I guess Sonny's Blues is OK if you like that sort of thing. In this case, that sort of thing being nearly perfectly crafted fiction. That sort of thinI guess Sonny's Blues is OK if you like that sort of thing. In this case, that sort of thing being nearly perfectly crafted fiction. That sort of thing being a story that's so universal and so timeless that it can be felt by any and everybody on the face of the earth. This sort of thing being the kind of story every writer should be aspiring to write before his or her days on this earth are through. Baldwin is simply the most amazing person I've never known, and if I don't read every single word he's ever put on paper before my life is over, my entire life will have been a supreme failure.
Again, as with Giovanni's Room, the story itself is completely secondary and deceptively simple. It's about two bothers and the manner in which they lose touch due to the younger brother's drug addiction and then reconnect and gain mutual understanding through Jazz. It's this last element that makes Sonny's Blues so wonderfully transcendent because Baldwin understands Jazz in a manner that I don't think anyone else in the world ever has. At the very least, he explains it in a manner that will leave no one confused as to the art form's meaning and purpose. Jazz is pain and suffering given rhythm and sound; Jazz is life given melody. And it is simply not possible to read the final passages of this story and not understand that; not feel it in the deepest reaches of your being. There is music in those final paragraphs. Baldwin writes of the experience of listening to his brother play in a manner that leaves you feeling like you could be in a Jazz bar yourself, or at a poetry slam, or sitting in the audience of the most passionate one man show in existence. His writing is poetic, moving, and magical. There's even a feeling of the preacher in the pulpit during those sections. If you read it and don't have tears in your eyes, I'm not sure I want to know you.
Of course there's more to the story than even just that; it wouldn't be Baldwin if there weren't. There's themes about how irrevocably we are changed by the places in which we've grown up and the places we've been (both physically and mentally). Themes about how things never really change in this world and in this country especially. Themes about how a parent's life long pain can be hidden from their children but still affect their lives in the long run. It's the question about whether or not things ever fully change that I find to be most interesting. Living in this 2013 world in which a young black man was recently murdered for wearing a hoodie and walking down the street and his white murderer gets away with it facing no punishment whatsoever leaves me wondering if we've actually changed at all from the 1957 world in which the story was published. A story that features a young black man being run down by a car driven by four white men who all get away with it. What Sonny said about himself applies to us as a nation: "nothing had changed, I hadn't changed, I was just older."...more
I’ve long believed that the worth of a book lies not in what the book is about but how it is about it. I would apply this to all forms of art, storyteI’ve long believed that the worth of a book lies not in what the book is about but how it is about it. I would apply this to all forms of art, storytelling, and entertainment in general, but for the point of this review we’ll stick with books. The more reading I do the more I grow to understand that the worth of a book cannot actually be placed so firmly on one thing alone. So I’ve reached the unavoidable conclusion that it’s what a book is about, how it is about it, and some added nebulous concept of who you are and where you are in your life at the moment you are reading it that determines a book’s worth. In Contents May have Shifted by Pam Houston, I found a book that has a lot of how and no real what and the outcome is simultaneously wonderful and disappointing.
This is the only book by Pam Houston that I’ve read, and if this is any indication of her overall abilities, then I feel very confident in saying she’s a great writer but I’m not sure she’s all that great of a storyteller. Even as a collection of creative non-fiction I can’t say that this is the best I’ve ever read, but it’s still wonderfully well written. Houston’s turn of phrase is great, her “characters” are often very interesting and their voices are always vividly portrayed, and there are sections, lines, sentences, and entire paragraphs within this book that made me laugh out loud, stop and think, or even tear up a bit. What the book failed to inspire in me was a desire to keep turning the page to see what comes next. There were moments within this book where I would throw my head back in laughter and then look down to see that I still had over 100 pages left to read and groan in exasperation. Towards the end I found myself skipping entire sections just to move things along as I felt that they didn’t have anything new or interesting to say about the “characters” or life or the world in general that hadn’t already been said in the previous 90 sections. I also felt like Houston’s vignettes were oddly specific in a manner that left me feeling very left out from them. I couldn’t see myself in her stories—her revelations. I didn’t feel as though her stories were universal enough to be able to see an experience akin to mine reflected back to me. Her cast of friends/characters are diverse enough to see that she knows a lot of different people (and to be sure I was very pleased by the presence of LGBT people and people of color within the pages), but I still couldn’t craft enough of a connection to anyone to feel satisfied.
In the end, I was left with the thought that Contents May have Shifted reads like a collection of exceptionally well written journal entries; it feels a lot like looking through someone else’s photo album: the memories are nice and sometimes poignant, but if I’m not in any of the pictures, then it can be a bit difficult to really care....more
Poe wrote about the manner in which writing should be done to elicit a specific emotional response or "effect." I felt as though Karen Russell's bestPoe wrote about the manner in which writing should be done to elicit a specific emotional response or "effect." I felt as though Karen Russell's best stories in Vampires in the Lemon Grove were written with this in mind. Her work doesn't appear to be as singularly focused on plot or character as other works do. Instead, they seem to focus on getting some sort of reaction from the reader. This is not at all meant to be a criticism. While I don't think she's as sure-footed in eliciting the effect as Poe was in his stories, reading her work often left me thinking that she was always aiming for the moon and often landing among the stars.
