Oh geez, I finished this a while ago... I really need to update this account more. This is just a placeholder - I really loved this book, and I'll comOh geez, I finished this a while ago... I really need to update this account more. This is just a placeholder - I really loved this book, and I'll come back to do a more substantive review later!...more
The Things They Carried is a very powerful book. In this response I’ll describe the ways in which OAmerican English 1001
Response #1: Themes on a truth
The Things They Carried is a very powerful book. In this response I’ll describe the ways in which O’Brien deals with war and honesty and what it means to… geez, how long do these things have to be again? 500 words?! How is a guy supposed to do his homework and catch the Top Chef finale?!
Fine. I’m not reading this in high school (as I should’ve) or in college (as I should’ve); I actually picked this up last year as part of a local Big Reads programs (and a big thank you to librarians everywhere). And I’m a little less about page citation and a little more about guts. O’Brien has plenty to spare here.
Honestly, the thing about this work is that it impacted me so powerfully now, I’m sort of glad I didn’t read it a while ago. I don’t know that I really could’ve handled seeing political happenings thinking about the things that keep him and his characters awake at night, feeling the cold in their bones. I spend plenty of time staring at night-lit ceilings in terror of my life and I’ve never seen war except through a screen. I hope never to do so, either.
O’Brien deals with truth, even as incurably unreliable as he is. Despite all the opportunities he had to dive off into cheesy movie scenes, his troop and his stories feel real no matter how badly he unravels them. The sheer fact that there’s unraveling going on is what makes it feel more true. There is no pleading for a golden yesteryear, or the vagaries of blanched-white ghost romance. At the same time, he’s not producing gore for grit’s sake; by the second chapter, there’s no doubt it’s awful. There are some scenes and lines I’ll definitely never forget. His unreality is what we do with our memories all the time, if we’re honest with ourselves and spend any time at all being introspective – and I really think that might’ve been his goal: to get us to be honest with ourselves about something, anything. That’s what lets him get past just telling a war story and actually say something that can even be perceived as important.
The truth of it is that this is a book that feels like a personal barometer of sorts. I partly wish I actually had read when I was younger, just so I’d see how I feel now. I was a different person then than I am today, and chances are good the next time I read this, some of my notes might sound crazy or juvenile. The really surprising thing is that O’Brien seems to realize this even in his writing. It’s easy to be an old man yelling from his porch. It’s much more difficult to just be a voice.
I don’t want to use the “untouchable classic” voice, but O’Brien definitely has a few things to say worth thinking about, or even just thinking in general. In conclusion, the book… aaaand 500....more
Let’s make a deal, Goodreads. We can do that, right?
I’ll tell you a story and you pretend this is a good review of “Consider the Lobster.” Because I aLet’s make a deal, Goodreads. We can do that, right?
I’ll tell you a story and you pretend this is a good review of “Consider the Lobster.” Because I am nowhere near a mindset to be able to really start talking about what David Foster Wallace (whom I think of as DFW, though that also makes him, mentally, an airport) is or what he means to me as a writer and human. Because you can’t divorce those things, not now.
So, deal? Deal. Glad we got past that.
One of my most terrifying memories comes from when I was about seven or eight. I was a bright kid; I did well in school, was pretty well-liked by friends, and was what I would call well-adjusted after the recent (sudden) death of my grandfather. I was riding in the far back seat of my parents’ big van late one night coming home from visiting relatives, with my siblings in the seat ahead of me. I was thinking about things relating to my grandfather. I wasn’t so close to him, but I still felt the loss.
And then I started really thinking about that loss. I realized that his really being dead meant that not only could I never interact with him again, it meant his whole experience of life was lost to me. Anything he thought about life was gone at least as far I was concerned, and new things had no meaning. What’s more, as a young churchgoer (and young selfish person, of course) I realized I was going to die too at some point, which meant all that was going to be the same for me. I would die and regardless of whatever else happened after that, my experience here meant nothing and my thoughts weren’t going to mean anything to anyone because who can really make a connection with another person that deep? Nothing can be done to change it, but I didn’t ask for it and I wished I hadn’t even been born to experience this futility and I wanted to scream about it but really just how stupid would that sound if I had to explain why to my family, who all seemed oblivious to everything now? So I bit my cheek really hard and took a few deep breaths until I calmed myself down. It was a Big Picture moment, which is kind of traumatic for a kid that young. I’m not saying I’m some kind of big worldview type of person – just that I wasn’t ready to deal with it then and I’m still not.
