I didn't find the subject matter or main character particularly engaging, but Janet Malcolm could make a trip to the tag agency interesting to me. ThiI didn't find the subject matter or main character particularly engaging, but Janet Malcolm could make a trip to the tag agency interesting to me. This is the story of defense attorney Sheila McGough, who in the 1980s gets so caught up in rabid defense of her con artist client that she ends up being implicated in one of his schemes, convicted of a felony, going to prison, and being disbarred. Malcolm finds McGough a compelling if offputting figure, but I never did. Sheila is dull and sounds like a person who in today's parlance would be described as "on the spectrum": doggedly miopic, strangely related socially, and devoted to her passion (her defense practice) in a way that's hard for most others to understand. She's more a pathetic and frustrating than sympathetic character, which is sort of the point of the book and that's a hard thing to pull off. Fortunately Malcolm is a fabulous writer, and the book isn't just about McGough but also her infinitely more colorful deceased con man client and the problematic relationship between truth, narrative, and the law. Really this book just made me want to read more Janet Malcolm. I think I'll go try to scrounge up some right now....more
Okay, it's partly my anachronistic reading as a twenty-first century feminist, but it's also the strain of being over eight hundred pages long when itOkay, it's partly my anachronistic reading as a twenty-first century feminist, but it's also the strain of being over eight hundred pages long when it only could support around two-thirds that length: I loved this book at the halfway mark, and kind of resented it by the end.
Initially this struck me, like many nineteenth-century British novels, as a black comedy about a crisis created by the extremely unequal status of men and women, whose individual personal relationships were supposed to form the basis of society. Mr and Mrs Trevelyan are a young married couple blessed with all that sweetly smiling Fortune can offer, until a petty jealousy and mutual headstrong refusals to give ground or admit fault unravel the marriage and ultimately destroy their lives. Meanwhile, there is a constellation of unmarried young lady characters and their beaus whose romances start off fun but then are resolved rather early on, leaving us with hundreds of pages of treacly excitement about inevitable and uninteresting weddings to come... zzzz.
So while this book started very strong, ultimately I was disappointed and then relieved when it finally ended. The main problem was that there was way too much endless rehashing and repetition to no purpose at all: the same topics were considered and reconsidered and discussed by the characters so much it seemed Trollope must have been paid by the word -- or the page. And while I'm certainly no expert on the nineteenth-century British novel, I still couldn't help comparing Trollope unfavorably to other major writers: If Thackeray weren't so viciously funny, if Austen weren't such an astute creator of complex, breathing characters, if Dickens weren't such a fierce social critic and weren't very good at making up funny names... Based on this book, I must say Trollope's most stunning talent, the place he surpasses all his peers, is in his incredible, wonderful, inimitable titles. You can't do much better than He Knew He Was Right, unless it's with Can You Forgive Her? (dare we even mention perhaps THE greatest title in Western literature, The Way We Live Now??), and in my view no one has.
Okay but so, while by the end I was tired of the worn material that I didn't think stood up to the mileage and I'd burned out on the simpering heroines and long-anticipated, predicable resolution of some but not all the loose ends... the fact remains that I haven't read any books at all in a very long time because an MFA program and the demands of motherhood seem to have destroyed my capacity to engage with fiction. Yet I sat down happily with this book whenever I had the chance and tore through it, which hasn't happened to me with anything in a very long time and I mostly enjoyed and am grateful for it. Initially I found the central Trevelyan conflict interesting but those two characters the most flat and dull, and I was very interested in the fates and doings of all the novel's many single ladies, who seemed more interesting and more carefully drawn; by the end, that feeling had reversed and I'd lost interest in those other characters but was finally impressed by Trollope's rather nuanced depiction of one man's mental illness. So yes, his tiresome efforts at satire and much else in this novel did drag on way too long, but while it didn't live up to its initial promise on the whole I enjoyed this book and do plan to give Trollope another try....more
My ardor for this amazing book really cooled once I noticed the swastika. Am I too sensitive? Is it weird that I more or less accepted the kangaroo kiMy ardor for this amazing book really cooled once I noticed the swastika. Am I too sensitive? Is it weird that I more or less accepted the kangaroo kidnapping a lady koala with a kalashnikov, but I draw the line at Nazi symbols...? In any case, this book is incredible and my toddler loves it, but I never could quite enjoy it the same way again and there are a lot of other children's books out there that don't have hidden swastikas and who knows what else in them....more
I read this in a day, which shouldn't be a big deal -- it's short -- but actually kind of is since lately I haven't been reading at all. Everything isI read this in a day, which shouldn't be a big deal -- it's short -- but actually kind of is since lately I haven't been reading at all. Everything is boring (especially Moby Dick, though that's a different review), except -- thankfully -- this book!
