In the Berlin of 1925 a Russian emigré, one Smurov, accosted and humiliated by a jealous husband, goes home and shoots himself. What follows is the stIn the Berlin of 1925 a Russian emigré, one Smurov, accosted and humiliated by a jealous husband, goes home and shoots himself. What follows is the story of his bifurcated, pseudo-afterlife. As if he weren't mixed up enough, in his dissociative state he has the ill luck to fall in love. Breathtaking narrative patterning here, beautiful in a way simple crystalline forms are beautiful. A marvel that can be read in a single sitting. My second reading, I've upgraded it to 5 stars....more
2nd reading. It's the late 1940s, in the fictional northeastern American town of Ramsdale, when a mentally unstable Swiss pedophile, Humbert Humbert,2nd reading. It's the late 1940s, in the fictional northeastern American town of Ramsdale, when a mentally unstable Swiss pedophile, Humbert Humbert, sets his sexual sights on twelve-year old Dolores Haze. He marries her mother, who conveniently dies in a road accident, then, as Lolita's "father," sets out on a cross country road trip/sexual spree during which he corrupts her utterly. The writing is extraordinary. There's nothing else like Lolita. The prose often works along a knife edge between creepy paean — to Lolita's beauty, to HH's cleverness, to the magnificence of his sexual idyll, etc. — and its own verbal brilliance. That's a large part of the achievement here: to write with extraordinary precision and beauty about a rebarbative subject. How often are we on the cusp of closing the book and at just that moment find ourselves drawn back in by the writing? Do read it, if you haven't already, or re-read it. Martin Amis, who supplies the introduction to this edition, says he's read it eight times, and that each time new levels of meaning open up. VN himself, somewhere, I think it was in an interview reprinted in Strong Opinions, spoke of coming across his father's copy of Madame Bovary and finding a note inside: "the unsurpassed pearl..." That's my assessment of Lolita....more
These are extraorinarily well written stories. So far I've read "Women in their Beds," which is hilarious and moving; "Who Can Tell Me Who I Am?" abouThese are extraorinarily well written stories. So far I've read "Women in their Beds," which is hilarious and moving; "Who Can Tell Me Who I Am?" about a librarian and his slow blossoming compassion; "A Dream of Fair Women," in which the staff of an Indian restaurant buckle under the strain of serving a famous critic. ...more
Stephen Jay Gould was adept at reviewing scientific missteps and errors and building telling lessons from them. His essays are highly discursive, ofteStephen Jay Gould was adept at reviewing scientific missteps and errors and building telling lessons from them. His essays are highly discursive, often taking twists and turns through little known bits of history and popular culture, as a means of explicating complex concepts. He was a brilliant man and one of those writers--like neurologist Oliver Sacks, say, or biologist E.O. Wilson--who could take abstruse subject matter and make it intelligible to the general reader. Though, it should be noted, no one's style was quite so freewheeling and idiosyncratic as Gould's.
A few favorite essays include:
"The Panda's Thumb of Technology" In which Gould illustrates the evolutionary principles of contingency and incumbency by way of a history of the QWERTY keyboard. This is certainly among the volume's quirkiest and most brilliant essays.
In "Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples" he discusses how male nipples are homologues of female nipples and remnants of embryology, just as the female clitoris is a homologue of the male penis. Dr. Freud's absurd theory of vaginal orgasm and the unfortunate suffering it caused countless women during the mid-20th century is discussed.
"To Be A Platypus" reviews the immense puzzle this monotreme presented to 20th-century scientists because of its melange of seemingly contradictory characteristics: large brain and inner ear like mammals, egg laying like reptiles, duckbill like the eponymous wildfowl, etc. Because of its paradoxical nature, the platypus was viewed for a long time as a primitive outlier that had never really caught up with the high and mighty mammals. Gould shows not only why this isn't so, but why the creature is, as he puts it, "one honey of an adaptation."
The section titled Intellectual Biography I found especially interesting.
In "Kropotkin Was No Crackpot" Gould rehabilitates that fin de siècle Russian anarchist's much maligned reputation. Petr Kropotkin (see Mutual Aid) believed cooperation was more responsible for the perpetuation of species than violent struggle, a concept far more popular in the West. Many Russian evolutionists tended to agree. Why? Was it just their collectivist, socialist culture? In part, yes, but it also turns out that the concept of exploding populations, which Darwin learned in the teeming tropics (see Voyage of the Beagle), was conceptually almost impossible for Russians to grasp, living as they did in a harsh and underpopulated land. At the center of the essay is the question of cultural biases in science, an area in which Gould excelled as a writer and a teacher. Fascinating.