That’s what I feel like life must’ve been like for DFW, except just about all the time. Having read only a few of his works, this collection feels as though he was spending more time staring into black holes. One of the things that inspired me so greatly by “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” was his acceptance of the potential for great things out of sometimes bad things. In contrast, follow the trail of footnotes in these articles and you’ll find the exercise as he often described the mental gymnastics necessary to deal with his inner inquisitor: Exhausting.
Let me be clear: I have immense respect for him, a critical writer in a time when it supports one better to be a cynical and/or systematic hack, especially considering his opponents. In so many ways, I wish I could live up to his literary standard. No one sends me more happily to the dictionary so often, or makes me reconsider my own sentence structure to match my thoughts (the way I often feel he did). And I don’t just mean a respect for his writing chops. Even if you don’t agree with his take on an issue, he spends so much time considering the opposition in many of his pieces he seems to try to take every argument to a well-rounded completion. If absolutely nothing else, he would leave you thinking.
These are not my favorite pieces of his, for the simple (and maybe personal) reason that those split moments are more visible. Though maybe it’s in light of what happened that these quick aside sentences sound so desperate as attempts to see if he had actually connected his thoughts to anyone else’s. Big Picture thinking is hard and lonely, and frankly, it wounds after some time.
But all that aside, considering his work on its merit, it has huge value regardless of your viewpoint. These articles fueled some heavy discussion with some of my friends from these topics and branching out to others - discussion not really relating to media points of news feeds and talking heads but actual meaningful opinions about approaching life. So, for what it’s worth to anyone reading (either this or DFW), thanks for taking the time to think, regardless of the topic. It’s terrifying, but we need it now more than ever. ...more
This is another potentially “untouchable” book I’ve picked up. Diaz is an author about whom people have pretty well-formed opinions even before they’vThis is another potentially “untouchable” book I’ve picked up. Diaz is an author about whom people have pretty well-formed opinions even before they’ve read his work. I have a love-hate relationship with this kind of work, since I can be a pretty tough critic, and not everyone wants to hear me ramble on about a tiny little thing that ruined the book for me, the writer is a hack, death by Chihuahuas, etc.
So. I’ve decided to make my review hip and edgy by stealing a style page from Diaz and running parts of my review through Google Translator. Disfrute the bad translation.
Don’t jump to conclusions and think I’m picking on his use of language to enhance the story; tutto il contrario – I loved it. I’m not fluent by any stretch, but what I could get really brought me into the story in a way that might’ve seemed cheesy if the whole story were in English. If I pick on anything else, his writing style is natural and musical and flows a little bit like jazz sometimes. Nothing about this book was difficult to read, which was eine angenehme Überraschung, considering the weight of everything he throws at us.
I’m even a fan of the interrupting footnote (to detractors: I loved House of Leaves). Beyond the cultural standpoint of Dominicans and DR heritage, though, I feel as though this novel is something born a little more purely of our blogging and self-journalizing culture. Something about the writing just klepnutí in a very 140-character, photobomb post of last night’s exploits way to me. I don’t have the writer’s chops to really delve into what this means for current writing, but there’s something there for future thought.
All that said, Diaz’s characterization doesn’t suffer too much. The characters themselves change so much so often it’s easy to lose track from which tragedy they’re recovering. A lot of personal growth goes on, though, and it’s tough not to feel the individual strength and power of all of these characters vicariously. They may be fickle and the writing slightly wavering, but they’re memorable, and petèt ki te pwen an tout ansanm. He definitely loses some speed and focus about halfway through the book, though, and it only unravels more toward the end. I feel as though an editor should've said something.
What I did really love was the overall picture of life or lives lived by each character; Oscar is not the only one with a brief, wondrous life, and the reader is reminded of it time and again. Every experience adds up, and is magnified by the tumultuous world of the Dominican Republic during that time.
He falls short for me in a lot of the same ways that I like him, a little bit pretentious, a little bit playing on guilt and street cred, an unreliable reformed-frat-boy narrator with a writing fellowship and a penchant for whipping out nerd references just for no good reason. I mean, I get a gimmick when I see one; što je šteta, because it was a pretty good story without it. Let’s just say I enjoyed the story best when it was out of the narrator’s hands.