I'm a little hesitant to describe it because a lot of things about this book kind of make it sound like it sucks. It's about a hapless, handsome ne'er-do-well with a substance abuse problem hanging around various New Orleans dive bars in 2007, and features a) a lot of dream sequences, b) a crusty old jazz musician, c) a vet with PTSD, d) almost randomly lurid and/or tragic plot turns, and e) several other features that sound extremely terrible that I won't enumerate here because the point is that all these things somehow worked and I thought this book was really good. Apparently the author is a Victorianist academic, and while I was reading it for awhile I was like, huh? But then it actually kind of seems to get very gothic. Or gets very gothic for a pseudo-modernist nod-to-Chandler detective novel -- I guess Poe is supposed to have started all that...? Jesus, I'm certainly not a Victorianist or an academic, what do I know. Anyway, if you are partial to nineteenth-century and mid-twentieth century detective/horror novels that don't take themselves too seriously to be fun, I think chances are fair you'll like this, because I like that stuff and while this book wasn't obviously like it there might have been some connections there.
I have almost never been to New Orleans, and the one time I was there was comic bookishly superficial, though slightly epic too -- I got into town around 8pm on December 31st, 1999, turned twenty-one at midnight, and left the next morning around eleven to drive back to California. But my memorable New Orleans association is actually of a bartender at the old Jockey Club in Northeast Portland, whose large tattoo of Bob Barker's face counterintuitively made him seem very wise. We were day-drinking in there one day, probably around 2002, and he told a story about going on vacation to New Orleans and somehow getting stuck there... for years. There was a woman. There was debauchery. There were all kinds of dreadful things. The city was an enchanting and dangerous morass, a sort of mossy, gorgeous land of lotus eaters where innocent travelers could get waylaid and caught up, never to return. That bartender's description, which was infinitely better than what I just summarized here, caught my imagination and left me scared ever to visit New Orleans -- I haven't since. I worried that if I ever went there for a weekend I'd get trapped in a drunken haze and that years would drip by while I slowly laid waste to my liver among the ruins of cemeteries and strippers.
And this was the New Orleans I recognized in the gorgeously titled We Dream of Water, which avoids the most obvious cliches of its city and subjects. Pretty much everything that came up made me nervous -- the fuckup protagonist, the punk rock love interest, the black musician, post-Katrina New Orleans in general, the murder mysteries, etc. -- because they all seemed inevitably destined to disintegrate into the most banal cliche. But they didn't, and I stayed totally engaged, entertained, and more than reasonably surprised all throughout.
Really this is the most I've enjoyed a contemporary novel for awhile. I need to get better about seeking out more small-press stuff that wasn't written by a very commercial author or one with an MFA. This just felt fresher and more interesting to me than a lot of other books I've tried to get into, and though I have no idea if it'd appeal so much to anyone else here I'd be very interested to know....more
I get a lot of board books out of the library for my one-year-old and most of them are just okay; this is the first one that I'm definitely going to bI get a lot of board books out of the library for my one-year-old and most of them are just okay; this is the first one that I'm definitely going to buy a copy of for us to keep. The art is ridiculously gorgeous and I know I'll never get tired of looking at these illustrations. My kid's too young to get the guessing game, in which you see an eye through a hole and read a clue before turning the page to reveal the whole animal, but it's a great use of cutaways and of the board book format, and she loves to flip through it by herself and is fascinated by the holes in the pages. I think she likes the pictures too, though, well, who knows.
I had no idea that once I had this baby I'd be reading about and looking at pictures of animals pretty much constantly, pointing at various pictures of lions and roaring at least three times a day with a strange sense of urgency and no letup in sight. It's like we're preparing our children for some kind of wildlife safari in which they'll need to interact with giraffes and elephants and must be drilled daily on the characteristics of all the most famous African beasts, which is so weird because I'm pretty sure once they're, like, five, they'll never need to think about wild animals again for the rest of their lives... But even in the context of my being a little sick of animal books, this one is awesome and I'm going to look into the sequels -- I Spy Under the Sea and I Spy Pets -- to see if they're as good and as beautiful as I Spy....more
Man I wish TR would suddenly lurch back to life and stride manfully into this GOP clusterfuck that's melting poor America's brain.
So far this book isMan I wish TR would suddenly lurch back to life and stride manfully into this GOP clusterfuck that's melting poor America's brain.
So far this book is awesome! And since I'm utterly ignorant and don't know what happened in this country between about 1890 and 1929 it's especially fun, since I have no clue what will happen next... I hope they get that Nicaragua Canal built without too much trouble....more
This book is vile propaganda for living a dull and undistinguished yet cozy domestic life instead of doing something ambitious, and as a person who chThis book is vile propaganda for living a dull and undistinguished yet cozy domestic life instead of doing something ambitious, and as a person who chose option (a) I did not fail to appreciate that.
Also, not without its flaws but pretty ridiculously entertaining, at least for me; I didn't really put it down until I was done, and it's not short. A sentimental caper novel, basically, with fun stuff like extreme skiing and Wall Street villainy, and some memorably lovely scenes set in Shanghai and Alaska that are still clear in my mind weeks later. I picture the ideal audience for this book being an overgrown, middle-aged bro, but that's not me (well, not the bro part) and I was definitely entertained....more
There's this line in Bull Durham where Kevin Costner's character tells Tim Robbins's character, "You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reacheThere's this line in Bull Durham where Kevin Costner's character tells Tim Robbins's character, "You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt." A lot of the point of this movie is that while the young pitcher has been blessed with incredible talent (and is also, being played by baby Tim Robbins, very sexy), it's the seasoned but mediocre career minor league journeyman Crash Davis who's the leading man with the depth (and sexiness, despite being played by Kevin Costner who is, outside of this role, completely gross and unsexy) to fascinate Susan Sarandon's incomparable Annie Savoy. In the movie Ebby Calvin LaLoosh is this kind of silly dude whose right arm is a thunderbolt, and that talent is fascinating but it doesn't mean he is.
