My literary hat is off to Ken Kesey for writing one of the best English language novels of the 20th century! It belongs on the shelf next to Flowers f...moreMy literary hat is off to Ken Kesey for writing one of the best English language novels of the 20th century! It belongs on the shelf next to Flowers for Algernon, The Catcher in the Rye, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Three Stories, The Great Gatsby, and other great American novels that took characters to new heights in the past century. The title of novel is taken from a children's rhyme:
Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn, Apple seed and apple thorn, Wire, briar, limber lock Three geese in a flock One flew East One flew West And one flew over the cuckoo's nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest shines brilliance in every corner of the dark asylum in which it's based. It's a place where patients are hosed down, tied to their beds at night, their mouths stuffed with colorful pills to make them behave and if they don't, if they should dare challenge the bulking nurse--Miss Ratched--they are given a ticket to the amusement park funland called the electro-shock therapy lab.
The novel is told from the POV of an American Indian who has no business being in an insane asylum other than to escape his oppressive upbringing. Times are hard until McMurphy enters the asylum. The Jack Nicholson movie of the same name is quite good, too, but even the great actor cannot measure up to McMurphy, the character he plays in the movie. He lands in the looney bin for no other reason than to escape a hard labor sentence for his crimes. That's when the fun really begins as he incites the others to stand up for themselves against the oppressive regime.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was published in 1962, nearly 120 years after Charles Dickens toured the North East insane asylums of America, which he recounted in his "American Notes." There he told of a cruel system that did little to rehabilitate the insane. Edgar Allan Poe and many others felt Boz did American wrong when he returned to England and wrote his unflattering account. Three years later Edgar Allan Poe would pen one of the first English language short stories set in an insane asylum ("The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether"), in which he lampooned many politicians of the day as analyzed in Edgar Allan Poe's Annotated Short Stories.
Sadly, little had changed from the Victorian Age of Dickens and Poe, to the early 1960s when Kesey published OFOCN. The novel, however, did what Charles Dickens was unable to do by changing the way the insane were treated in America. It's still not a perfect system and probably never will be, but one that is less reliant on drugs and that has nearly eliminated lobotomies. So says my aunt who spent nearly her entire career as a nurse in an insane asylum. I can still remember as a boy, sitting wide-eyed around the table, while she told of the many fascinating things that when on there. Some of them were funny and some were downright creepy. I thought it would be impossible to attempt to capture these fascinating characters into a novel. Heck, I thought it crazy to even try.
Yet, Kesey has somehow accomplished it. He has distilled the experience (based on his own time spent working at an asylum) into one fantastic novel where freedom triumphs over oppression and conformance, when it is coherent and not drugged up or sent smoldering to bed after a few hundred volts were applied to the temples.(less)
This is the second time I have read The Great Gatsby and it will likely not be the last. The first was...more F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
This is the second time I have read The Great Gatsby and it will likely not be the last. The first was for the extreme pleasure that the novel yields and this most recent time was to study how Fitzgerald did it. As a writer I am constantly peeking behind the literary curtain of others writers to see how they did it; how they pulled off the fictional magic trick. In this instance it was to see how Fitzgerald levitated Daisy through this Jazz Age classic novel.
To me, Daisy is the most interesting character in TGG and the most damning. She is infinitely complex and impossible to nail down just like the varied guests that float in and out of Gatsby's parties. Daisy drifts through rooms and people's lives as she does life. It's not a stretch to realize that Fitzgerald based her on his wife Zelda who he called "the first American flapper." Both Daisy and Zelda were from Southern states: Kentucky and Alabama, respectively. They were unrestrained and had a thirst for living a wealthy lifestyle. For Gatsby, he was driven to bootlegging in an effort to quench this insatiable desire by Daisy. Fitzgerald took to writing novels, which after a number of years of writing them myself I can tell you of their many similarities. The difference between writing novels and bootlegging is that one can get you thrown in jail, cause you to drink heavily, and make you become associated with criminals. The other is bootlegging.
It's easy to imagine Zelda and F. Scott flying down some New York back road in their coupe, off to partying another Jazz Age night away. Easy indeed. Fitzgerald can, after all, write a party scene like no one else in the literature. He had lots of practice in his life. In TGG the party scenes never stop, each one is bigger than the last; each gala trying to outdo the other. Still, Fitzgerald wrote even better ones in his short story collection Flappers and Philosophers that is not to be missed.
