What is the nature of truth? Can something that may or may not be factually true nevertheless be truth? When you consider that all truth, even facts,...moreWhat is the nature of truth? Can something that may or may not be factually true nevertheless be truth? When you consider that all truth, even facts, actually are subjective in that we must filter them through our own eyes and minds, then is this distinction even relevant?
This is the theme at the heart of The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, which is a monumental achievement for author Caitlín R. Kiernan. While it shares some thematic points with its predecessor, The Red Tree, it is nevertheless distinct from it (although perhaps not as much as Red Tree was from its predecessors).
Here we have both a gothic and a psychological novel -- I use these terms in their literary senses -- and an even more dramatic departure from Kiernan's ealier work. And it is an impressive work on several levels, not the least of which is that she sustains her main character's first-person voice across the entire length of the novel -- a narrative voice that is distinctly not her own. India Morgan Phelps isn't a professionally published author, nor does she write like one, and this only serves to give the book an almost eerie ring of truth -- there's that word again -- making the reader's willing suspension of disbelief an easy one.
Well, I've been neglecting Good Reads, but no time like the present to make amends. Especially since I can't take Facebook anymore.
Anyway, in short,...moreWell, I've been neglecting Good Reads, but no time like the present to make amends. Especially since I can't take Facebook anymore.
Anyway, in short, this is an excellent novel -- incredible if you consider the fact that it's the author's debut novel. It's a welcome change of pace from the glut of gritty sword and sorcery fantasy that the market is glutted with right now (thank you Mr. Martin). My only real criticism of Lord's work -- heh -- is that her narrator becomes too much of a character in the story. Most of the time this isn't an issue, but at times her narrator becomes a bit overbearing; these injections form the narrator proved to be a bit distracting at times.
But this is a minor quibble with an otherwise impressive and thoroughly enjoyable work. One caveat I will add: if you are looking for typical genre fiction -- and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that; I like swords and elves too -- this ain't it, and you're probably not going to like it. On the other hand, if you find African folklore interesting, by all means, check it out.
A longer review later; I have a lot of catching up to do here.
In short, in many ways classic Gibson. But, in some ways, it was a little too ... I don...moreA longer review later; I have a lot of catching up to do here.
In short, in many ways classic Gibson. But, in some ways, it was a little too ... I don't know, neat and tidy, and happy-ending ... ish. Gibson's novels tend to end somewhat ambiguously, some more than others. And just because a book has a neat and tidy ending doesn't necessarily make it bad.
But it felt at times a little forced here; I can't provide specific examples -- I'm just going off my impressions. But still a great read (I'd give it 3.5 stars, if they had such gradations here), and it was nice revisiting many characters from the first two books of the Bigend trilogy. If you are a Gibson fan and liked his last two novels set in the present-day, you'll like this one.
If you are new to Gibson and aren't looking specifically for his science fiction, I would suggest starting with either of the other two novels in this trilogy (all of which can stand alone); Pattern Recognition or Spook Country.
One more note: I noticed one reviewer of this book who complained that Gibson is no longer writing science fiction. Um, no, he's not. As he has stated more than once, in a post 9-11 world, the present is weird enough -- no need to go to the future to find it. All three book in the Bigend trilogy have been set in the present day, and the technology involved actually exists today.
And speaking of someone who has been reading Gibson since Burning Chrome first came out in paperback -- that was a long time ago, Children -- I think on the whole, even though I only gave this book 3 (3.5) stars, I think Gibson has continued to grow and improve as a writer. Bear in mind that he was a good -- and perhaps great -- writer to begin with. Of course his stories and novels have always been character driven, but in the cyberspace works, at times it was as if the technology itself were a character; in his last three novels, while technology is certainly important to the plot, the technology doesn't really drive the story at all; they are purely character driven. (less)
God, how to describe this book ... imagine if O'Rourke were British and little less concerned with sociology and politics and a little more philosophi...moreGod, how to describe this book ... imagine if O'Rourke were British and little less concerned with sociology and politics and a little more philosophical, and you can begin to imagine Lawrence Osborne.
