Jay Gatsby, you poor doomed bastard. You were ahead of your time. If you would have pulled your scam after the invention of reality TV, you would haveJay Gatsby, you poor doomed bastard. You were ahead of your time. If you would have pulled your scam after the invention of reality TV, you would have been a huge star on a show like The Bachelor and a dozen shameless Daisy-types would have thrown themselves at you.
Mass media and modern fame would have embraced the way you tried to push your way into a social circle you didn’t belong to in an effort to fulfill a fool’s dream as your entire existence became a lie and you desperately sought to rewrite history to an ending you wanted. You had a talent for it, Jay, but a modern PR expert would have made you bigger than Kate Gosselin. Your knack for self-promotion and over the top displays of wealth to try and buy respectability would have fit right in these days. I can just about see you on a red carpet with Paris Hilton.
And the ending would have been different. No aftermath for rich folks these days. Lawyers and pay-off money would have quietly settled the matter. No harm, no foul. But then you’d have realized how worthless Daisy really was at some point. I’m sure you couldn’t have dealt with that. So maybe it is better that your story happened in the Jazz Age where you could keep your illusions intact to the bitter end.
The greatest American novel? I don’t know if there is such an animal. But I think you'd have to include this one in the conversation....more
I needed a quick read because I stupidly forgot that the library would be closed yesterday for Veteran's Day. I'd exhausted my current supply, and I nI needed a quick read because I stupidly forgot that the library would be closed yesterday for Veteran's Day. I'd exhausted my current supply, and I needed a short term fix to hold me until I could get some new product today. So I grabbed Of Mice and Men off the bookshelf last night.
And I'm glad I did because I'd somehow remembered that this was a depressing book. How wrong I was! Oh, sure there were some tense moments like when you think Lennie will accidently hurt Curley's wife in the barn. What a relief when George and Candy come in at the last minute and stop anything bad from happening! And isn't it nice that the scare changes both Curley and his wife so that they have a much better marriage and new appreciation for each other.
Plus, it leads to the great moment when Curley is so grateful that he fronts George, Lennie and Candy the money to finally buy the ranch of their dreams. Oh, and that last scene with George and Candy on the porch of their new home while Lennie tends the rabbits brought a tear to my eye.
What's that you say? I got the ending wrong? No, I'm quite certain this is what happened. No! Be quiet! I can't hear you! LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA
There’s a story regarding the movie version of The Big Sleep that I love, and if it isn’t true, it should be. Supposedly, while working on adapting thThere’s a story regarding the movie version of The Big Sleep that I love, and if it isn’t true, it should be. Supposedly, while working on adapting the book the screenwriters (William Faulkner & Leigh Brackett) couldn’t figure out who killed one of the characters. So they called Raymond Chandler, and after thinking about it for a while, Chandler admitted that he’d completely forgotten to identify the killer of this person in the book and had no idea who did it. Since no one complained about the flaw in the book, the movie just repeated it and didn’t bother answering the question either.
And that’s the thing about The Big Sleep. The plot is overly complex, and it’s pretty clear that Chandler was making it up as he went. It’s still a crime classic because Philip Marlowe books weren’t about the plot, they were all about the character and the atmosphere.
Marlowe is hired by wealthy and dying General Sternwood to see what he can do about illegal gambling debts that his daughter Carmen has incurred. The general’s other daughter was married to a bootlegger named Rusty Regan that has disappeared, and the old man was fond of Rusty and misses his company. Everyone that Marlowe deals with assumes that he’s been hired to find Rusty, and the detective is soon caught up in a web of blackmail and several murders.
Chandler’s first book is a classic and would help redefine and reinvent the mystery genre. With Philip Marlowe, the prototype to the small time smart-ass private detective with an unbreakable code of honor would be established and it’s influenced countless fictional detectives since. Chandler’s no-nonsense, razor sharp cynical prose is still a delight to read....more
An operative from the Continental Detective Agency is summoned to Personville (a/k/a Poisonville) by a crusading newspaper publisher, but the man is mAn operative from the Continental Detective Agency is summoned to Personville (a/k/a Poisonville) by a crusading newspaper publisher, but the man is murdered before the Continental Op can meet with him. The Op quickly learns that Poisonville has a crime problem that would make Gotham City seem like Topeka by comparison. After getting a look at its seedy underbelly the Op browbeats the dead publisher’s wealthy father into paying him to clean up the town even though he’s a big part of the problem.