TGG is unsurpassed in capturing the Jazz Age, one of the most wild and reckless (and fun!) periods in American history. It could only have been captured in the way that it was in TGG by a great artist who had lived it in spades. In my view Gatsby is one of the most sympathetic characters in literature. Why is he vilified? He was just a guy, like millions before and after him, trying to impress his girl. He wanted her unconditional love and never got it. Ultimately she got him killed. Daisy. The one who was guilty of vehicular homicide and love suicide. Daisy. The one Fitzgerald magically levitated like the Zelda of his own life. (less)
The first book in my (new) New Adult trilogy "The Divine Dantes: Squirt Guns in Hades" is now published and ready to rock! This is the OTHER modern bo...moreThe first book in my (new) New Adult trilogy "The Divine Dantes: Squirt Guns in Hades" is now published and ready to rock! This is the OTHER modern book based on Dante's Inferno and it is totally different, I suspect.
A heartbroken young rocker. A bunny costume. Former girlfriend in Venice. A literary romp through Europe to get her back while meeting the characters of Dante’s The Divine Comedy in a messed-up, modern world. Enjoy!
The Annotated Alice contains both "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and the follow-up book "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There" by...moreThe Annotated Alice contains both "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and the follow-up book "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There" by Lewis Carroll (the penname of Reverend Charles Dodgson). "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" gives us a number of whimsical characters that we all know (the hookah-smoking caterpillar being my personal favorite) and manages to turn the machinations of a queen who wants to chop off everyone's head into comedy. There is no greater modern portrait of the queen than North Korea's Kim Jong Un. "Fire a nuke!" is his frequent phrase, though just like the queen, he never follows through with it.
Queen Kim Jong Un - Off with his head!
But back to The Annotated Alice. The later book is much better than the first because of how its underlying theme follows the movement of characters on a chess board. This likely the first time that has been accomplished in the literature, or at least to such a level. And for that alone Carroll deserves his place in history. Carroll even gives a nice foreword regarding the particular moves. Beside the underlying theme, what I liked most about the second book is the "Jabberwocky" poem. Its creation of words, introduction of a new literary monster, and rhythmical structure make it one of the finest things Carroll ever wrote. It has been tagged a "nonsensical poem," which makes no sense in itself. Carroll defines the words he has created in the story. The poem has a setting, characters and a monster. What is nonsensical about it? The creation of new words pushes languages forward in time and is vital to any language or it will die off like so many ancient languages have over time. If Carroll gave us nothing more than "Jabberwocky" he would have earned his rightful lofty place in our Hall of Literature.
Gormenghast is the second book in the fantastic Gormenghast trilogy. In it, Mervyn Peake has managed to make the sprawling, never ending...more Mervyn Peake
Gormenghast is the second book in the fantastic Gormenghast trilogy. In it, Mervyn Peake has managed to make the sprawling, never ending castle of gray and stone, one of the main characters. Death is everywhere, lurking in dark corners and worn stairs and crumbling archways. As with the first book in the trilogy, Peake doesn't let up and cements his trilogy as one of the great Gothic texts of the twentieth century.
Robert Smith and his band The Cure were heavily influenced by Gormenghast. "A Forest" and "The Drowning Man" draw on Gormenghast and the ghastly doings that happen within it ever moldering walls. A must listen and a must read!(less)
I have an inkling that C.S. Lewis could have (should have) given his readers much more in The Screwtape letters where Screwtape, a senior demon, write...moreI have an inkling that C.S. Lewis could have (should have) given his readers much more in The Screwtape letters where Screwtape, a senior demon, writes to his underling about undermining the Christianity of his "patient" on earth. I was disappointed to find that only the letters of Screwtape are included. There are no letters from the underling demon or narrative regarding the moves of the Christian patient. Rarely does the reader know what the patient is doing on earth. The Christian is, after all, the unseen, unknown protagonist of the novel. What work of fiction stands on solid legs under that guise?
Still, the premise of the The Screwtape Letters is imaginatively presented and unique in the literature on which I always place a premium. The voice of Screwtape is less evil than calculating and that is likely a realistic portrayal of the demon. In the end, the novel left me wanting more; not more of Screwtape but of the junior demon and his Christian patient. For these reasons I was left feeling that I received only half a novel, or just a third. It had so much potential.(less)
Lovecraft is often portrayed as the successor to Poe in the genre of short horror stories, but after reading Lovecraft's stories (and editing Edgar Al...moreLovecraft is often portrayed as the successor to Poe in the genre of short horror stories, but after reading Lovecraft's stories (and editing Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems), I can tell you that he is no Poe. Lovecraft is much less a pioneer than Poe in both character and Gothic atmosphere. Lovecraft gave us the Cthulhu Mythos of cosmic horrors, of ancient horrors lying dormant, of horrors that transcend space and time and dimensions. He holds his rightful place of high esteem in horror literature for this and must be remembered as a result.
