The Book Description: What Maisie Knew (1897) represents one of James's finest reflections on the rites of paBook Circle Reads 43
Rating: 3.75* of five
The Book Description: What Maisie Knew (1897) represents one of James's finest reflections on the rites of passage from wonder to knowledge, and the question of their finality. The child of violently divorced parents, Maisie Farange opens her eyes on a distinctly modern world. Mothers and fathers keep changing their partners and names, while she herself becomes the pretext for all sorts of adult sexual intrigue.
In this classic tale of the death of childhood, there is a savage comedy that owes much to Dickens. But for his portrayal of the child's capacity for intelligent wonder, James summons all the subtlety he devotes elsewhere to his most celebrated adult protagonists. Neglected and exploited by everyone around her, Maisie inspires James to dwell with extraordinary acuteness on the things that may pass between adult and child. In addition to a new introduction, this edition of the novel offers particularly detailed notes, bibliography, and a list of variant readings.
My Review: Ida and Beale Farange, Maisie's parents, resemble Winter and Dick Derus, my own parents, very very closely. When I read this book in 1996, I was smacked in the teeth by the eerie similarities between the parenting styles of the adults. I'm still a widge unnerved by it. I am completely certain my father's never read the book since I've never ever seen or heard tell of him reading a novel, and I'm pretty confident that my mother wouldn't have read it, being as she was a thoroughgoing anti-Victorian in her reading preferences.
But it's as if they absorbed it from the aether and used it as a how-to manual. Poor Maisie!
My opinion of the book, then, is strongly colored by the coincidence of its resemblance to my own life. I rate it and respond to it based on that resonance; but that would, all other things being equal, put this much closer to five stars than I rate it here.
I've cut a star off because I, unlike most of the professional critics who have discussed the book, find the long ending section set in Maisie's teenaged years (or so we all think, it's never made explicit) unconvincing and a lot too long to be anything by hamfistedly didactic and tendentious. Maisie faces a decision that no child should have to face and she handles it with an aplomb that I found convincing...for a while...because it was so clearly prefigured in the adults who surrounded her behaving so badly. But James was a moralist, and he grafted his Moral Point onto the logical, inevitable ruminations Maisie goes through to make her horrible decision, and ends up crashing the narrative car into the brick wall of Conviction.
I do so hate that.
As an unrelated aside, there's a movie version...the first ever, apparently...featuring the utterly gorgeous Alexander Skarsgard and the equally toothsome Julianne Moore! Yippee doodles!...more
BkC51) SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence: The worst, most horrendously offensively overrated piece of crap I've read in my life.
YRating: 0.125* of five
BkC51) SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence: The worst, most horrendously offensively overrated piece of crap I've read in my life.
Yeup. Since I'm in a real bitch-slappin' mood, here goes.
The Book Report: Sensitive, aesthetic nebbish gets born to rough miner and his neurasthenic dishcloth of a wife. She falls in love with her progeny and tries to Save Him From Being Like His Father, which clearly is a fate worse than death. So, lady, if you didn't like the guy, why didn't you just become a prostitute like all the other women too dumb to teach did in the 19th century?
Things drone tediously on, some vaguely coherent sentences pass before one's eyes, the end and not a moment too soon.
My Review: Listen. DH Lawrence couldn't write his way out of a wet paper bag. The reason his stuff is known at all today is the scene in Lady Chatterly's Lover where the gamekeeper bangs her from behind. Oh, and those two dudes wrestling naked in front of the fireplace in Women in Love.
Believe me when I tell you, those are *the* highlights of the man's ouevre. The hero of this book, Paul MOREL, is named after a bloody MUSHROOM! He's as soft and ishy and vaguely dirty-smelling as a mushroom, too.
Lawrence was one of those lads I'd've beaten the snot out of in grade school, just because he was gross. Weedy and moist are the two words that leap forcefully to mind when I contemplate his sorry visage, which exercise in masochistic knowledge-seeking I do not urge upon you.
If you, for some reason, liked this tedious, crapulous drivel, then goody good good, but if we're friends, I urge you not to communicate your admiration to me. It will not do good things for our relationship. I more easily forgive Hemingwayism than affection for this.