First off, a caveat: this book, which was just published this year, is marketed almost as some sort of expose on the steamy, sordid underworld of Bangkok. As the subtitle says, "A Sojourn in the Capital of Pleasure," which resides on the book jacket next to an ostensible working girl, her face partially obscured by shadow, but her red lips are nevertheless highlighted and parted. I was -- almost -- embarrassed when I check it out of the local library.
There actually isn't a lot of sex in this book, and it certainly isn't central to book itself. The inside jacket gets it a little better when it states "Osborne takes us to a feverish place where a strange blend of ancient Buddhist practice and new sexual mores has created a version of modernity only superficially indebted to the West. Bangkok Days is a love letter to the city that revived Osborne's faith in adventure and in the world."
At it's core, I think the book is more about why people travel, in particular those of us that are predestined to be expatriates -- those of us that feel more "at home" when they're away from home because they don't really have a home -- at best they are from somewhere. More specifically, the book does look at why Bangkok and Thailand attract this type of person, including our intrepid Mr. Osborne.
I forget what it was that bugged me somewhat about the first third of the book. I didn't have a lot of preconceived notions about the book; I merely got it because I have read a few of Osborne's pieces in magazines before, and his books often come recommended from other travel writers (and their readers) that I like. That, and my interest in all things Southeast Asian lead me to check it out. Whatever it was that I had a problem with (hence the 4 instead of 5 stars) seemed to have worked itself out by the middle of the book -- I was so enthralled I reserved another of his books at the library before I was done with this one.
This is excellent travel writing: witty and insightful, without the pablum one usually finds in typical travel writing, which I think of more as vacation writing, more often than not. To wit, one of my favorite quotes (and one of the last paragraphs of the book):
"It was at that moment that I remembered why I liked Buddhism, despite being unable to adopt it: because there was no drama of love at its heart. Love simply didn't insinuate itself into its view of animals and people, where were seen coldly and clearly for what they are. The misery of love didn't take center stage at all. It was breathtaking, when you compared it to us, who are taught to believe in love from day one, who believe in love as a sort of birthright. We don't see ourselves as coldly as that. We think our lives are great, meaningful dramas defined by love -- and of course they are nothing of the sort."
Keep in mind this is obviously some missing some context, which would take too long to get into here. The book itself is not as cynical as this quote might make it seem -- although the book is nevertheless rather British, shall we say; it does have a healthy dose of post-modern, post-colonial cynicism about it (but then I'm a Yank; maybe a Brit would find Osborne upbeat). In the end, the best I can say about this book is that I hope I run into Osborne some day in a dingy hotel bar on the other side of the world; If I do, the first few rounds are on me. (less)
See my review of Osborne's Bangkok Days; much of what I said about that book could be said here. This book delves much more deeply into the question o...moreSee my review of Osborne's Bangkok Days; much of what I said about that book could be said here. This book delves much more deeply into the question of why people travel, in particular what the author himself is looking for in his travels. He investigates first hand a variety of travel -- from the insulated, replicated spa culture to the Margaret Mead-esque bushwhacking of those who seek to experience cultures unsullied by modernity.
Like Bangkok Days, I'm not sure why I feel compelled to give him four instead of five stars; I can't point to one thing necessarily -- I can't point to some specific aspect of the book and say "here's the problem/drawback to The Naked Tourist. It's just some vague sense of British post-colonial ennui and cynicism that seems to lurk throughout the book, and I suppose that bothers me -- perhaps not everything Osborne writes about in this book should be viewed through this filter. It may be just that I'm an American and a hopeless romantic at heart, even though I'm also cynical enough not to buy into the "noble savage" stereotype so many of us in the West have about indigenous people.