I thought about that a lot while reading this book. You don't pick up Slash because Slash is a compelling, interesting guy who gives amazing speeches about what he believes; you pick it up to find out what it was like to be lead guitarist in the greatest American rock 'n' roll band of all time!
The short answer is, it was pretty much exactly how you would guess. Really nothing unexpected here: Slash loves pet snakes, dope, and pussy (not necessarily in that order), and being a rock star never faces any shortage of the three, nor of guitars or booze, his other two totally unsurprising great loves.
This is a book you can definitely judge by its cover. It's exactly as stupid as its tagline -- "It seems Excessive... but That Doesn't Mean It Didn't Happen" (??) -- but also kind of as awesome as its photo of the iconic Slash. I mean, I did read all 458 pages, even though a lot of them were like this:
One night when [my girlfriend] Renee and I were at [manager Alan Niven's] house with him and his wife Camilla, Alan said something really inappropriate to Renee. I don't remember what it was exactly, but it was creepy enough that we left immediately. I never forgot it, and I won't repeat it here (p. 321).
There are also a lot of pages mostly taken up by large, bold quotations that seem to be selected from the text to pump up or titillate thirteen-year-old boys, but were there thirteen-year-old boys in 2007 who had even heard of Slash? I feel like I'm way more the demographic. (A sampling of the giant bold excerpts: "The act of shooting up always turned me on"; "I was pissed off at myself for having died"; "The sight of a guitar still turns me on"; "There was no way in hell that I was going to county with fingernail polish on"; "I could feel it in my loins that she was having a hard look" [okay, that last one is pretty awesome, not just because of the use of the word "loins" but because the "she" is Elizabeth Taylor.])
The main problem with this book is that it doesn't seem to have been written by a professional writer or looked at by a professional editor. This would be way less of an issue if he'd gone with an actual ghost, rather than a music journalist who shared the writing credit, because then I could've indulged the conceit that Slash actually somehow wrote the thing by himself. As it is, I guess I had unrealistic expectations and was distracted by being sad because this book could've been so much better than it was.
The biggest issue is that like most of us, Slash (and evidently, Anthony Bozza, in an apparent folie à deux) has no concept of what is interesting or boring about his own life, so he spends page after page describing tedious relationships with girlfriends and telling generic junkie war stories, and then he'll have one awesome throwaway sentence about how smoking crack with Dave Mustaine nearly led to him joining Megadeth, or he'll casually bring up how he used to date tragic eighties porn superstar Savannah and give a quick debauchery anecdote before rushing along to other way more boring things. I'm in no position to complain that there's only one dismissive paragraph about what Slash sees as the non-issue of being a half-black rock guitarist, though I would've loved to have had him give his take on the infamously racist "One in a Million" lyrics, and at least a couple more details on what's summarized just as "a fight" with the guy from W.A.S.P. after the guy announced that "n-s shouldn't play guitar." Basically, whenever you want more details about something, it's just glossed over, and whenever you could really give less of a shit, you're going to learn a lot more than anyone ever wanted to know: Where was Slash during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake? Home in bed! Want to hear all the details? Too bad, you're going to! And then most of the anecdotes that seem like they should be good aren't told very well and come off weirdly flat, like the one in which teenage Slash sneaks into an LA club dressed up (by his mom?) like a hot chick, or when Slash and his wife flee New York after the 2001 Trade Center attacks and wind up at a depressing "love-themed hotel" in the Poconos... Isn't this the whole point of hiring a writer to write the book for you, to make all these random stories good?
HOWEVER I guess in spite of all my complaining this Anthony Bozza person must've done a good job after all, because I read the entire book even though I hadn't meant to when I decided to open the mildewing copy I'd found in a box on the street. I skipped his childhood to get to the important part and planned to stop reading after Guns 'n' Roses broke up, but I got kinda attached to the guy so I kept going until the end and then went back and then went back read the part that I skipped. Actually the beginning was pretty interesting -- growing up as delinquent feral kids of these successful anything-goes bohemian creative types in Hollywood in the seventies -- so I do recommend starting from the beginning if you are going to read this book.
Personally, the most interesting part of all this for me is about the sex and sexual politics, and I'm really fascinated by the female perspective on this era and milieu. There is so much profoundly fucked up shit in here: Steven Adler having sex with a woman in her thirties when he's thirteen and then being threatened by her husband (THAT IS CHILD MOLESTATION YOU INSANE PEOPLE!), all the groupies and porn stars and stepfordly anodyne pretty girlfriends, and then all this scary rapey stuff including a sexual assault charge against Slash and Axl that's not surprisingly breezed through... If anyone knows of an updated I'm With the Band kind of thing for this era that's good, please recommend!!
