The masterpiece is "Authority and American Usage", which I'd read online before but could probably read six or seven times again. Also brilliant is hi...moreThe masterpiece is "Authority and American Usage", which I'd read online before but could probably read six or seven times again. Also brilliant is his piece for Rolling Stone on the 2000 McCain presidential primary campaign.(less)
It's hard to know what to say about this book. A lot of reviewers seem underwhelmed, and from what I can tell it has a lot to do with what they expect...moreIt's hard to know what to say about this book. A lot of reviewers seem underwhelmed, and from what I can tell it has a lot to do with what they expected and how the book failed to live up. I guess I can't really criticize that, because my response to do it was pretty personal, too. Without getting gruesomely intimate, I'll say that I hoped (knowing Barnes's fear of death superficially resembled mine) that reading this book would mean encountering in erudite form the thoughts I've struggled with for years but never been able to put into words. It did, so perfectly that by the last ten or twenty pages, the extent to which he had distilled the terror of extinction was enough to make me put the book down without finishing.
Leaving that aside, I thought this interconnected and self-referencing series of essays and vignettes was fascinating, poignant, educational, funny and unique. Some of Barnes's writerly eccentricities that I found alienating in Flaubert's Parrot, like (what I then perceived to be) an over-familiarity with authors, poets, composers and artists past, are put to good use here. If you are preoccupied with the idea of dying (especially if you lack religious faith and are conscious of the self-satisfied certainty you therefore do not have about death), in this book you will find a like-minded club of thinkers: Stravinsky, Goethe, Turgenev, Maugham, Flaubert (of course) and Barnes himself, among others. But rather than intimidating figures, in this book they are sympathetic and accessible. That's because Barnes weaves their contributions (excerpted from published writings, letters, diaries) into the narrative in a manner akin to conversation, rather than subjecting their views to study. You get the feeling you're participating in a roundtable discussion with the author and these men.
Michel de Montaigne: To be a philosopher is to learn how to die. Julian Barnes: I wouldn't mind Dying at all, as long as I didn't end up Dead at the end of it. Jonathan Miller: I cannot actually conceive, can't make sense of the notion of total annihilation. Jules Renard: The word that is most true, most exact, most filled with meaning, is the word 'nothing'. Philip Larkin: Not to be here, / Not to be anywhere, / And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
Don't worry, it's not actually written like this.(less)
Emma is absolutely wonderful. It rivals Pride and Prejudice for my most-favored Austen. Emma Woodhouse, a sheep in the clothing of a wolf in the cloth...moreEmma is absolutely wonderful. It rivals Pride and Prejudice for my most-favored Austen. Emma Woodhouse, a sheep in the clothing of a wolf in the clothing of a sheep, is perhaps Austen's most perfectly-developed protagonist. She is complex, witty, scathing, and, in the context of the author's oeuvre, atypically un-self-aware. She features in the most well-executed character transformation I've seen yet in Austen's works. I enjoyed the plot immensely as well, though it took a back seat, in my mind. Inferior to P&P and S&S only in that it features fewer uproarious characters.(less)
Nine days later, I finally figured out what bothered me about this book. It was really only one thing, because I absolutely adored it, was gripped eve...moreNine days later, I finally figured out what bothered me about this book. It was really only one thing, because I absolutely adored it, was gripped every minute and didn't care enough about any of the flaws to be bothered in the slightest.
Except that I wanted to read about Harry's grieving after the battle of Hogwarts. I have the impression that a few pages were probably written and then edited out - a shame, because it was the only thing missing from the end. Rather than letting us imagine how he has mentally processed all the deaths, hardship etc., once all the turmoil had ended, it would have been touching and added a bit more emotional closure to spell it out.
The funniest novel I've ever read. Truly ingenious. Totally changed the way I think about funny in books. I fully subscribe to the narrator's view tha...moreThe funniest novel I've ever read. Truly ingenious. Totally changed the way I think about funny in books. I fully subscribe to the narrator's view that nice things are nicer than nasty ones.(less)
An absolute delight. I am increasingly of the opinion that Dorothy Sayers is the finest mystery serial writer of - well, I can't say "all time," havin...moreAn absolute delight. I am increasingly of the opinion that Dorothy Sayers is the finest mystery serial writer of - well, I can't say "all time," having only read two or three of her competitors, but VERY FINE INDEED. Sayers doesn't just write good mysteries, she writes good novels. One might almost mistake Murder Must Advertise for a novel about an ad firm (and brilliantly done at that) that happens to concern a murder, rather than the other way around, and I don't say that at the expense of the mystery itself.
One of Sayers's many likeable qualities is that she never comes off as an innocent, even in books where the plot turns on the interpretation of a will and the characters are frequently known to say, "Oh! Dear me. Rather. I do say. Shocking, what?" (I enjoyed Unnatural Death and adored The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, but one must be honest.) What was I saying - oh. Sayers's astonishing wit, the seeming tameness of some of its objects regardless, always betrays a penetrating understanding of human mischief. And in this novel, with its sex and cocaine, the innuendos are keener and more hilarious than ever. Not that she places undue reliance on innuendos, either.
Of Lord Peter Wimsey, I do occasionally think to myself, "I wish there was something he couldn't do." But those moments pass quickly and are soon forgotten in an onslaught of Sayers's pitch-perfect dialogue.
Naturally, the plot is clever and well-integrated. Nothing hugely astonishing, but one hardly cares; there are enough surprises throughout to keep up the pace. And as yet another sign of Sayers's rare and intelligent style, the climax contains an unusual solemn, sad nod to human dignity.(less)
I am going to open up my heart to you guys. I read this book when I was, oh, maybe 7 or 8, and it was my favorite book for YEARS. I re-read it countle...moreI am going to open up my heart to you guys. I read this book when I was, oh, maybe 7 or 8, and it was my favorite book for YEARS. I re-read it countless times. It was the only book from my childhood I brought with me to college. It may have been, in large part, the reason my mom once bought me a t-shirt that said "Kathleen" in - wait for it -HIEROGLYPHICS.
I have no idea if this is actually a good book or not. I loved it so much as a kid that I couldn't possibly give an impartial opinion even now.
Oh, um, that t-shirt thing was in sixth grade, not college. In case that wasn't clear.(less)
Although I've read in several places that Collins's main career achievement was essentially to invent the modern detective story in The Moonstone, I f...moreAlthough I've read in several places that Collins's main career achievement was essentially to invent the modern detective story in The Moonstone, I found The Woman in White by far the superior of the two novels. (In fairness, people don't generally fall over themselves in praise for The Moonstone as a novel so much as for depicting a new kind of sleuth.) This book is wonderfully written. Collins uses different narrators - perhaps eight altogether, but two or three main ones - and while he can't match David Mitchell for scope, the tone and composition of each is spot on, and the effect is perfect, not merely as a clever gimmick but as the means of relating the pieces of the puzzle. There is eeriness, suspense, romance, wonderful characterization, and beautiful prose, and on top of that it is well-plotted. Unless you simply don't like 19th century British literature, I recommend The Woman in White highly.(less)
I dreaded reaching the end of this novel for two reasons: (1) I didn't want it to be over; (2) I'd have to admit everyone was right about how good it...moreI dreaded reaching the end of this novel for two reasons: (1) I didn't want it to be over; (2) I'd have to admit everyone was right about how good it was.(less)