Rating: 3.5* of five, because I love the movie more
The Publisher Says: Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett's archetypally tough San FrancBook Circle Reads 36
Rating: 3.5* of five, because I love the movie more
The Publisher Says: Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett's archetypally tough San Francisco detective, is more noir than L.A. Confidential and more vulnerable than Raymond Chandler's Marlowe. In The Maltese Falcon, the best known of Hammett's Sam Spade novels (including The Dain Curse and The Glass Key), Spade is tough enough to bluff the toughest thugs and hold off the police, risking his reputation when a beautiful woman begs for his help, while knowing that betrayal may deal him a new hand in the next moment. Spade's partner is murdered on a stakeout; the cops blame him for the killing; a beautiful redhead with a heartbreaking story appears and disappears; grotesque villains demand a payoff he can't provide; and everyone wants a fabulously valuable gold statuette of a falcon, created as tribute for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. Who has it? And what will it take to get it back? Spade's solution is as complicated as the motives of the seekers assembled in his hotel room, but the truth can be a cold comfort indeed. Spade is bigger (and blonder) in the book than in the movie, and his Mephistophelean countenance is by turns seductive and volcanic. Sam knows how to fight, whom to call, how to rifle drawers and secrets without leaving a trace, and just the right way to call a woman "Angel" and convince her that she is. He is the quintessence of intelligent cool, with a wise guy's perfect pitch. If you only know the movie, read the book. If you're riveted by Chinatown or wonder where Robert B. Parker's Spenser gets his comebacks, read the master. --Barbara Schlieper
My Review: There's nothing second-best about this book, no indeed not. It's a fine, solid book, one with a lot of good story packed into some very well-chosen words.
But the film, well now, sometimes perfection comes in unexpected places. Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet! What a pair of second-raters! And how perfectly they meshed, and then add Peter Lorre, another second-rater, and the Holy Trinity couldn't have done better work with the tale being told here. It was a super retelling of the basic story.
Wisecracks that, on the page, made me smile and even giggle, came out of Bogart's mouth, and Lorre's, and even Greenstreet's, at a wonderful pace and were there and gone...just like a wisecrack should be. Not to put down the book by any means! It's a fun read, and it's a well-made novel, and it's a classic noir for a reason.
But for me, only for me, I want the film to be my memory of this story.
Rating: 4* of five
The Publisher Says: "My name is David Brandstetter. I'm a claims investigator for the Medallion Life Insurance Company." He handed her a card. She didn't glance at it. "I'm looking for Peter Oats," he said.
"He's not here. I wish he were. Maybe you can help me. The police don't seem to care."
She was April Stannard. Her lover, Peter's father, had died. April believed he'd been murdered.
Dave Brandstetter's investigation takes him through the rare-book world, to backstage at a community theatre, to the home of a world-famous television performer. Along the way, Dave soon comes to agree with April.
My Review: Small-town California has a lot of atmosphere, according to Hansen; I don't remember it that way, but I was young and miserable, so I'll go with the man who found there something that led to this description of an old mill made into a theater:
The waterwheel was twice a man’s height, wider than a man’s two stretched arms. The timbers, braced and bolted with rusty iron were heavy, hand-hewn, swollen with a century of wet. Moss bearded the paddles, which dripped as they rose. The sounds were good. Wooden stutter like children running down a hall at the end of school. Grudging axle thud like the heartbeat of a strong old man.
It's with this book, second in the series, that Hansen's chops come fully into play. He's here to wow you, and he's got the story to keep you sitting right there flipping pages. April, the bereaved, is Rita Hayworth in my mind; Oates, the dead guy, looks like John Garfield; Peter, the son and heir, is Cabaret-era Michael York; and so on and so on. (Eve, Oates' ex-wife, is Barbara Stanwyck.) I do this a lot, cast the perfect movie cast as I read along. But this time it felt as if it was all done for me. Oates' murderer, when revealed, was a surprise to me even though this was a re-read. And the actor I'd put in the role was perfect...no testament to my skills, just an example of how beautifully Hansen draws his characters.
Dave's got a man, too...how amazing for the 1970s! I so wish this had been a TV series. Magnum PI only gay! *sigh* What might have been....
The Book Report: Meg Murry's daddy left home unexpectedly and without saying goodbye. The adored parent left behind an adolescent daRating: 4* of five
The Book Report: Meg Murry's daddy left home unexpectedly and without saying goodbye. The adored parent left behind an adolescent daughter, three sons, and a beautiful and smart wife. Meg cannot make herself get used to his absence and can't even pretend that she's not hurt by the town's opinion that he ran off leaving her mother. This, plus braces, wildly curly hair, an intelligence far greater than her contemporaries', and glasses, isolate the girl with her even weirder little brother Charles Wallace against their normal brothers and the rest of the world.
In time-honored tradition, these misfits are actually being prepared to fight the ultimate battle of Good Versus Evil, no pressure on the children no no no, and save their Daddy, not like it's gettin' piled even higher oh no! One fine day, Meg and Charles Wallace are called to their destiny by Mrs Which, Mrs Who, and Mrs Whatsit, the eccentric old ladies who prove to be avatars of interdimensional good beings with the agenda of making the Universe safe for goodness and happiness again.