It took me forever to read and a lot of it annoyed or disappointed me, but in the end this book wasn't ever billed to be a Robert Caro biography and it got the job done: I did feel by the end that I'd gotten a pretty good sense of Slash and a better sense of what it was like to have lived his life. The post GnR stuff was interesting to me in a way it really wouldn't have been when I was younger, now that I'm an aging domesticated boring person who hasn't done much with her life and certainly hasn't ever played stadiums filled with rioting fans. It was fun to compare my own life (or lack thereof) to Slash's and to weigh what I've missed out on and what I am sincerely content to make do without.
Probably my least favorite catch phrase of the past fifteen or so years is the one where people exclaim "Rock star!" all the time about the dumbest shit. "You're a rock star!" "She's a rock star!" "Party like a rock star!" or simply, "Rock star!" Ugh, I hate it... I hate it for a bunch of reasons, but one of them is that the application of these phrases convey such a major misapprehension of what being a rock star is about. One thing this book did well was convey what being a rock star is about, and for me it was fun to read about but ultimately unappealing. At this point in my life (thirty-six), there's (okay, almost) no part of me that wishes I could've lived the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Yeah it would've been awesome to have had a part in something so amazing and epic as being in the greatest American rock band that ever existed, but it doesn't sound like a lot of it was even that much fun at the time, and it's kind of depressing to spend the rest of your life chasing the dragon of a perfect record you made when you were twenty-five. The perils of rock 'n' roll decadence are well-documented here as elsewhere: the ravages of addiction are awful, though honestly in this book at least, Slash seems not to mind much and definitely doesn't sound like a guy who's permanently invested in staying on the wagon, despite having almost died from cardiomyopathy at thirty-five after two decades of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Drug and alcohol addiction aside, though, pretty much every aspect of his life sounds like a slog to me: relentless touring, egotistic meltdowns, speedballing, crabs, being embarrassed in front of Metallica, dealing with Axl.... yeah, the payoffs are immense but this rock star shit just isn't for everyone. While I understand it's the wet dream of leetle boys across the land (or was -- now they probably all want to be DJs or hedge fund managers or something) and also that earlier in my life I'd have felt very differently, now I know I'd be miserable if I had to live through more than maybe a few months of this shit (okay, let's be honest: I wouldn't turn down a quick little stint). The payoffs -- getting to feel cool as hell all the time, everyone (including a limitless supply of beautiful women) loving you, and being able to make a good living playing music, the last of which Slash does clearly love in a very real and pure sense -- just don't seem worth all the stuff that comes along with it to me.
But they definitely do to Slash, who, as much as you can tell from this book, seems very happy. And that's what ultimately is endearing about him, I think: based on this book he truly does seem to be what he's supposed to be, a huge-haired top-hat wearing guitar-playing icon who loves his rock 'n' roll life, a life normal non-rock gods like me and probably you like to read about but could never actually live....more
I can't decide whether to keep going with this book, which is one of the most annoying biographies I've ever read. The tabloidish whiff of the subtitlI can't decide whether to keep going with this book, which is one of the most annoying biographies I've ever read. The tabloidish whiff of the subtitle -- The Unknown Story! -- is misleading: this book should have been called Mao: What a DICK! Its tone is bizarrely vitriolic and hysterical, as the authors take every single conceivable opportunity to spell out after each example that, see, look, Mao was a real DICK.
Here's the thing: we already know that Mao was a dick! And if we somehow didn't, simply giving us evidence of his dickishness -- e.g., the time he starved 38 million people to death? -- would do an infinitely more effective job of convincing us. This is really an instance where the hated writing advice to "show" and "not tell" should've been heeded, because somehow all the authorial raging about what a dick he was makes Mao seem almost sympathetic. More to the point, it makes him seem like a flattened cartoon character and cuts off any speculation about why he was such a dick. He's presented as a kind of Damian hellchild who just pops out of his seemingly very nice mother filled with all this bloodthirsty ambition, and there's no exploration of where his immense dickishness came from, or how it might have either derived or deviated from the society he lived in. This did the opposite of what a biography is supposed to do, and made the question of why Mao was who he was moot by just painting him as so inherently, insanely evil and awful and bad that there was no point trying to understand anything else about him. Of course I think it's perfectly reasonable to be astounded by the horrible acts and low character of a person responsible for so much death and suffering, but I still think you need to be able to modulate your tone when you're writing a book like this, or you just wind up undermining the power of all your points.
BUT! Except for this very annoying tic, the book is well-written, clear, interesting, and easy to follow for someone with almost no knowledge of any of the history being described. Maybe I'll return to it again at some point...?...more
I thought it was a little fishy that all the reviews on here are these reverent whispery multi-starred nods of agreement about how important this bookI thought it was a little fishy that all the reviews on here are these reverent whispery multi-starred nods of agreement about how important this book is. I mean, that just never happens, especially with the "it" book of the moment : there are always naysayers and contrarians and people who just don't get what the BFD is. Since there's a copy lying around my house, I thought I'd check it out -- the season's "it" book is rarely just 152 pages and about a topic that interests me, so I was excited to participate in the cool thing for once, after missing out on Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games and Eat Pray Love and all the rest due to a combination of laziness and snobbery.
