idea into the minds of children, and also in order to indulge his massive bondage fetish.
Yes, in case you didn't know: those early Wonder Woman comics were basically just everyone - male and female, Wonder Woman and her hopelessly incompetent male love interest - getting tied up all the time. Hanley does a nice job of making graphs showing how, like, people get tied up in all comics, but Wonder Woman had like twenty times more of it. You know that golden lasso of hers? And the bracelets? Yeah.
Wonder Woman vs. the next most bondage-y comic book
So the book does cover all this fairly well. A little less biographical information on Marston than I was hoping for, but...better than just reading his Wikipedia entry, anyway.
Unfortunately that's only the first third or so; the rest of the book covers Wonder Woman after the Martson era, and since frankly Wonder Woman has always been a deeply lame superhero, this was less interesting to me. I hung on for a while, but gave up once I realized he was spending an entire chapter academically ripping off the website Superman Is A Dick.
Bottom line: I just told you everything you need to know about William Marston, plus introduced you to a website you're going to blow the next 20 minutes giggling at, so you can skip this book.(less)
According to my buddy Ron, "Original Sin is the best novel containing a murder mystery between Brothers Karamazov and Infinite Jest." I so appreciate...moreAccording to my buddy Ron, "Original Sin is the best novel containing a murder mystery between Brothers Karamazov and Infinite Jest." I so appreciate good hyperbole.
Anyone else with an opinion about whether it's okay to jump in at #9 of this series?(less)
This was my third Robert Louis Stevenson book, and they've all been five star reads for me. That makes him one of the most consistent authors I know o...moreThis was my third Robert Louis Stevenson book, and they've all been five star reads for me. That makes him one of the most consistent authors I know of.
Kidnapped recently showed up on the Guardian's list of the 100 best English novels, and I guess I might have put Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde there instead; I still feel like its a deeper book. But the Guardian chose this instead, mostly because of its Scottishness. It's a gripping adventure book first and foremost - dude gets kidnapped, headed for a life of slavery in the good old US of A, and then there's shipwrecks and fightin' and fleein' and it's all great fun - but it's also about the character of Scotland.
My Penguin edition seemed to think that justified tons of boring footnotes about historical details, none of which I understood because they assumed I had some degree of starting familiarity. Everything I know about Scottish history I learned from watching Braveheart fifty times, and pretty much all I got from that is that English people are dicks.
And that's really enough for this book, too. It was written in 1886, and takes place in 1751. Our narrator David Balfour, a "tendentious prig" according to the only fun sentence in the intro, is a Lowlander; his buddy Allan Breck, who was a real dude, is a Highlander. The events in the book - the killing of that one guy and its fallout - were real events, fairly depicted. I went and looked into all that history and crap and here's what I can tell you: skip the footnotes and trust Stevenson's narrative, because he's telling you all you need to know. The footnotes make it seem like there's a larger picture that you're not getting and should be getting - like there's something you're missing - but that's really not the case.(less)
Alexandre Dumas' dad was a Revolutionary War hero general who once held a bridge by himself against a whole squad of bad guys with a friggin' sword an...moreAlexandre Dumas' dad was a Revolutionary War hero general who once held a bridge by himself against a whole squad of bad guys with a friggin' sword and took the Alps basically singlehanded and then languished as a POW for years and died a pauper and was written out of history because Napoleon is an asshole, and also he was a black guy, and this is all pretty awesome.
Terrific book, handling not only Dumas' actual story but a fair amount of history along the way, from the French Revolution to the beginnings of Napoleon's whole...thing.
It's hard to love the favorite YA books of a different generation. This came out after my time, because I am old, and I wasn't even aware of it until...moreIt's hard to love the favorite YA books of a different generation. This came out after my time, because I am old, and I wasn't even aware of it until recently. So now I gotta read this book, which is for like 12-year-olds, as a 40-year-old man, and it's just okay for me. Because I'm not 12. If you read it as a young person then you have a visceral love for it, maybe, but you can't fake your way into that feeling.
That said, it works for what it's doing. It's got some pretty heavy thoughts for a young person and it's not afraid to be dark, which I always appreciate. Young people crave dark stuff, and they're way more able to handle it than adults tend to think they are. Lowry's heart seems to be in the right place. I've seen this compared to Fahrenheit 451, and on a surface level I totally get it - but at the core, I feel like Fahrenheit 451 is a reactive, conservative book, and this isn't. (Full disclosure: I hate Fahrenheit 451.)
But it's not very subtle, is it?
And I feel like the ending is rushed. The first three quarters or so, Lowry's doing some fairly interesting world-building: she does a nice job of showing us how on the surface this might look like a utopia, but here's one thing after another that undermines it until we realize we're actually in a nightmare. But things move very quickly in the last quarter, and I got sortof a "Fuck it, you get the idea" sense from it.(less)
Not bad, really, for what it is, which is fairly smutty. Nutting is pulling sortof a reverse Lolita here, or at least the first third or so of Lolita:...moreNot bad, really, for what it is, which is fairly smutty. Nutting is pulling sortof a reverse Lolita here, or at least the first third or so of Lolita: her teacher shares Humbert's straightforward amorality, and there's a plot development at one point that's clearly a nod to Lolita - (view spoiler)[where the kid's dad discovers what's going on and immediately (and conveniently) dies. (hide spoiler)] So part of what she's saying is, "If I flip the genders, do you feel differently?" And the answer is yes, because no man is without his hot-for-teacher fantasy.
She does stack the deck a little by making the teacher super hot, too, which is a little bit cheating.
Once in a while I'm compelled to read one book or another that I hear is super shocking and lurid or whatever, and this is one of those times. I always feel a little queasy afterwards, and I often sortof regret it, and then like a year later I find myself compelled to do it again. But, yeah, this wasn't a bad book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The Three Musketeers lacks the weight of Count of Monte Cristo; that book is, I think, deeper than it's given credit for. This book is not. So all it...moreThe Three Musketeers lacks the weight of Count of Monte Cristo; that book is, I think, deeper than it's given credit for. This book is not. So all it can aspire to is to be one of the most entertaining books you'll ever read, and that it is.
There's a scene right near the beginning where our hero meets, and manages to schedule duels with, all three Musketeers in a row. He's forced to apologize to them when they all come together, since only one will be able to have the pleasure of killing him. It's about as much fun as you can reasonably be expected to have reading a book.
And that's before the plot even gets going! Soon you will be whirled off into a surprisingly deep web of intrigue and mayhem. Poison-filled rings, forged letters, betrayals, secrets, prostitutes, and at the center of it all, the unmatched Milady, the best femme fatale since Lady Macbeth. There is no villain in Count of Monte Cristo, or in anything else, on the level of Milady
So now I've read two books by Dumas, and why isn't he my favorite author? Are the rest of his 5000 books this good? If they're even half as good...why do we read anything else?
Translation: the consensus gold standard is Richard Pevear - yes, of Pevear & Volokhonsky - and it does read very nicely. (Also, check out that awesome cover.) My one complaint is that it's footnoted all to hell; every character who pops up for one line gets a full explanation, like, "This may be based on this minor character from history who you don't care about, although that person was ten years old at the time, but he went on to become Viscomte of some bullshit or other." Almost none of it is interesting or important. It's like having a history nerd standing behind you all the time. Still, though, I hear too many other translations mist over the sex, of which there is plenty, and we wouldn't want that.(less)