The Op starts working angles, playing crooks and crooked cops and every corrupt person he runs across against each other. Bodies start dropping and warfare between various factions looms as everyone is looking to move up the food chain. The Op exploits this in every way he can, but the increasing carnage starts to take a toll on him as he fears that he’s becoming as bad as the people he’s up against:
“This damned burg’s getting to me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood simple like the natives.”
Hammett was obviously doing something over the top here with a town where murder is seen as the first and best solution to almost every problem. While it’s got that pulpy kind of story, Hammett was also drawing on his experience as a former Pinkerton agent to paint in some of the details and give it just enough gritty reality to make it seem plausible. The plot he cooks up about a tough guy trying to bring down a corrupt towns by playing sides against each other was hugely influential in crime fiction and in the movies.* There’s also a line you have to admire on just about every page.
I don’t think this quite measure up to The Maltese Falcon, but this violent tale about one man trying to clean out a corrupt town earns it’s reputation as one of the best of the genre for a reason.
My copy of this was a paperback that I had picked up somewhere in my high school years. It was printed in the ‘50s and cost 60 cents per the cover priMy copy of this was a paperback that I had picked up somewhere in my high school years. It was printed in the ‘50s and cost 60 cents per the cover price. The pages were yellowed and an old dog of mine (dead 20 years now) chewed on a corner of it at one point, and his teeth marks are still on it. But I held onto that copy over the years through multiple changes of residence and numerous paperback dumps to used book stores and library donations. When I was trying to organize some of my stuff packed away in the basement, I found my battered old copy and felt the immediate need to read it again.
But I also decided to invest in a better edition. Frankly, I was scared the old one would fall apart, but I’ve carefully packed away that copy again. I’m thinking about putting it in my will that I should be buried with it. That gives you an idea of how highly I regard this book.
My new copy says on the cover that it’s the greatest war novel of all time. I’m not going to argue about that statement. I’ve often thought that this book should be required reading for any politician with the power to declare war. Only a madman or Dick Cheney could send troops into combat after reading this.
Paul is a 19 year old German soldier in World War I. Living though artillery shellings, gas attacks, trench warfare and seeing a generation of men blown to bits has made Paul old before his time. He has a soldier’s profound weariness and cynicism. Some of the more heartbreaking parts of this are when Paul and his fellow soldiers realize that they’ve been changed far too much to ever care about anything but survival again. Paul and the other soldiers try to find small comforts where they can since there’s almost no chance they’ll survive the war unscathed.
On the very short list of books that I think everyone should read at least once.
Trivial Side Note or No, I Don’t Work for the Kansas City Tourism Board
The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial is something I recommend to anybody who likes this book, or has any interest at all in these types of things. (My wife is usually not interested in war stories or memorabilia at all, but she found this museum fascinating.) It’s got tons of actual equipment from the war, interactive multi-media displays, and some truly eye-opening exhibits.
For example, there’s one room you walk into that is a recreation of what it looked like when a large shell hit a French farm house from the basement perspective. So you walk in and it feels like you’re in a giant crater with house debris above you. There are also recreations of the trenches and one battlefield set done below a wide screen documentary playing that gives a vivid and eerie feeling of what a hellish landscape was created by the war.
This book is a military style space opera with …..Wait! Where are you going? Get back here. I hadn’t got to the good part yet. Give me a second to expThis book is a military style space opera with …..Wait! Where are you going? Get back here. I hadn’t got to the good part yet. Give me a second to explain. Geez…
OK, so yes, there is an interstellar war with human troops in high-tech armored suits battling an alien enemy on distant planets. I know it sounds like another version of Starship Troopers or countless other bad genre sci-fi tales that copied it, but this one is different. Hell, when it was published in 1975 it won the Hugo, the Locus and the Nebula awards for best novel so you know it’s gotta be pretty decent.
William Mandella has been drafted as one of the first troops that will be sent to fight the Taurans. There are points in space called collapsers that are like wormholes that will transport your ship to a distant area in the universe instantly, and humanity is fighting the Taurans to use them. Both races like to build bases on nearby planets to establish control of the area around the collapsers.
Unfortunately, most of the planets out there aren’t anything like what we’re used to seeing in Star Wars. They’re usually cold lifeless rocks, and just training to use their suits in these environments is dangerous, let alone trying to fight an alien race they know little about. Mandella gets through training and manages to survive the first battle with the Taurans.