On some level I was hoping to be the don't-believe-the-hype hater on here, but Coates left me disappointed on that front. It did take me a little while to get into this but once he got to college I was hooked and couldn't stop even though it was late and I had to get up at 3am to catch a transcontinental flight. My main question before I read it was, "What new is there to say?" I'd noticed everyone had their panties all in a twist over this book about being black in America and based on what I'd heard I just didn't get what he could've said that seemed so revelatory and new.
The answer is, not too much really: it's more the way that he says it. Between the World and Me is an intensely personal book that's rooted in deeply-felt lived experience. As someone who is horrified by our era's obsession with memoir, I am occasionally floored when I see what a personal story can do. I recently read an essay online by a woman whose father had committed suicide that made me seriously rethink my antipathy towards memoir, and my response to this book was similar. So often the recounting of personal experience and private feelings comes off as dull, narcissistic, and unnecessary, but on occasion memoir transcends itself and is able to speak to something much larger than one person's life with an authority that nothing else can.
It doesn't need to be said but I'll point out anyway that a lot of this book's success has to do with timing. White Americans have been able to ignore a lot of this for a long time, but recently that's become almost impossible to do. In the past two weeks we've heard Sandra Bland's traffic stop and watched Samuel DuBose be murdered before our eyes and the trauma of witnessing these things, and the rest from the past year, has left pretty much everyone looking for answers.
This book did partially answer a huge question I've had for years that I'm sure a lot of other uninformed white people have but that's too offensive and embarrassing to ask black parents directly, which is, "What do you tell your kids? When do you tell them? And how do you reassure them that it's going to be alright, when as a parent you're supposed to help them feel things will be okay but you're also supposed to be honest and keep them safe?" This book is constructed as a letter to Coates's fifteen-year-old son, and the reason it's so satisfying is that it does not err on the side of false comfort and remains honestly bleak. It also gave me the uncomfortably excited feeling of access to a perspective I've always wanted to know more about but was -- yeah, I'll admit it -- afraid to ask.
I think pretty often about what makes me an adult, and maybe this sounds weird but one of the main things is understanding now what a big deal it is when people die. I feel like when I was a kid I didn't quite get that that actually happened, and then when I was a teenager I didn't think it was very serious, but when I grew up I finally saw that this was it, this was huge, this was almost the only thing that there was that mattered. Between the World and Me's main orientation is corporal: it's concerned with what happens to a person's body as ultimately the sole important thing. For me, this is a helpful way to think about racism. I remember one day when I was not so old, but not really that young either, reading that African American men have much shorter life expectancies than white American men due to health disparities, and it was like a light went off and I finally saw what racism was in a different and much truer way than I had before. So much discourse about race takes place in these abstract terms that speak about social construction and are preoccupied with the nuance of language and ideas, but there is something about a return to the body that blows that away. At the end of the day, redlining matters because it's created conditions in which black kids are more likely than white kids to get hit with a stray bullet while walking to school. It sounds foolishly obvious but police brutality and mass incarceration affect people in the most stark and concrete way: by ending lives, by physically hurting or locking up their bodies. Of course there are other reasons why racism is is a problem, but Coates's emphasis on the body, and his insistence that nothing else matters so much beyond that, resonated with me.
This is a book that takes our country's sweet language about having a dream and turns it into a bitter mouthful of ashes. I'm actually surprised it's so popular because I feel we as Americans crave optimism and promises of solutions, and Coates offers neither. There's a lot of beauty in the world, he says, and there are great things about being young, gifted and black or whatever, but he doesn't believe in any moral arc of the universe tilting toward justice or in any of this getting especially better, which according to him (spoiler alert!) will be a moot point anyway soon because we'll all be underwater.
A short, well-written, timely book that I, along with everyone else, recommend....more
This is the second -- and hopefully but probably not last -- novel I've read in digital format, which was a horrendous experience except that it turneThis is the second -- and hopefully but probably not last -- novel I've read in digital format, which was a horrendous experience except that it turned out to be topical, heightening my sense of a slide into the plausible not-too-distant dystopian future depicted in the book.
Somehow I missed that whole Colbert and Amazon kerfuffle, and just picked this up because Edan is an Original Goodreader from way back and I've been meaning to check it out... It seems like a lot of reviewers on here came at it from the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre front and were disappointed, but I almost never read stuff like that so I was entertained by what were to me novel descriptions of how our society fell apart, which seemed realistic. I myself came at this more as a reader who's bored to tears by a lot of contemporary American literary fiction, and while this did definitely have an Iowa grad imprint, the genre aspects gave it a narrative pull (push?) I haven't felt from other efforts in awhile (also, thank God, it wasn't in the present fucking tense). Yeah, there were a few things in the book I wasn't crazy about, but the bottom line is that I couldn't put it down until I was done, and what better recommendation can I give than that? Despite reading it on a Device, I basically neglected my ten-month-old daughter until I'd finished, and I felt satisfied by the ending and that my time reading had been well spent.
I think the book had some gender essentialist thinking in it that, while unfashionable at the moment, spoke to questions I've spent time wondering about and resonated with me. Its conclusion also struck a chord for personal reasons. The most important thing though was that I got dragged out of my book rut -- I've been stalled out halfway through a highly-regarded NYRB classic that isn't boring enough to quit on or interesting enough ever to pick up -- and had fun reading again.