The children are joined by fellow misfit Calvin, a popular boy athlete in their town whose hidden depths have tormented him all his life, in the quest to make the evil entity, a disembodied brain called "IT," that slowly takes over planets and compels all life thereon to submit to being in a group mind, erasing individuality and leaching away happiness.
This is a YA novel, so all turns out well, with Mr. Murry coming home and the children being brought home all safe and sound.
My Review: But how they get home is very interesting: They travel via tesseract, a geometric figure that extends into a fifth dimension beyond spacetime. Mr. and Mrs. Murry have been researching this in their roles as scientists, and Mr. Murry has used the tesseract to get to the planet from which he's rescued. The Mrs Who/Which/Whatsit interdimensional beings use the tesseract to "tesser" or wrinkle the fabric of spacetime to get the children there as well.
Fascinating stuff for a Christian housewife to be writing about in 1960-1961! And make no mistake, the book is a very Christianity-infested Message about the perils of brains without hearts leading to Communistic group-think. Mrs. Murry, a capable scientist, stays home with the kiddos and makes dinner over Bunsen burners so she can keep working while she stays home to be a wife and mom. Ew.
And Meg, poor lamb, worries that she's not pretty enough because she needs braces and glasses and she's not all gorgeous like her mom is. Then Calvin, a popular boy and an athlete, shows hidden depths and falls for little Meg. So bells ring, doves coo, and hands are held, so all is well. Ew.
But it ain't Twilight, so I'm good with it. In fact, because I first read it before I was ten, I'm good with all of it. The stiff, unrealistic dialogue, the socially regressive and reprehensible messages, the religiosity...all get a benign half-smile and an indulgent wink.
Because sometimes you just need to know that someone out there believes that good CAN triumph over evil....more
The Book Description: Horace Liveright was a man of puzzling contradictions - a self-professed socialist andBook Circle Reads 57
Rating: 3.25* of five
The Book Description: Horace Liveright was a man of puzzling contradictions - a self-professed socialist and a high-living Wall Street gambler, a deeply caring father and a compulsive philanderer. It was Liveright who first thought of books as front-page news and invented the art of ballyhoo to publicize them. A risk-taker in publishing as well as on Wall Street, Liveright had much to do with the creation of the modern American literary canon. Besides Pound's work, Liveright's firm, Boni and Liveright, brought out T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, all of Eugene O'Neill's plays, Hemingway's In Our Time, Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Faulkner's Soldiers' Pay, and Hart Crane's The Bridge. Daring the fury of the antivice societies, Liveright published Sigmund Freud and Bertrand Russell. He relished bringing out books that were deemed obscene or affronts to common decency. Out of all this came seven Nobel Prize-winning authors. Liveright was also the cofounder of the Modern Library.
My Review: A very very interesting man, Liveright, and one whose efforts to make books into Events were so successful that he ended up sowing the seeds of the current crisis in traditional publishing. Oh well, there once lived a man who invented both Freon gas and tetraethyl lead additive for gasoline...unintended consequences abound in this life.
Liveright had one of those lives: Son of Jewish immigrants, he clawed his way to the top of the Wall Street bond market, married the daughter of a superrich industrialist, went all cultural by founding a publishing company and producing Broadway plays, and ended up broke, divorced, and alone before dying at forty-nine.
Dardis tries his best to ride herd on this gigantic life, but from beyond the grave Liveright refuses to be tidied up and made to make sense. I liked the fact that Dardis allowed the organic connections of materials to take precedence over strict chronology; but that’s also the weakest point of the book. It’s hard to retain all the details of the mess Liveright made of the different parts of his life as they come up at so many odd moments.
But all in all, I found this an exhilarating look at a man unjustly underknown today. What a ride he rode! And died before it all got old, and he did. Massive fun.
The Publisher Says: Vic Wilcox, a self-made man and managing director of an engineering firm. has little regard forRating: one disgusted star of five
The Publisher Says: Vic Wilcox, a self-made man and managing director of an engineering firm. has little regard for academics, and even less for feminists. So when Robyn Penrose, a trendy leftist teacher, is assigned to "shadow" Vic under a goverment program created to foster mutual understanding between town and gown, the hilarious collusion of lifestyles and ideologies that ensues seems unlikely to foster anything besides mutual antipathy. But in the course of a bumpy year, both parties make some surprising discoveries about each other's worlds--and about themselves.
