Hmmmm...OK, 2.7 stars. Initially interesting, Skellig itself is a fascinating character, charming youthful fantasy, adventure and excitement, but: way...moreHmmmm...OK, 2.7 stars. Initially interesting, Skellig itself is a fascinating character, charming youthful fantasy, adventure and excitement, but: way too corny, just far too corny. The corniness is also introduced in lame ways, perhaps highlighted by chapter 23, where it seems the author just gave up, or Mina's character, who I generally found unbelievable and wooden. Could have been much better, points for trying though.(less)
Naked Lunch is disjointed and not much of a novel in the traditional sense. Parts of it drag, parts of it are just too over the top, and parts of it d...moreNaked Lunch is disjointed and not much of a novel in the traditional sense. Parts of it drag, parts of it are just too over the top, and parts of it disturbed me emotionally. It gets four stars because it is THE most messed up book I have ever read. Bonkers!(less)
This is the first cooking-world book I've ever read, not counting Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. I had no idea what to expect, but what I...moreThis is the first cooking-world book I've ever read, not counting Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. I had no idea what to expect, but what I found was a literary buffet of awesome. I love Bourdain's tell-it-like-it-is style, and I love how he used it to make this frank and gossipy book. The secrets of restaurant kitchens are revealed in Confidential in all their grit, grime, stress, blood, tears, sex, and quiet glory. But that's not all: Confidential is also a rambling memoir of Bourdain's cuisine-related life; and a book of short stories featuring memorable characters such as 'Bigfoot (a manipulative, calculating restaurant genius),' Scott Bryan (a totally different kind of chef than Bourdain), 'Adam Real-Last-Name-Unknown (psychotic baker),' and Steven Tempel (Bourdain's long-time right-hand man and formerly psychotic, presently magically-powered friend of Adam). It's also a book of restaurant business and life advice, and a travelogue, featuring sections and chapters on France, Cape Cod, New York and, most notably, Tokyo.
Bourdain is decent at character description, and very skilled at getting across just how incredible these people are to him, but he does tend to use long descriptive lists in two parts, kind of like I'm doing in this review, only with two sets of repeating synonymous sentences in the same paragraph. Likewise, his writing style makes good use of foul language and raw details, but sometimes heaps on great portions of it, which comes off a bit corny. You like it, he knows you like it, and he milks it for all it's worth (including writing several more books which sound similar to this one). His necessarily-large ego also shines through bright and clear, but Bourdain is careful to be self-effacing and even devotes a chapter to a chef he considers far greater than himself ('A Day in the Life of Bryan').
I learned a number of things reading this book. For starters, I learned what equipment Bourdain thinks you need to be a good chef (pg 78 onwards), such as, for reference purposes: a Global Knives chef knife, an F. Dick offset serrated knife, a plastic squeeze bottle, a toothpick, a pastry bag, a mandoline (slicer), thick and heavy pots, shallots, butter, roasted garlic, and chiffonaded parsley. While teaching you all this, Bourdain is frank, and a bit snide in telling you it's that easy: you too can cook restaurant-quality food if you just add butter and some shallots to everything. I really liked this tell-all style, and liked it further when he dissed garlic presses, which I hate.
Bourdain also teaches you to not eat fish on Mondays, at brunch, or in vinaigrettes (pg 65 ->); never to trust hollandaise sauce or mussels; that brunch sucks and is typically comprised of crappy leftover food; that well-done meat is typically crappy left-over meat; that amoebas are passed most easily by handling veggies; and that (as I learned working in a grocery store) Tuesdays are the best night to eat out in terms of quality.
On page 153, you learn, casually, that Bourdain has a wife and has had one for much of the book's timeline. Huh??
Oh yeah, various celebrities are name-dropped or make appearances, for better or worse.
Overall, this is a wonderful book for those interested in such diverse topics as: cooking, history, gossip, celebrities, work lifestyles/sociology, psychology, criminology and even Japanese culture. It's like a treasure trove, with every few chapters bringing something a bit new, unexpected, and exciting to the table, if you will. I'm not sure I'll bother with his other books, since I imagine most will be very similar, but I'm glad I read this one!
It's kind of short, with an entire chapter dedicated to baby names and dozens of pages of 'extras' (in my revised edition) which features the authors talking about themselves and other things I'm, for the most part, not interested in. There were some good parts, and it's worth a read or a skim for folks interested in economics and interesting 'how the world works' facts. Also, to be fair, I would have liked it more if I hadn't already read superior books in this genre. I'll outline some of the interesting bits and other items of note below in point form.