Trigger warning: I've never read a book with so many sex scenes between a married couple, and if I'd read this before I was married myself, I think I would've been extra grossed out. As it is, I'm just developing an insecurity complex....more
In fact, I just climbed out of my bed late at night due to intrusive, spinning thoughts about how greTHIS BOOK IS SO AWESOME!
I LOVE THIS AWESOME BOOK!
In fact, I just climbed out of my bed late at night due to intrusive, spinning thoughts about how great this book was, and as it seems I can't sleep from the excitement, hopefully writing this will help. I got this out of the library but now that I'm done I think I'd better buy my own copy, not so much because I need to own it as because I should give the lovely and talented Anna Freeman some money. She's almost certainly a wonderful person and deserves handsome remuneration and many prestigious honors and awards! I definitely feel in her debt having enjoyed so much what she's written.
Okay so at first glance this isn't a book I'd normally pick up, I guess because books about certain old-timey eras and topics make me think of those other books we used to pass around in sixth grade... you know, the ones with gold foil cutaway covers that depicted a breathtakingly lovely lady with amazing boobs spilling out of her gown as she clung rapturously to Fabio's loins? Yes I know not all historical novels are salacious tales of indomitable heiresses being deliciously savaged by "purple-headed warriors" and then teaching great hairy brutes how to love, but I'll admit to being suspicious and judging by its cover, this looked like an upmarket version of those, with a bust of an old-timey pretty lady melded into an impressionistic skyline, bleagh. I never would've chosen this on the cover alone, only a friend recommended it because in actual fact it is about a LADY BOXER and I am a lady boxer of sorts, though certainly not like the one in this book and after reading all that she went through I've resolved to stop whining so much about how I can't get good sparring at my gym.
So, The Fair Fight is just a ridiculous amount of fun. It's fun in the way that Dickens is fun, if you crossed Dickens with Rocky and, I don't know, The Slits?
My favorite thing about this book (and there are so many other things in it I love) is that neither of the two main female characters is attractive. This is ridiculously rare and incredibly important, and is the reason I hope to God they never make a Hollywood movie of this book even though I do badly want Anna Freeman to become rich. Much has been made recently of the new Mad Max remake's pop-feminist cred, to which I would point out that the movie is about a truckful of models and that those characters only matter because of their perfect looks. It's almost unheard of for a Hollywood movie to treat a female character as important if she isn't gorgeous, and the same is true for a lot of books and not just those aforementioned bodice-rippers with their creamy-skinned emerald-eyed ingenues. Having recently become a mother, I think even more than I did before about how screwed up I've been by all of this my whole life and I worry about my daughter. I don't want her to spend the amount of time I have agonizing about how she doesn't look like Charlize Theron and feeling like her story means less than those of girls who do (this is assuming my daughter does not, in fact, grow up to look like Charlize Theron, which, well, I guess we don't know for sure yet but I'd feel pretty safe betting with those odds).
The heroines of The Fair Fight aren't just "not beautiful' in the way we were promised Scarlett O'Hara wasn't; they're terrible looking by the standards of their day and ours. Ruth, the boxer born in a brothel, is missing most of her teeth and has a nose that's been knocked sideways in addition to all the other scars and damage inflicted by her brutal pre-Queensberry fight career. All this after not being initially attractive enough as a ten-year-old to follow her prettier thirteen-year-old sister into the family prostitution business... Our other girl -- awkward, lonely drunk Charlotte -- starts off with all the advantages of wealth and good looks but is horribly scarred by the smallpox that kills most of her family and (spoiler alert!) unlike Esther Summerson of Bleak House her scars don't magically fade away towards the end of the book.
These two narrators and a third, handsome bisexual gambling addict and layabout George Bowdon, take their turns relaying the action. There are three other central characters -- Ruth's sister Dora; Charlotte's brother Perry; and George's schoolmate Granville, who arguably does most structurally to tie all the characters together -- who we don't hear from directly but get to know well, who interact with each other in various complex ways. The world they live in has shades of Mad Max in a sense, not in being a dystopian Australian future (it's set in Bristol around the beginning of the nineteenth century) but in being an extremely brutal and unforgiving environment. The characters experience mostly hostility, neglect, and even violence from their families and a lot of the people in their lives, and all (in particular the women and the poor ones) are terribly constrained by their circumstances.
Yet the novel isn't a sob story but instead is rough after rough and tough round of pure fun. That's because Freeman can sure write and she's nailed the voices here, in particular Ruth's. Her use of slang in particular stands out (at the gym this afternoon I kept calling punches "fibs" in my head, as she does!) but all the diction throughout it is just so fucking great and I should think of another way to say this but I can't: FUN. This book was just so much fun! And that's great.
If you're not interested in boxing you might not be quite as ridiculously, idiotically thrilled over this as I am, but that is certainly no obstacle to your enjoyment at all. I don't remember the last time I had this much fun reading a book -- it was infinitely more fun than that Mad Max remake, which I personally found dull and not nearly as good as its incredible preview. You might disagree with me about that and you might not be so crazy about A Fair Fight, but if you like the idea of an updated Dickensy/Thackerayish/whatever British novelist of two-hundred-or-so-years-ago kind of thing with every kind of scum and underbelly and vice they could only allude to in most books written at that time and a grimy spirited feminist kick to it, I'd recommend buying (not just checking out) this book.