Lovecraft studied Poe. He worshiped him and rightly so. He wrote "The Outsider" in apparent homage to Poe. But the similarities stop there. Let's not forget that Poe wrote 80-100 years before Lovecraft, too. Lovecraft also used the word "foetid" more than any other writer that has ever lived by a factor of ten, but that's another article. Plus, he looked downright creepy, too. Although Lovecraft was no Poe he gave us some great stories and these are my favorites:
"The Call of Cthulhu" "The Colour Out of Space" "The Dunwich Horror"(less)
On June 5, 2012, Ray Bradbury passed away. Long live Ray Bradbury.
To readers he will live on through his myriad short stories and a few novels that ar...moreOn June 5, 2012, Ray Bradbury passed away. Long live Ray Bradbury.
To readers he will live on through his myriad short stories and a few novels that are destined to be classics. The first is “Fahrenheit 451,” a nineteenth century classic that warns of the dangers in banning books and censorship. The second Bradbury classic is “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” with a title no less intriguing than the first.
In SWTWC Bradbury has given the world a fiendish tale reflected through the eyes of two young boys and their wonderment of a traveling circus. At times the metaphors, the similes, the personifications are overwritten; but mostly they sing across this dark field of a novel, soaring over flapping circus tents and the bizzarrie inside them. Though lesser known than the decade older “Fahrenheit 451,” SWTWC is a classic that will be read for decades to come.
Ray Bradbury isn’t dead. He lives on. Long live Ray Bradbury.(less)
The Hound of the Baskervilles brings Sherlock Holmes to his closest encounter with the supernatural. There are no vampires or ghosts, but a purported...moreThe Hound of the Baskervilles brings Sherlock Holmes to his closest encounter with the supernatural. There are no vampires or ghosts, but a purported hound from hell measures out a good dose of horror. The novella is also one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most Gothic tales, set along the mores of England and in an ancient mansion that borders them. What we have is Doyle at his best and his excellent character Sherlock Holmes--who is derived from Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin as I pointed out in Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems--does not disappoint with his sleuthing prowess, either. If Poe had written one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, this would have been it. A must read!(less)
Joseph Sheridan le Fanu is perhaps the best ghost story writer to emerge from the Victorian Age. His ghost classics include The Familiar, Devereux's D...moreJoseph Sheridan le Fanu is perhaps the best ghost story writer to emerge from the Victorian Age. His ghost classics include The Familiar, Devereux's Dream, Madam Crowl's Ghost, An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House and A History of a Tyrone Family, which was included in The Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849 that I edited. The Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849: A Classic Ghost Anthology
And let's not forget his devil tales: The Drunkard's Dream and The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh that are the foremost of their kind. Green Tea is one of his most anthologized tales along with A Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter, included in The Best Vampire Stories 1800-1849. The Best Vampire Stories 1800-1849: A Classic Vampire Anthology While Fanu's 1872 Carmilla is one of the greatest vampire stories of the nineteenth century.
So when Fanu penned his most ambitious work, set in an ancient mansion, the literary community took notice. In "Uncle Silas" Fanu has given us one of the best Gothic novels of the late nineteenth century. This was a time when corpses remained in the house for three days after death and laudanum, a cocaine derivative, was taken for the nerves. "Uncle Silas" has some of the best characters Fanu invented and is time well spent over a few wonderful stormy nights. (less)
I am a huge fan of The Cure. So when I learned of this book that was published over twenty years ago, I had to read it. Initially this was no easy tas...moreI am a huge fan of The Cure. So when I learned of this book that was published over twenty years ago, I had to read it. Initially this was no easy task because it was difficult to find. A used copy showed up on Amazon and I snatched it.
The book is physically large and filled with great photos of The Cure's early years. Contrary to other reviews I have seen, the book does contain color photos though they are outnumbered by the black-and-whites. For some reason the text is intent on establishing The Cure as a classic heavy drinking/drugging band. I am unsure why because most fans (myself included) love The Cure for their music and phenomenal lyrics. In this regard I would have liked to learn more about the songs, what inspired them and how they were written. Alas, it is not until we get to The Top album that much attention is paid to song meanings.A few snippets address Camus and Killing an Arab, but that is about it. There is nothing about the whole drama that unfolded between The Cure and Penelope Farmer, author of "Charlotte Sometimes," when the song of the same name was released. (I analyzed the lyrics vs the book on my Cure blog - http://disintegrationnation-cureblog.... ) There is not a word about "The Gormanghast Trilogy" and its impression on Robert Smith and a number of the band's songs. An entire section could have described the video shot in the insane asylum and what Robert found there. Sigh.
Many bad reviews of The Cure are included in the book and a quarter of a century later appear comical given the wild success of the band. A number of these clippings are so small that one needs a magnifying glass to read them. The exclamation point is used like it is going out of style. But these are small annoyances.