True Rating:2.8 Stars
Notes with some spoilers (view spoiler)[ - In the "School Teachers" chapter, I found the authors a bit hard on teachers and easy on the frequent idiocy that is standardised testing
- Pg 46 A great Adam Smith quote which can be used both for or against market capitalism: "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it." - Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments
- Pg 64 The authors note that experts use their specialized, privileged knowledge, as well as fear, as leverage. Later they note how the internet has eaten away at much of the power of experts
- Pgs 66-68 Sneaky real estate agents try to sell your house for cheaper than they could, because their percentage pay off is very low. They try to sell their own houses for top dollar because they net the profit, but with your house, selling a house for $10 000 more only gets them a few hundred bucks or so.
- Chapter 3 was roundabout, the Listerine history is brought up (for the 3rd time in books in this genre)
- Pg 94 has some awesome crack dealer stats, demonstrating that the top dog does very well but the majority make less than minimum wage with a constant threat of death or injury: If you worked for a certain gang over a period of 4 years, you would have, in statistical terms: been arrested 5.9 times, suffered 2.4 nonfatal wounds or injuries (not including injuries given by fellow members, and a 1 in 4 chance of being killed. The 1 in 4 chance of being killed is contrasted with the, at the time, most dangerous job in America (Timber Cutter), which had a 1 in 200 chance of getting killed.
- pg 110 onwards: The economy has no effect on violent crime levels - After the massive violent crime rise (in the United States) from the 60s to the 90s, crime fell rapidly and because, according to the authors of: 1) More prisons 2) More police 3) the decline in the value of crack cocaine AND, most importantly 4) the legalization and affordability of abortions (which lowered poverty levels and single parents having unwanted children in impoverished and undereducated households).
- The text features lots of verbatim repetition and often dull or bizarre side-facts
- The authors determine that well-educated, wealthy parents tend to have well-educated, wealthy children (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
You might have difficulty reading this book. Not because of the writing, which is detailed and rich but not complex or lyrical, but because of the sub...moreYou might have difficulty reading this book. Not because of the writing, which is detailed and rich but not complex or lyrical, but because of the subject. The book is basically about a dying man looking back on his life, and more specifically, it focuses on death and all the dark fears relating to it many of have had or will have. The main character goes over his childhood and his youthful, vigorous and highly sexual life from the position of a man who has lost his spark and is forced to see himself decaying and impotent. Not an easy bedside read by any stretch, but an important, well-written and emotionally challenging work which should cause you to think down dark pathways in your mind which you normally avoid. Beyond death, there is a substantial amount of life in the novel, and you'll also learn a great deal about marriages, fidelity, sibling relations, parent-child relations over lifetimes, life in a Jewish family and different types of eroticism during different periods of life.
I highly recommend this book, though, if you are older and perfectly happy and blissful towards death; this may not be the book for you. If you are older and troubled with thoughts of death, or younger and want to learn more about it NOW, then grab this.
********Mild Spoilers Below.**********
For my recollection:
Main Characters, for me: 'Everyman' Mother Father - owned jewellery/watch shop Older Brother Howie - Rich, successful, healthy 1st Wife: Cecilia Two sons - who hate him 2nd Wife: Phoebe - girl-like, unique, unperturbed Nancy - Daughter who loves him a lot 3rd Wife: Marete - Erotic Danish model (Originally affair with Phoebe) Secretary - Affair (while with Phoebe) Maureen Mrazek - Busty Nurse (affair in his 50s) Art Class Students at his Seniors' Residence Ad Agency Co-workers and Boss, Clarence Gravedigger(less)
This book did not inform, and, barring the last two chapters, was not much of an introduction to anything. I liked the chapter on the Sophists, which...moreThis book did not inform, and, barring the last two chapters, was not much of an introduction to anything. I liked the chapter on the Sophists, which was only supposed to be supplementary to the key presocratics. Mediocre book.(less)
Great novel; surprisingly based on a BBC TV series. Reads like an adult Harry Potter, but came out just before the first Harry Potter novel to the bes...moreGreat novel; surprisingly based on a BBC TV series. Reads like an adult Harry Potter, but came out just before the first Harry Potter novel to the best of my knowledge. Probably owes a fair bit to "The Chronicles of Narnia" though. Filled with initial ambiguity (relating to fear, situations, enemies and powers involved -- animal-like men, world crossing and so on), Neverwhere takes the collected run-off of London's history and warps it into a fantasy adventure of magical proportions. Gaiman writes quite well at times, and creates some excellent characters, including the memorably villainous and violent duo Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. He also manages to flesh out his main characters to a satisfying degree, while still leaving you wondering and fantasizing about their histories at the novel's conclusion. I found the chapters around the Marquis' death a more laborious and less-inspired read, some characters seem to be introduced willy-knilly and pointlessly, and the presence of an angel in the plot was questionable at times (though fitting with London's history, certainly), but the novel does not drag to a hault and finishes with a satisfying conclusion -- a conclusion which leads you to question normality and perhaps yearn for, or even believe you can achieve, something more in life.(less)
Lullabies for Little Criminals is the story of a girl named Baby, who comes from a broken and messed up family. It is told from her perspective, which...more Lullabies for Little Criminals is the story of a girl named Baby, who comes from a broken and messed up family. It is told from her perspective, which mostly consists of adventures and misadventures during her 12th and 13th years of life. Lullabies in some ways reflects, and heavily draws on the childhood of its author, Heather O'Neill and her experiences with unstable parents and street life as a child.