I was assigned Anna Karenina in a Russian Lit class I took second semester of my senior year of college. I was finishing my senior thesis and didn't mI was assigned Anna Karenina in a Russian Lit class I took second semester of my senior year of college. I was finishing my senior thesis and didn't make it twenty pages in, and in subsequent years I lugged that Constance Garnett edition around with me from apartment to apartment, never making it past more than those first few chapters before I finally gave up several moves ago and left it in a box on the curb. And when I finally read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, at age thirty-six, I felt I'd dodged a bullet by not getting to this any sooner, because I don't think it would've made such an impression on me.
This is one of the best books I've read, and I'd go so far as to say it's one of the best books that's been written. I'm going to make this the moment I stop a practice begun in my feckless youth and long regretted, of almost never giving five-star reviews no matter how good a book is, and going forward will have an expanded scale. This doesn't mean I think Anna Karenina is a better novel than, say, War and Peace; it only means that I've evolved, with age, in my awarding of these stupid yellow Internet book report stars that I hate.
Reading a great book feels like being in love. The night I started Anna Karenina I went to bed buzzing, almost too happy to sleep and excited to wake up in the morning so that I could continue to read. And it's a relief to have access to such a thrilling sensation, now that I'm a married woman and must avoid the temptations of falling in love with a dashing count, which, I now know, could only end terribly for me and pretty much everyone else.
As we all know, Tolstoy starts this off with his famous observation that "all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The other day I was talking with my sister, who complained that while it sounds good, this isn't actually true. I agree that it doesn't really seem to be the case even in this book, but for me the opening alludes to that magically paradoxical hybrid of specificity and universality that's just what great literature is made of. The characters in Anna Karenina are aristocrats in Tsarist Russia in the 1870s, and live in a world where their messages are sent and their food is cooked and their clothes are washed and their estates are farmed and their butts are wiped by servants and peasants who are considered something less than totally human even when their souls are celebrated and rhapsodized over by their romantic overlords. The characters and their world are exactly placed in one highly specific historical moment, and each person is so exquisitely described and developed that we'd know them immediately if we ever sat next to one of them on the train. The characters in this book are more real than real people, and that's what makes this book simultaneously so specific -- there is no one just like Anna, just like Levin, just like any of these characters -- and yet so general -- there are so many people who are almost like them that we recognize in these characters aspects of people in our own lives, of ourselves. I'm glad I waited to read this book because by the time I did I'd been married, I'd had a child, I'd suffered through romantic relationships that had turned toxic and unsalvageable, so I could admire just how accurately and beautifully all these things were described. Of course, I still hadn't yet harvested wheat or (spoiler alert!) thrown myself under a train, but after reading this I know just how those doing those things must be. The suicide in this book is one of the most incredible passages I've ever read, and will stick with me for the rest of my life. I wouldn't be surprised if I think of it at the moment of my own death, though I guess (well, hope) it's a little premature to say.
Of course, this being Tolstoy, the magnificent death scene can't be the end of it, and is followed by a lengthy and arguably tedious informercial for religious faith and family life. I remember a similar sort of thing at the end of his other long novel and it reminds me a bit of going to see some reconfiguration of a classic punk band a few years ago and being subject to the lead singer's plug for Ron Paul: Tolstoy's got a captive audience and he will hold forth on his tiresome pet ideas, throughout the book in little asides and then with great force at the end. In a normal writer I'd call this a flaw but I suppose in Tolstoy it's an eccentricity he's more than entitled to. It's his prerogative because by the end I felt whatever nutty crap he wanted to pull was well worth it.
I think part of getting old and crotchety and out of touch has been, for me, getting more conservative and lame and stupidly swoony about "the canon" and what constitutes Deathless Literature. Anna Karenina is better than almost anything else I can think of because it lives and breathes, and there's so much in it, and no matter what I do to it -- read it as a resolutely feminist text, as I do, and pretty much ignore the Christian faith stuff that was clearly so central for its author -- it isn't, and can't be, remotely diminished. I can read all the footnotes; I can ignore the footnotes. I can go to commentaries and articles and Nabokov and Bakhtin on the subject of Anna Karenina and what it all must truly mean; I can go back to school for my PhD and devote the rest of my life to its study. Or, I can remain willfully ignorant, as I am, and just enjoy the story, which is all that I've done and all I feel up to, and for me right now that's fine. It makes my own life so much larger, both by illuminating my own lived experience and by expanding and enhancing it to include all these events I haven't lived through, places I haven't been, and people I haven't known. I've had so much more and richer of a life than I could've had without having read this novel. My soul will always remain crushed by what happened to Anna, and even, in spite of myself, strengthened by Levin's religious conversion and the birth of his son. I think another thing I didn't get when I was younger, with my stingy four stars, was how hard that is to do, to write a book that will effect something like that in readers... Or maybe it isn't so hard really, because a lot of books do that for a lot of people. Certainly a lot have done it for me and they for sure weren't all highly respectable Russian Classics.