Anyway, this shouldn't keep anyone interested in travel and living abroad from reading Osborne; he's terribly amusing and an excellent writer. (less)
I enjoyed Pham's first book so much, I had to read this one; it did not disappoint. Having been exposed to much American navel gazing over what the Vi...moreI enjoyed Pham's first book so much, I had to read this one; it did not disappoint. Having been exposed to much American navel gazing over what the Vietnam War meant, it is fascinating to read the account of someone who experienced it from the Vietnamese side. Someone whose life experience actually covers three of Vietnam's conflicts, the American war being just part of the ongoing saga that overlaps three generations. Someone from North Vietnam who, as a refugee from earlier conflicts, found himself with little choice but to fight on the South Vietnamese side. Someone who didn't wish to fight on either side of what was essentially a civil war once the French withdrew, someone who saw the corruption and hypocrisy in both the North and South Vietnamese regimes.
This memoir (of sorts ... it is actually about the author's father's experiences, but is written from his point of view as if he is actually telling the story) really drills into the heart of the Vietnamese-American conflict, stripping away the larger context of global communism, containment, and the domino theory to look at the motivations of the Vietnamese. In one sense, it is a typical war-time memoir -- our subject wants nothing more than to be left at peace with his wife and family, but is swept into the greater drama, despite his best efforts to avoid it. I suspect that in this sense, all civil wars must be like this, to some degree.
And yet at the same time, it is a perspective on Vietnam and American's involvement in its war that one rarely sees, at least here in the United States. Indeed, American participation in the conflict is seemingly almost incidental, coming when it does, from the view of someone that grew up under French and then Japanese occupation, only to see the Communists come to power in the north as one of the factions vying with the French and Western powers for political control of Vietnam.
My only issue with this book is that it is told in a linear fashion, for the most part, with little context given to the events taking place beyond the narrator's immediate frame of reference. This becomes less of an issue as the book moves along and the narrator/subject becomes an adult. But early on, I found myself having to re-read certain parts and consult outside sources to gain a better historical context. Granted, part of the problem is part of my own ignorance of the history of Vietnam prior to 1968, but I'm guessing this would be a problem for many other Western readers (except, mayhap, the French).
But this drawback is minor at best, and learning about history is always a good thing. Like his previous work, Catfish and Mandala, Eaves of Heaven is very well written -- it boggles my mind that Pham's background is engineering. Taking this into account, his prose is truly exceptional Trust me -- I've edited many an editorial piece in my day written by engineers, and as one would expect, command of the written word is not often one of their strong points (and this is only natural -- not a knock on engineers; I'd be lost in short order if I had to do what they do for a living). (less)
Short version: an excellent account of the author's exploration of what it means to be both Vietnamese and...moreAnd Goodreads eats another review ... sigh.
Short version: an excellent account of the author's exploration of what it means to be both Vietnamese and American. Pham's quest to find himself reveals enormous insight into both Vietnamese and American culture; it helps that he is an excellent writer and pays no heed to political correctness -- there is no sugarcoating in Catfish and Mandala.
This ... this is what travel writing should be. (less)
Kiernan is one of my favorite authors; this is the third or fourth time I've read this one, and it stands up to the test of time for me. Having re-rea...moreKiernan is one of my favorite authors; this is the third or fourth time I've read this one, and it stands up to the test of time for me. Having re-read one of her more recent works that involved some of the same characters that we meet in Threshold for the first time, I decided it was time to go back and visit their younger selves; it is like visiting old friends.
Having said that, I will say that if you are new to Kiernan, you may want to read one of her later books (she has a new one out, which I haven't read, but I will vouch for all the others that she has written. Over the years her writing has ... I hesitate to use the word "mature," as it implies that her earlier works are perhaps immature to one degree or another, as she herself has suggested in her blog. But that implies a negative connotation; let me just say that her later works are perhaps more accessible, which I think happens with many writers (with a few notable exceptions ... *cough* *cough* Joyce *cough* *cough*) as they hone and perfect their crafts.