One of the most striking things about Lullabies is how direct, dry and matter-of-fact Baby's narration is. She passively describes events that would seem to call for many an exclamation mark and buckets of drama, yet O'Neill later makes it clear that Baby's voice is indeed appropriate: it is the voice of a young girl used to a quality and style of life most of us have no concept of, and at times the voice of a naive child or a defeated husk of youth, raped of innocence.
The loss of childhood innocence is a strong and common theme in Lullabies. Baby is frequently commenting on, and obviously undergoing, a process of dissipating naivety, from childhood fascination and happiness with the tiniest of things and a situational awareness which puts prostitution in the same realm as eating candy, to inexplicable bleakness and emptiness. Pretty much everyone undergoes this transition sooner or later, and I'm not even sure Baby loses her innocence earlier than most people, but few children in the western world experience the change under circumstances like those experienced by Baby. She accepts her new perceived reality just as 'we' would accept the reality of the need for a part-time job and the truth behind Santa Claus.
This theme, and Baby's surprising self-awareness, start early in the text:
"People gave you a hard time about being a kid at twelve. They didn't want to give you Halloween candy anymore. They said things like, "If this were the Middle Ages, you'd be married and you'd own a farm with about a million chickens on it." They were trying to kick you out of childhood. Once you were gone, there was no going back, so you had to hold on as long as you could." - pg 17
Childhood is a frequent topic in Lullabies. In one section, a more mature Baby links drug dealers with immaturity:
"I waved and walked away. You had to be that way with heroin dealers. They possessed the worst aspects of a child that you don't want to have anything to do with: neediness and loneliness. Who needed it?" - Pg 298
What I really like about Lullabies is the characters. Baby herself is an overtly simple, yet subtlety deep and complicated character. She approaches the world with a creative and artistic mind, her creativity enhanced by paternal influence, necessity and absence. Even though she does lose her innocence, she rediscovers it through another character, Xavier, and never fully loses her imaginative abilities. It is an absolute pleasure to see the world of late-twentieth-century Montreal through her eyes. Along the way, Baby presents us with a host of other, fascinating characters, such as her own drug-addicted, emotionally-destroyed young father, who is trying to do the best he can to raise her with no support, while still being a child in many ways himself -- a child who was also vaulted into adulthood too early, and one who suffers internally from an event of tragic proportions. O'Neill/Baby expertly concoct a supporting cast of weirdos, wackos, lowlifes, and 'normals,' exposing the flaws and eccentricities in all and causing you to pause and consider those you may not have before.
Baby's descriptions are all direct, and can be unmalevolently-harsh:
"The landlady was Russian and looked like she was wearing a dozen sweaters and about three scarves on her head at the same time. It was hard to imagine what she actually looked like under all those layers, or what her face must have looked like when she was young. She was probably from another generation, a time when people were uglier. There were little black hairs on her nose and her glasses had tape holding them together in the middle. For some reason the lenses seemed murky, as if they'd been permanently steamed up. It was like I was looking at her under a microscope because there were so many faults." -pg 143
Various other intriguing characters populate Lullabies, such as crazy, crazy Theo: a boy completely warped by his psychopathic mother (and one of Baby's various bad-boy love interests); and the girl who attempted suicide (pg 204).