But there is something especially timeless in here, though, that I don't think I'm imagining. It's so simultaneously of its time but of of our time too, maybe every time, and it's shocking how these old words on the page can be so vital and alive. Some of that I do think comes from the translation, and I sometimes wonder if hip new translations are cheating a bit...? Well, even if they do come with an asterisk, I'd say avoid poor fusty Constance as I highly recommend Pevear and Volokhonsky. Highly recommend this book. Whew. What a read. Gosh....more
Although I try sometimes in a guilt-driven effort to support writers, I'm not normally a buyer of new books. The main reason for this isn't just beingAlthough I try sometimes in a guilt-driven effort to support writers, I'm not normally a buyer of new books. The main reason for this isn't just being cheap, but that I'm worried I won't like the book I buy and will feel obligated to finish it since it's something I own. Because I'm not one of those readers who feels I need to finish books I don't enjoy, the library makes more sense and is way less pressure, since I can bail on and return as many false starts as I want.
But I did buy The Buried Giant, or rather, I slipped it into the pile of books my mother was buying my baby when she visited. I was and am happy to own it, because The Sleeping Giant is a beautiful book, physically. Whoever designed this should really get some kind of prize.
I wasn't happy to own this book, though, for most of the time I was reading it. I hated the first third, didn't like the second third, and only got into it towards the end. Under normal circumstances I never would've made it through because I think life's too short to keep reading books I'm not enjoying, and I did not enjoy this book but kept reading it because it was mine.
The two principle characters in The Buried Giant are bland elderly couple Axl and Beatrice, who set out on a journey through post-Arthurian Britain in search of their estranged son. A mist of forgetfulness has descended on the land, causing Axl and Beatrice and everyone else to lose pretty much all of their memories. Collateral damage of this mass Alzheimer's seems to be making everyone very dull. After all, our personalities are largely derived from our experiences and response to them, so if we can't remember what's happened to us, we might not have any personalities at all... Or at least so it would seem from this book, where Beatrice has essentially no distinguishing characteristics and Axl's only one is the excruciating tic of calling his wife "princess" every single time he addresses her, which annoyed me so much it made getting through this book a real struggle and was the main reason I kept almost giving up. I'm pretty sure there's only one person who can use "princess" as a form of address without sounding like a creep and/or moron and that's the young Harrison Ford, who only got away with it because he was such a dickish rogue. Here I guess it's supposed to be sweet, but it isn't, it's horrible. Especially when the main character has only one defining trait, it's painful when that trait is one that makes you want to kick him in the head.
Anyway, that was my main irritation but there were many, many more. All the characters were flat and uninteresting as cardboard, and their world of ogres, dragons and pixies felt similarly dead without any magic to animate it and draw me in. The narrative structure felt stiff and manipulative, constantly creating what felt to me like false tension. Having a world of characters who can't remember shit is already tough, but then Ishiguro also starts most chapters in medias res then doubles back, having the character recall what's happened to get him to that point, which to me felt cheap. There are also a lot annoying parts where he leans hard on characters knowing things the reader doesn't and trying to ramp up the suspense of when will we find out the mystery they're clearly concealing. I guess this is just how a lot of stories are told, but in this instance it felt clunky and irritating and I didn't enjoy it at all. The main problem though was that I just never got absorbed by the story, I never got sucked in or cared. The world and its inhabitants didn't come alive, and the writing style didn't do much for me.
Until the end that is, probably around the last third, though I'd say in general the whole second half was much better than the first. I kept on with this book hoping all the setup would pay off eventually, and maybe it did but I also think Ishiguro didn't get warmed up until late in the game, and then he finally let her rip. I am a semi-literate jerkoff who hasn't ever read The Remains of the Day and I haven't read Never Let Me Go either (though I own it and have started it then bailed, ahaha). The only Ishiguro I've read before is his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, which I remember being beautifully written and dark and bizarre and original and strange. I'd been waiting for that Ishiguro to show up throughout The Buried Giant and I feel like eventually he did. I found the end of this book deeply moving, though I suppose in the abstract I'd say it was sentimental. It worked, though, because it was really well-written, and okay, when I got there, I wept and wept and wept.
I'm glad the ending was so good because otherwise I'd feel the time I spent on this book was not the best use of my limited hours left on earth as I hurtle towards death. I've now finished both the books my mom bought me, and actually they've reaffirmed the wisdom of my impatient approach to novels. There are so many great ones out there that I'll never have time to get to, and I don't see the sense of forcing down stuff I'm not that into just to see if they pick up at the end. This one did so I'm not sorry I read it, but I'm not relieved I did either. I think I could've found something else dealing with fantasy material that worked better on that level and was more fun to read, or I could've done The Remains of the Day and got credit for another Important Book I'm supposed to have read. As it is, I'm happy to own this lovely volume and I don't regret having read it, but I don't especially recommend it either. I can't tell if being really into all that British legend stuff would make this more or less fun for a reader; probably more? (Spoiler: despite the title and cover illustration, there aren't actually any giants or grails in this book.) I know next to nothing about Sir Gawain or the rest of all that so I couldn't evaluate how well it was handled here. The only thing I can say with confidence is that it's a pretty book, so if you're one of those new-fangled doodad users and want to read it, I'd suggest going old school with this one and getting the real book....more