I’m not going out of my way to find more of his work, but I get the feeling more will be shoved into my hands at some point. Also, this language thing was tougher than I thought it would be. Pamplemousse....more
[The crowd explodes with raucous cheering as Monty Hall comes down the stairway, Hall impeccably dressed and scanning the clamoring group before zoomi[The crowd explodes with raucous cheering as Monty Hall comes down the stairway, Hall impeccably dressed and scanning the clamoring group before zooming in on the one person who seems to be reading a book rather than jumping up and down in a costume.]
Monty: All right, I know a tough customer when I see one. Why don’t you stand up here, mister, and LET'S MAKE A DEAL!
Kyle: What? Oh – oh, uh, sorry. Sure. [He stands up as the crowd dies down; a man dressed as a cotton swab, sitting in the next seat, nearly cries.] Didn’t mean to be rude, I’m just trying to finish this.
Monty: That’s great, that’s great, whatever you have there. But you’ll be more excited about what you finished picking behind these doors when you might find SOMETHING BEHIND ONE! [The crowd roars again as the cameras pan down to three huge doors on the stage.]
Kyle: …finished picking… that doesn’t even make sen—
Monty: Shut up. Now all you have to do is check your pockets here, and you’ll have a choice of these doors IF – in one of those pockets – you have a review of “No Country For Old Men!” [The crowd cheers.]
Kyle: Well, it just so happens I do. But, I mean, it’s Cormac McCarthy. I might as well write a quirky game show framework for the fun of it. What am I going to say that hasn’t already been said, especially about this book? That it’s really accessible and terrifying, has an amazing sense of aesthetic minimalist scenes and dialogue, pulls you in and tears you along as you kick and scream to get out?
Monty: You could start with that, yes.
Kyle: Well, it does. This is my first McCarthy, and it pretty much lived up to everything I had heard. I even went into it a little apprehensive, because I didn’t care for the movie. I thought the movie was trite and pandering and horribly paced.
Monty: Hold up, you don’t get any chances for a movie review.
Kyle: Oh no, sorry. The book was totally different. I don’t even like the concept of a Western in a lot of ways, and McCarthy made me keep a white-knuckle grip on the pages not because everything was awful and I wanted to see what else would happen, but because of his incredible sense of pacing. I don’t know if I’ve noticed pacing so much in a book in quite a while. And even beyond that, he does a great deal of justice to his subjects, keeping them authentic without making caricatures. After reading this, I feel like if anyone could make a Western actually gripping, it’d be McCarthy.
Monty: So you weren’t slowed down by the heavy philosophizing by nearly every male character?
Kyle: I wouldn’t say, no. I mean, I felt like it worked with the story really well – and I believe there are probably real people like these people, even the monsters. They might have these very ideas; they just probably don’t vocalize them the way these men did.
Monty: And what about the onslaught of incredibly depressing outlooks on the world?
Kyle: The main point of the book was man’s inhumanity to man, so that didn’t hold me back. As often as McCarthy gave his characters the choice to be awful things and do terrible things, there were just moments, these quiet moments that just can’t be communicated any other way than silence. That made me feel the slightest hope, which is an amazing writing accomplishment in the face of the whole story. The dream Sheriff Bell has about his father is something that will stay with me for a long time. [The audience applauds, if only to end the review.]
Monty: All right then. And just like Moss had a choice about whether or not to pick up the case, you’ve now got a choice of either taking what’s behind that door, or taking $20 and passing that chance on to your puffy neighbor here. [The cotton-swab costumed man gasps and jumps up from his seat.]
Kyle: Uh, given the number of goats hiding behind doors around here, I’ll pass it along, thanks. He’s at the queue tip, anyway. [All groan.] What?
Monty: [gives Kyle a flat look] I changed my mind. You’re getting a goat....more
Dear local library: Thank you for making it dangerous for me to go inside to drop off my overdue books, since I cannot seem to walk past your “recommeDear local library: Thank you for making it dangerous for me to go inside to drop off my overdue books, since I cannot seem to walk past your “recommended reading” table without picking up something. Even when I had all the books I knew I could get through in two weeks, I still found this too interesting to pass up. I repay your conscientiousness with my ridiculous but continuous overdue fees. I do not think I will ever learn.