O'Neill is also excellent at crafting dialogue. Conversations between characters are generally captivating and weird, such as this one between Baby and Xavier:
""I live down that street," he said, pointing. "Look! It's my cat." Sure enough a cat came sauntering toward us. It had gray matted hair and crooked eyes. It was the ugliest cat I'd ever seen. "That is the ugliest cat I've ever seen," I said. "No, it isn't. He's a Persian. He's a rare breed!" "It's rare because nobody wants a cat that looks like that."" - pg 233
Overall, Lullabies is fantastic, but there are some areas which could have been better. For example, a number of characters are introduced as Baby's friends, and are kind of thrown into the story with no warning, during periods where Baby is ostensibly friend-less. It takes away from the gravity of her situations and feels unfinished. Another problem I have is the length of the book. It seems a bit long, and seems as if O'Neill had even more she wanted to include, but ended up sticking in a few unsatisfactory blurbs to tie up the story and speed it along instead. For example, (view spoiler)[on page 318, Baby is having a conversation with Jules after not having seen him for two months. He tells her about a relative who will look after her in the country and runs to the phone to call her. Then Baby thinks:
"I had been making my own decisions for a few months and God knows I had gotten myself into enough trouble. I needed someone else to make the decisions, and it suddenly seemed as if Jules was the perfect person to do that. He was completely discombobulated, but he was my parent, after all."
Suddenly, several central problems in Baby's life are passively solved in a paragraph, and in a cliché'd, sitcom manner. (hide spoiler)]Disappointing. Otherwise, I did find that Baby sometimes spoke more like a grown up Heather O'Neill than a pre-teen in her thought reflections, even considering her hard-knock life and intelligence. I supposed though, since Lullabies is written in the form of a memoir, we can imagine an older Baby instead. It would be difficult to make an appealing novel of this type without such sophisticated reflection anyway. Lastly, O'Neill has a tendency to have Baby describe some situations and experiences through a series of three colourful metaphors (or similes), and maybe it's just me, but I didn't really like or understand most of them. Perhaps this was intentional too?
To bring this all back to the title, it's interesting to look at the book as little vignettes, or lullabies for 'little criminals.' I haven't talked much about crime in this review, because other than Baby's strange stay in Juvie and a few other snatches, I find characters aren't really linked with criminality as we associate it: with courts, cops and jails. The terms, such as prostitute, and drug dealer are there, but, as a consequence of Baby's dry/matter-of-fact narration, her imaginative nature, her youth, and various episodes of surreal drug-states, there isn't the same direct linkage with real-world criminal consequences as there is with family-level punishments and personal threats. It's as if it's all a big game or a dream, played out in low-rent otherworlds of Montreal, where society's rules don't strictly apply.
"When I thought of my old friends Linas Lucas and Theo, I realized they were not really criminals either. They were like me. We were just acting out the strangest, tragic little roles, pretending to be criminals in order to get by. We gave very convincing performances." - pg 266
I guess they're just kids, afterall.
On balance, this is a wonderful book. It is an adventure to read, and an adventure which only occasionally loses the wind from its sails. It is draped in a kind of muted sadness, but never too depressing to continue. It could make you cry for the plight of characters, it does include tense, dangerous and shocking situations, life lessons can be learned, and it all ends very satisfactorily, which is difficult for any author to achieve. This is a fantastic book for troubled youth with adequate reading levels (and some patience, whether inherent or 'encouraged') to explore, as it may speak very strongly to them. It's also a great read for most of us 'adults.'
I enjoyed this story, which combines titillating boyhood fantasy and coming of age with Nazi Post-Holocaust moral drama. Makes you think about right,...moreI enjoyed this story, which combines titillating boyhood fantasy and coming of age with Nazi Post-Holocaust moral drama. Makes you think about right, wrong, their determinants and so on. (less)
Glad I found this book by accident! Gilbert portrays one of the most interesting real life persons I've ever heard of - Eustace Conway, a man who's ta...moreGlad I found this book by accident! Gilbert portrays one of the most interesting real life persons I've ever heard of - Eustace Conway, a man who's take on nature is beautiful and profound, and in stark contrast to people like Thoreau. Conway represents a modern man with a strong animal side boiling beneath the surface, and perhaps a man a few centuries 'out of date' but far from irrelevant in his philosophy, drive, passion and teachings. (less)