On the other hand, it is interesting to see the difference in her approach and style in the older works vs. the newer works. Another example of a writer becoming more accessible is William Gibson; I've been rereading some his earlier work, and they definitely demand more of the reader -- again, this is not to imply that they are lacking in artistic merit compared to the later works.
Felt like visiting some old friends, so I read this again. As Brite's first published novel, it is not without its minor faults -- her prose is someti...moreFelt like visiting some old friends, so I read this again. As Brite's first published novel, it is not without its minor faults -- her prose is sometimes a little labored, going to too great lengths to illustrate a metaphor -- but then it is still head and shoulders above many works by popular, frequently published authors. It definitely stands the test of time; hard to believe this came out in 1992 (God, I'm getting old).
And for those of you who eschew her later works because they're not all gothy and about sexy, androgynous vampires, well ... the bats have left the bell tower, you know? The rest of us filed past his tomb and got got over it -- just in time to see Hot Topic open in the mall, sigh -- why haven't you? Her later work is also excellent, and in technical terms, I think her writing is even better than in her earlier and darker works. Having said that, after reading Lost Souls, I kinda want to go out to a thrift store, score a velvet coat, go put my piercings back in and get my goth on. (less)
This book has a valuable lesson for me; an English teacher in high school first recommended it to me. I didn't realize at the time what it was I was s...moreThis book has a valuable lesson for me; an English teacher in high school first recommended it to me. I didn't realize at the time what it was I was supposed to get out of the book. But since then I've read it several more times, and each time, I get more out of it; the older I get, the more I appreciate what Kazantzakis has to tell me through Zorba. ... (less)
If you like to travel light and get beyond the tourist traps, then this book is for you. A must-read if you're traveling on the cheap -- and it's not...moreIf you like to travel light and get beyond the tourist traps, then this book is for you. A must-read if you're traveling on the cheap -- and it's not just for the dirty, gap-year backpacker set (not that there is anything wrong with being a dirty backpacker).(less)
An excellent collection of travel writing. Potts may not be the best author in the world when it comes to actual writing, but he manages to tread litt...moreAn excellent collection of travel writing. Potts may not be the best author in the world when it comes to actual writing, but he manages to tread little known territory both literally and figuratively. He managed to get beyond the "logue" part of travelogue and seemingly gleen some keen insight into a culture, as well as why we travel, more often than not -- we being those of us that prefer to actually set beyond the hotel and shopping complex; those of us that prefer local street stall food (barbecued squid on a stick -- scrumptious!) as opposed to McDonalds. (less)
Wow. Normally I wouldn't bother to finish a book that I disliked this much, but it was like the proverbial train wreck. No matter how much I wanted to...more Wow. Normally I wouldn't bother to finish a book that I disliked this much, but it was like the proverbial train wreck. No matter how much I wanted to turn away from the mangled, bloody awfulness, I couldn't turn away; I was transfixed by horrible awe.
I just happened to pick up this old tome at the local indie coffee shop I hang out at; it has stacks and stacks of donated books and the author's name caught my eye. Clifford Dowdey. Ha ha, really? Clifford Dowdey? Oh yes. What's that all about? Here's the first two 'graphs:
"The yellow coach came first. This was a fine affair with high oiled springs and a brown leather cushion on the seat where the young Negro couple rode. Light-skinned and dignified, they were dressed to top off the big coach -- the girl in gray voile with red piping and the driver with gilt buttons on his blue coat and a tall shiny beaver. They were clearly house people, and of a great house. Never once did they glance back at the long caravan of wagons rolling behind them.
"The field hands rode on these four-horse wagons, mostly on the seats but some perched among the cargoes. The wagons were tulip read with yellow spokes, and the slaves dusted them constantly. They were proud of the bright colors. They all wore touches of color on their own neat cotton clothes, and they laughed and sang during the days. When the sun when down they grew quiet and looked apprehensively at the tangled woods closing them in."