I’d go into full news reel reporter mode, but it’s tougher to do with non-fiction book reviews. This book is almost definitely Crowl’s senior thesis or a similar project extended into a non-fiction piece, but I’m not playing it down because of that. For what it is, actually, it’s really an interesting recounting of a pretty famous historical murder in my area, both geographically and occupationally. Ohio has had our share of crime (especially downtown Canton back in the 1920s), but we usually get left behind for more tenacious literary cities.
Crowl’s style is all academic, with some crime-novel idioms and slightly clunky sideshow barking going on. He endlessly footnotes his sources, which is something like love for a reporter, though he pulls from a lot of very similar sources throughout - more on that later. One quite non-reporterly aspect was a flurry of typos (including some fairly important local names and places), but then, this is a university press.
What actually made me enjoy this book so much is Crowl’s attention to things from the media perspective. Mellett was a man of some dubious honor as a newswriter, but he certainly knew how to grab headlines in a day and age when the media game was played drastically differently. Crowl seems to get Mellett better than he does a lot of other people he researched, with the exception of perhaps McClintock, the state's prosecutor. I wish Crowl had opined a little more freely here and there, but he definitely understands the importance of Mellett's death in terms of journalism of the day and how newspapers took up the cause, perhaps paving the way for some of the bigger moments in journalism (and definitely some of the current laws about transparency and how we deal with police in news). Other than that view, though, it seemed like there could've been a lot more research done. It's almost a given that not much outside news clippings exists about Mellett, but there have to be others that could've been interviewed, or other sources to check into.
All that considered, however, I'm glad I read it. I've got a slightly better insight now than I had before on the history of some of the streets I see pretty regularly....more
Excuse me. Yes, you. I’m sorry, do you have a minute? I just… no, I’m not selling anything. I just wanted to take a minute to share how I came to faitExcuse me. Yes, you. I’m sorry, do you have a minute? I just… no, I’m not selling anything. I just wanted to take a minute to share how I came to faith in Kevin Roose.
See, I consider myself a Christian. I was brought up in a protestant household, went to church every week, dressed up and sang the songs. I was just a part of the group, an operator in the fullest sense of connecting from the earth to the heavens.
But one day, I was struck by the realization that not everyone was like me. Not everyone even wanted to be a part of this group, and some even outright disliked the group I was a part of. I felt bruised, but more, I felt like if this was the case, then somewhere, something had gone wrong. I was depressed and bewildered.
Left in this nebulous cloud, I found a copy of Roose’s “The Unlikely Disciple,” upon the recommendation of a few of my “outside” friends. I started tentatively after reading about his background and where he intended to spend a semester. Liberty University isn’t near and dear to my heart by any stretch, but I know several people who attended there. “Geez, not only is this kid from Brown,” I thought,”he’s intelligent. This book is going to be just page after page of riffing on creationism and hermeneutics.”
I’m going to be honest, sir, I came in skeptical. I came in thinking that there was no way these groups could be peacefully reconciled and still make anything even close to an entertaining read. At best, it could be a completely neutered journal. At worst, it would be venomous.
Then Kevin Roose’s life touched my own. I don’t mean the heavens opened up – no angels sang or beams of light shone. I mean, his clear journalistic style and what’s more, his honesty in his experience showed me what had been missing all along. I poured through the book in a few days, eager to share, grimacing over some of the gross illogic at Liberty and being continually amazed that Roose blends so well with a group that tries so hard to be exclusive. He managed to compile what seems to me like the truest account, almost an ethnography, of the world of intense Christian youth. He pushed to reach into others’ lives and become a part of the experience, and along the way showed that the thing that’s missing in both groups – in all groups, really – is honest communication.
Roose’s sincere investment into those lives and insightful commentary on his own experience and those of others gave me hope. Though he’s not a religious writer (and, truth be told, I’m not that heavily invested), I’m certainly following his work. Just the idea that a writer is able to be so bold in his notes and still keep his mind sensitive and, more importantly, his own, lets me look forward to a time when more of us can honestly talk without cutting into each other.
And so I’d like to ask now if you’d be interested in letting Kevin Roose into your life, just taking a couple minutes and even reading the book jacket, just the back cover?
Oh – you, oh, you’re still working through those Twilight books. No, I understand. Next time, perhaps. ...more