That’s where the book gets really interesting.
While the collapsers provide instant space travel, the ships still have to get to the nearest one and that means months of travel at near light-speed. It turns out that Einstein was right about relativity and traveling at near the speed of light makes time do some funky things. So while the troops on the ship feel like a journey only took months, years have passed for everyone else. When Mandella returns to Earth after his first battle, he’s only aged two years, but ten years have passed on Earth.
Since Mandella has to do more and more light speed journeys, centuries pass on Earth even though it’s only been a few years for him. Mandella will return from missions to find that humanity has changed so much that he has almost nothing in common with the rest of the people, and since he manages to survive several campaigns when almost everyone else dies, he’s quickly becoming one of the oldest men in the universe during his ten year (subjective) enlistment.
Another quirk of the time differences is that when the humans meet the Taurans, they can’t know if they’re battling alien troops who are centuries ahead or behind them in terms of military intelligence and weapons technology. So Mandella and his fellow soldiers may have a huge advantage or be severely outgunned. It just depends on if the Taurans they’re fighting started their light-speed journeys before or after they did.
As the war drags on for century after century, it is both sustaining and draining Earth’s economy. Mandella finds himself losing all his family, his friends and his lovers to war or age. He is increasingly out of touch with Earth and the rest of humanity. The army continues to promote him, mainly because his seniority has reached ridiculous levels after centuries of service.
One of the things that isolates Mandella is that homosexuality becomes the norm due to Earth overpopulation. In an ironic reversal of don’t ask-don’t tell, Mandella is the outcast that disgusts many of his fellow soldiers due to his unenlightened ways. Even the slang spoken by other soldiers becomes incomprehnsible to him. Increasingly lonely and out of sync with everyone around him with almost no chance of surviving his enlistment, Mandella nurses the hope that the war will someday end during the large gaps of time he skips as he travels to his assignments.
Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam vet, and this is an obvious allegory for that war with a weary soldier stuck in a seemingly endless conflict and realizing that even if he makes it home, he won’t fit in to the world he left. While Haldeman’s science and military background gives the book its detail and depth, it’s the tragedy of Mandella’s predicament that makes it a sci-fi classic. ...more
”The only really important thing that I came in to tell you was that life is very monotonous. Things happen the same way over and over again. I think”The only really important thing that I came in to tell you was that life is very monotonous. Things happen the same way over and over again. I think it’s more monotonous in this part of the country than it is other places, but I don’t really know that – it may be monotonous everywhere. I’m sick of it myself. Everything gets old if you do it often enough.”
Set during the early 1950s in the small Texas town of Thalia, the story revolves around Sonny, an independent high school senior who plays football, hangs out at the pool hall and goes to the movies at the town’s only theater. Sonny’s best friend Duane is dating Jacy, the local rich girl, and Sonny harbors his own secret and guilty crush on her. As their last year of school plays out, Sonny is often disinterested and bored with the predictable routines of the people he’s known his whole life, but he begins to learn that many of them have depths he never suspected.
McMurtry does an excellent job of immersing the reader in the kind of ennui that can come with living in a small town where it seems that nothing ever happens, and the occasional shocking event is smoothed over by the soothing blanket of the mundane. Even the smarter characters like Jacy’s mother Lois and Sam, the owner of the pool hall, seem to have piled up the weight of their regrets to the point where they are unable to break free of the lack of inertia that keeps them all rooted in Thalia.
This is a terrific short novel and one of my favorite McMurtry’s. However, this reread has presented me with a dilemma. I’ve read the sequel Texasville before, but it’s been a while and I think I generally liked it. I didn’t realize that there are three more books after that. I’m tempted to read them all, but McMurtry has burned me before with the sub-par sequels and prequels to the excellent Lonesome Dove. I'm on the fence as to whether I should give them a chance or not....more
Talk about false advertising. I read this thinking it was a manual for postal employees that I could use to study for civil service exam. But it was jTalk about false advertising. I read this thinking it was a manual for postal employees that I could use to study for civil service exam. But it was just a story about some guy who starts sleeping with another man’s wife and then they decide to kill the husband. It was a pretty good book, but I flunked the test when there weren’t any questions about plotting a homicide. Oh, and that Kevin Costner movie didn’t help either....more