As a collection of short stories, there's obviously going to be certain stories that "work" better than others, or just that certain readers will find more enjoyable. But in my experience of reading the book, I didn't think any of the stories were worthless. Even my least favorite in the collection, Dougbert Shackleton's Rules for Antarctic Tailgating, was funny in the beginning before petering out, and never made me feel like I just wanted to skip it and move on to the next story. Conversely, however, my favorite story in the book, Reeling for the Empire, might be the single greatest short story I've read in years.
What I found to be most fun about reading this collection was the manner in which it forced me to question things I've long believed to be true about my own reading habits. I tend to prefer strong three-dimensional characters to latch onto (think Faulkner's A Rose for Emily) or wonderfully amazing plots that take your breath away (Poe's The Cask of Amontillado), and it's not that Russell's stories are totally lacking in those elements, but those elements are not nearly as front and center as they are in other stories, and I found myself enjoying the stories all the same. It's a book that's easy to recommend, but even if you don't read the entire thing, you have to get your hands on Reeling for the Empire. Your life will be much better for having read it. ...more
The first time I read Brokeback Mountain was before the movie came out. In the years since that moment, I've watched the film many times and haven't rThe first time I read Brokeback Mountain was before the movie came out. In the years since that moment, I've watched the film many times and haven't read the story again until just now. I hadn't realized just how literal of an adaptation it was. The brilliance of the film isn't found in the screenplay adaptation as that simply comprises almost every line of dialogue lifted directly from the story. It is found in the performances of the actors and the wonderful direction of Aang Lee.
While the lazy adaptation of the story might be a knock against the screenwriters, it should never be taken as an excuse to diminish Proulx's work. What she's created is a wonderful story of love, fear, longing, hope, and betrayal. That she gets all of that in a story about gay cowboys (two things I don't believe her to be) is remarkable; that she does it all in about 65 pages is amazing.
If I wanted to nick pick, I could point to the story's over-reliance on telling instead of showing or a couple of moments where Proulx seems to break from her established P.O.V. But the simple truth is that the story, the characters, and most of the writing itself is so strong that it renders those complaints moot. This is a strong story encompassing universal themes. Its characters are remarkably well drawn, and it never ceases to be wonderfully moving and heartbreaking. If there's a mark against it at all, it's that the movie is so close to being an exact rendition of the story that it almost makes the reading of it pointless. As a lover of books and reading in general, I can say that nothing could make me not love the experience of reading the story. But if I were suggesting it to someone else, I could point out that either reading it or watching it would be a suitable course of action. ...more
I read the short story because I enjoyed the recent film version. The short story lacks some of the heart and emotion of the film version, but it's inI read the short story because I enjoyed the recent film version. The short story lacks some of the heart and emotion of the film version, but it's interesting and fun to read never the less. I think Fitzgerald was more interested in the comical elements of the difficulties found in aging backwards and overlooked a lot of the deeper emotional complications that can be found. The story is as well written as you'd expect from Fitzgerald, but a little more superficial than I expected. The result is a story that's fun, funny, and well meaning, but that could have been a lot more....more
Here is an author that understands the human condition better than just about any author I’ve ever read before. In this collection of short stories, AHere is an author that understands the human condition better than just about any author I’ve ever read before. In this collection of short stories, Adichie has penned works that strike perfectly at the heart of what makes us human: the ties that bind and also that separate. Her prose are strikingly beautiful, her stories wonderfully poignant, and her characters remarkably vivid. And all the while, there is this great sense of universality to her writing. All of these stories are about African characters, most of which have immigrated to America, and yet all of them are easily relatable to her American readers. Never once did I feel lost or alienated by what I was reading; never once did I fail to grasp what these characters were experiencing and how they felt or why they felt this or that way. Here, also, is an author with an amazing grasp of the craft. It’s rare to find an author who is just as effective in the first person narrative as she is in the third or even the second. Indeed, when was the last time you found an author even capable of penning a tale in the second person that you didn’t find laughable? But Adichie utilizes it in a couple of stories to great effect. The stories span genders and sexual orientations and she writes them all with great certainty and conviction. She writes about the human body, sex, and other bodily functions and it never seems juvenile or titillating, but it’s always frank and to the point and understandable. It takes a great gift to work these details into a story and not allow them to be distracting or mitigating in any fashion. If there is a knock against these stories at all, and I’m not so sure that there is, it would be the lack of a standard “ending” to a few of them. They play more like snapshots of this or that portion of the character’s lives and there is not much left to be said about what takes place after the last word is written. This leaves a couple of the stories with an unfinished feeling. The reader might feel a sense of dissatisfaction, wondering what happens next or where the resolution might come from. But it’s a small complaint at best since the stories seem to work much like life works and the way that the stories aren’t wrapped up in a neat bow can be, in and of itself, satisfying. Either way, this collection of short stories provides an exceptional reading experience. This might just be the best book I’ve read in I don’t know how long....more
Hemingway's ability to add layer upon layer of a single sentence never ceases to amazes me. To think that this was his first published work is even moHemingway's ability to add layer upon layer of a single sentence never ceases to amazes me. To think that this was his first published work is even more astounding. He mastered the art saying a lot with very few words much quicker than the average author, and this collection of short stories is strung together in a fashion that makes it into one seemingly cohesive whole, and the small “chapters” that break up each of the individual pieces keep the book moving at a reasonable pace and keeps things interesting. There are times when he's a little too in love with basic process description, but the way he informs the reader of his character doing this and then that and then this again paints a nice picture for the reader. This collection of short stories shows why Hemingway is a master of editing his pieces down to the bare essentials and keeping the story interesting....more