"Ten Imaginary Years" is a must for any fan of The Cure. Just the photos alone make it worthwhile, especially those of a beanpole Robert Smith. If you only know Just Like Heaven and Boys Don't Cry, however, you will likely be disappointed by this book. Now, if only The Cure would publish "Twenty Imaginary Years," or better yet "Thirty Imaginary Years!"(less)
This collection is named after the first story, which is a certain classic and is a must read. The last story is not a classic but still excellent. Th...moreThis collection is named after the first story, which is a certain classic and is a must read. The last story is not a classic but still excellent. The other stories sandwiched between these are fillers and pale in comparison. Save time and skip the middle of this book. But whatever you do, get your eyes on the title story and read it. (less)
In The Dark Tower Book II Sk introduces us to three (mostly) disagreeable characters. The worst is Odetta who reminds me of Jar Jar Binks of infamous...moreIn The Dark Tower Book II Sk introduces us to three (mostly) disagreeable characters. The worst is Odetta who reminds me of Jar Jar Binks of infamous Star Wars fame. That, of course, is not a compliment. Her racists remarks seem forced and gratuitous. And speaking of gratuitous, this book would have only been 40 pages instead of 400 if the swear words were cut out. How about more character development instead of creative cursing? In sum, I did not want to spend one book with these characters, let alone the next five DT books. For that reason I may never return. (less)
We can forgive the sappy title of "Flowers for Algernon" only because of the fantastic novel Daniel Keyes has given us. For the most part the characte...moreWe can forgive the sappy title of "Flowers for Algernon" only because of the fantastic novel Daniel Keyes has given us. For the most part the characters are robust and transformative. Apart from a different title, more showing and less telling would rocket this novel to greatness. Still, it is one that makes us laugh and cry. A must read in literary fiction circles and a novel that should be remembered for a long time.(less)
I’ve recently read “Charlotte Sometimes” if for no other reason than to compare The Cure lyrics of their classic song Charlotte Sometimes to parts of...moreI’ve recently read “Charlotte Sometimes” if for no other reason than to compare The Cure lyrics of their classic song Charlotte Sometimes to parts of the children’s fantasy. This is what I learned and it’s very interesting. ***Spoiler Alter***
All the faces, All the voices blur Change to one face, Change to one voice
First sentence: By bedtime all the faces, the voices, had blurred for Charlotte to one face, one voice.
Prepare yourself for bed
Second sentence: She prepared herself for bed . . . .
The light seems bright, And glares on white walls
Book 2nd paragraph, 6th sentence: The light seemed to bright for them, glaring on white walls . . . .
All the sounds of
Book 4th paragraph, 4th sentence: All the sounds about her . . . .
Charlotte sometimes Into the night with Charlotte sometimes
Book 5th paragraph, 1st sentence: She must have slept at last . . . .
Night after night she lay alone in bed Her eyes so open to the dark
Part II, chapter 4, 1st sentence: Night after night, Charlotte lay in bed with her eyes open to the dark . . . .
The streets all looked so strange They seemed so far away But Charlotte did not cry
Part II, chapter 4, paragraph 15, 1st sentence: The streets looked strange . . . .
The people seemed so close Playing expressionless games
Part II, chapter 2, paragraph 24, 3rd sentence: Charlotte, on the other hand, became absorbed, concentrating wholly on her fingers’ easing . . . .
The people seemed so close So many other names
Part II, chapter 2, paragraph 37: “Good night, Mr. Chisel Brown,” she said with almost a curtsy. “Good night, Mrs. Chisel Brown. Good night, Miss Agnes Chisel Brown. Good night, cat. Good night, dog . . ..”
When all the other people dance - Reference to school dance
Expressionless the trance - Reference to séance
So many different names - Reference to names of Brown family
The sounds all stay the same - Reference to airplane sounds overhead
On a different world - Past where Charlotte travels
On that bleak track (See the sun is gone again) The tears were pouring down her face She was crying and crying for a girl Who died so many years before
Part III, chapter 2, paragraph 53, 1st sentence: On that bleak track, the sun almost gone again, tears were pouring down her face. She was crying and crying for a girl for a girl who had died more than 40 years before.
Charlotte sometimes crying for herself
Part III, chapter 7, paragraph 13, last sentence: She began crying bitterly, could not stop . . . .
Charlotte sometimes dreams a wall around herself
Part III, chapter 7, paragraph 10, 1st sentence: She dreamed she stood below the picture, The Mark of the Beast, and there were soldiers all around her in red uniforms, stiff as toys but tall as men. There were dolls, too, like Miss Agnes’s doll, as tall as the soldiers . . .
Glass sealed and pretty
Part III, chapter 7, paragraph 15, 4th sentence: And when she looked at the wall at the picture glass, it looked quite empty, as if a mirror hung there, not a picture at all.
Two other songs by The Cure, Splintered in Her Head and The Empty World, are based on “Charlotte Sometimes.” You can check out my analysis of those lyrics on my blog: www.AndrewBarger.blogspot.com. Thanks! (less)