What! No way! ... When was this written, 1843? No ... 1943! Wow. Oh my. And we wonder why racist attitudes persist today. I don't really have a problem with a story set during the era of slavery; I'm not one for political correctness.
But geez, right off the bat, Clifford Dowdey confronts us with laughably racist stereotypes. And through the next 300 some pages, we meet every pulp cliche imaginable. Genteel southern women with heaving bosoms barely constrained under tight bodices and foppish paramours prone to attacks of the vapors -- dare I say, they're a bit ... dowd(e)y! -- all serving as pawns for the machinations of conniving, evil southern politicians and power brokers -- not to mention the faithful house slaves (and I quote: "Mistuh Caffey, I ain't seen nothin' until I see you 'n' Littleton heah and I was sho glad foh to see you-all.") -- they're all here, sprinkled with torrid sexual euphemisms.
"That was when he saw the fear naked in her eyes, and when he knew the fear must be conquered now or he would never have her as a woman.
"Libby had known that first. She had evaded talk of their marriage because she had to know first she could be his wife. When she lay in his arms, Libby had sensed his restraint, and she would not be taken in that way.'Don't mind hurting me,' she whispered."
This is followed by some "some feverish desperate seeking, and then she lay very still."
Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up. You can't even parody this stuff; it's already a parody. At times -- as in all the time -- it was laugh-out-loud bad; but not self consciously so, like in an Ed Wood movie -- more of in a pompous-ass kind of way -- like a Jerry Bruckheimer film. Interesting that I turn to film analogies when trying to describe just how bad a book is. ...
Anyway, that's about the only thing I can say that's positive about Tidewater, that's it's laugh-out-loud bad. Maybe I could praise the binding for holding up really well after 66 years. I'm guessing it's outlasted Mr. Dowdey. (less)
Here's the brief version -- an intriguing and illuminating look into Japanese culture. Whatever deeper per...moreOnce again, Goodreads eats my review. Argh.
Here's the brief version -- an intriguing and illuminating look into Japanese culture. Whatever deeper perspective or context Jacobson may lack in her youth is more than made up by her powers of observation and her skill with the written word. And that is not to imply that she doesn't bring much to the table when it comes to understanding this unique culture; she most certainly does.
If she ever writes a corollary to this book later on in her life, I would not hesitate to pick it up -- quite the opposite in fact.
I heartily disagree with those reviewers who would brand her some sort of simpleton Japanophile; she clearly has a greater understanding of Japanese culture than that. (less)
So here we are again. A relatively even and unbiased account of the proto punks of New York, Cleveland and Detroit that gave rise to American punk and New Wave (which, despite what some people think, had roots and influences distinct from that which arose across the pond). At times it is a little dry and might have been served if Heylin had let a little color seep into the gray areas; on the other hand, this approach leaves the story to those who lived it (the ones that are still alive, anyway). Heylin seems to have managed to talk to everyone involved in the scene, back in the day.
The only other fault I can find is that I have yet to have it adequately explained to me how Richard Hell's "Blank Generation" didn't become a punk standard/classic in the same way that say, "London Calling" or "God Save the Queen" did.
Anybody with a strong interest in popular music would do well to check this out. For people that think the Ramones was the only original American punk band (80s hardcore doesn't count) -- and I was one, once upon a time -- then this is mandatory reading.(less)
Back when Burma flooded last year, it occurred to me that I knew next to nothing about the country that would be called Myanmar, despite the fact that...moreBack when Burma flooded last year, it occurred to me that I knew next to nothing about the country that would be called Myanmar, despite the fact that it occupies a big chunk of the region where I plan on spending a good chunk of the latter half of my life.
I spied this at the bookstore one day and consequently picked it up on impulse; it did not disappoint. Part historical treatise and part memoir set in a historical context, Lost Footsteps does much to put Burma's history in a modern context that a Westerner can understand. It does much to explain how the current military rulers there came to power and how they manage to stay in power. For anyone trying to understand this part of the world and its cultures, I can heartily recommend it. (less)