My Review: Annoying git meets termagant. They hate each other, they...oh what's the difference, everyone knows what happens, and frankly who the hell cares? I detested this book, I thought the author's pseudo-arch (how's that for a horrid combination?) faux Firbank twaddle was the literary equivalent of thorazine.
Do not purchase. If given as a gift, get the fireplace tongs and remove it from your living environment. DO NOT BURN as the miasma could prove lethal to small children.
The Publisher Says: Prosperous and socially prominent, George Babbitt appears to have everything. But when a perBook Circle Reads 55
Rating: 4* of five
The Publisher Says: Prosperous and socially prominent, George Babbitt appears to have everything. But when a personal crisis forces the middle-aged real estate agent to reexamine his life, Babbitt mounts a rebellion that jeopardizes everything he values. Widely considered Sinclair Lewis' greatest novel, this satire remains an ever-relevant tale of an individual caught in the machinery of modern life.
An even better sales copy is on the Buns and Nubile edition's jacket: In the small midwestern city of Zenith, George Babbitt seems to have it all: a successful real-estate business, a devoted wife, three children, and a house with all the modern conveniences. Yet, dissatisfied and lonely, he’s begun to question the conformity, consumerism, and competitiveness of his conservative, and ultimately cultureless middle-class community. His despairing sense that something, many things are missing from his life leads him into a flirtation with liberal politics and a fling with an attractive and seemingly "bohemian” widow. But he soon finds that his attempts at rebellion may cost more than he is willing to pay.
The title of Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 satire on American materialism added a new word to our vocabulary. "Babbittry” has come to stand for all that’s wrong with a world where the pursuit of happiness means the procurement of things—a world that substitutes "stuff” for "soul.” Some twenty years after Babbitt’s initial success, critics called Lewis dated and his fiction old-fashioned. But these judgments have come to seem like wishful thinking. With Babbitry evident all around us, the novel is more relevant than ever.
My Review: This was a book circle read from the 1990s. That wasn't my first time reading the book, and it's well worth re-reading even now.
Poor Babbitt, saddled with that horrible word as an epitaph! Even in Auntie Mame, the most effervescent and light-hearted of romps, Mame excoriates Patrick by by calling him a "beastly, Babbitty snob." And yes, George starts out that way, Babbitty and shallow and consumerist and uncultured and jingoistic. He flirts with enlightenment, though, lest we forget! He grows and changes in his inner life throughout the novel! The implication of calling someone Babbitty or referring to cutural Babbittry presupposes they can't or won't change, and that's what the novel is about! My mother, whose copy I read, told me it was about how middle-aged men go crazy and run off the rails.
But in this specific day and time, this horrible moment when CEOs make over 1000 times what the people who do the work earn, this book is a must-read.
The Publisher Says: Today universally recognized as a landmark in American literature, Elmer Gantry scandalized readers wheBkC 56
Rating: 4.25* of five
The Publisher Says: Today universally recognized as a landmark in American literature, Elmer Gantry scandalized readers when it was first published, causing Sinclair Lewis to be "invited" to a jail cell in New Hampshire and to his own lynching in Virginia. His portrait of a golden-tongued evangelist who rises to power within his church - a saver of souls who lives a life of hypocrisy, sensuality, and ruthless self-indulgence - is also the record of a period, a reign of grotesque vulgarity, which but for Lewis would have left no record of itself. Elmer Gantry has been called the greatest, most vital, and most penetrating study of hypocrisy that has been written since Voltaire.
My Review: I grew up in a single-parent household. My mother was a pedophile, and I was her philed pedo. She was also the most thunderational kind of christian nutball, the most conservative kind of social fascist conformist, and a chilly, appearance-obsessed harpy. Unless you were a stranger, when she presented as a pious, charming, lovely woman.
So Elmer Gantry was, for me, a documentary not a novel. I read it at maybe fifteen or so, just after I read Babbitt, and was astounded to read my own experiences of the asshole religiosifiers who surrounded me in a book over fifty years old! I hated them, powerfully and corrosively, then as now, and there was for me a giant pouring of balm over my outraged soul as I read this book: These people aren't the first! These people didn't invent this idiocy! If Lewis escaped to tell about it, so can I!
The rise of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and that ignorant ilk is not new, ladies and gents, it's happened before. This novel will show you that this kind of perverted conservative religious stupidity has always been with us, and its basic small-souled evil isn't unique to our times either.
Depending on my mood, that's either a comfort or a misery. But it always makes me feel less alone, less like I'm missing something and misinterpreting other things, to read this classic exposé of the long-standing culture of ignorant and evil exploitive "salvation artists."