I was nearly put completely off by the first five or six sentences -- I've very glad I kept going long enough to get past the first page. (I hate frag...moreI was nearly put completely off by the first five or six sentences -- I've very glad I kept going long enough to get past the first page. (I hate fragmentary sentences!) This is one of the best books I've read in quite a while. There's something both wonderfully and awfully American about it. I find it unlikely that it could have been set in any other country and in any other time, and in any other milieu than the Midwest (and by extension the East). Well worth the effort (it's long), and I've now taken another of Franzen's books out of the library.(less)
I've read and re-read this several times. It's a great antidote to the world's modern insanities. You may not agree with every point Wheen makes, but...moreI've read and re-read this several times. It's a great antidote to the world's modern insanities. You may not agree with every point Wheen makes, but you should at least think hard about all of them.(less)
The Seven Years' War (to Americans the French and Indian War) was far more than an armed argument over the boundaries of the American colonies and the...moreThe Seven Years' War (to Americans the French and Indian War) was far more than an armed argument over the boundaries of the American colonies and the power of French traders amongst the Indians. It was, in many respects, a "first" world war, being fought in North America, Europe, the West Indies, India and the Philippines. It changed forever the balance of power between Britain and France. And it sowed the seeds of the American Revolution. Anderson's 746 pages of text and 80+ pages of notes bring to life not only its events, but the political, cultural and historic forces at work and the political and historical consequences.
The work is very well researched, well written and in places wryly funny. For example, Anderson says of the marquis de Montcalm that he "did everything in his power to make his operations conform to civilized standards as he understood them [but] he may have lived long enough to regret it." Henry Fox "was a superb parliamentary manipulator … whose deficiencies of character and excesses of ambition … made him an unattractive partner." Dinwiddie, the governor of the Colony of Virginia, was a man "who had no background as a military leader but who knew a contract when he saw one [thus ignoring complaints about the poor pay of both troops and officers who had contracted with the government to serve]."
The book is a long read but worth every minute.(less)
A fascinating gallop through the major (and most minor) Christian denominations and quasi-Christian sects in the USA. The author also includes brief d...moreA fascinating gallop through the major (and most minor) Christian denominations and quasi-Christian sects in the USA. The author also includes brief descriptions of the major non-Christian religions whose adherents can be found in America: Buddhist, Moslem, Jewish and Baha'i. There is a very brief history of Christianity at the beginning that covers the East-West Schism and the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and describes the difference between sect and denomination. The second chapter covers the basic differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, which (as the author points out) are relatively slight compared to the differences that separate atheist and theist. I've been using this book as a basis for research into the religious history of the USA, for which it is a very useful adjunct. It contains quite a few statistics covering membership and income as well. Unfortunately these are very out-of-date due to the age of the revised edition (now over 30 years old), but I've found it easy to use the author's basic sources to look up more recent statistics on the Web. Another thing that could be put right with an updated version would be to add coverage of the many mergers, splits and name-changes that have occurred since the third revised edition was published in 1979. Anyone interested in the religious make-up and/or history of the United States would, no doubt, welcome such a revision. But the fact that such facts are out-of-date does not detract from the general usefulness of the book in providing a guide to the rich religious diversity of America. This book is a very good first point of call for anyone looking for information.(less)
Former war photographer turned painter, painting a mysterious 360 degree mural in a semi-ruined tower, is approached by a mysterious man -- a Croatian...moreFormer war photographer turned painter, painting a mysterious 360 degree mural in a semi-ruined tower, is approached by a mysterious man -- a Croatian soldier he had photographed during the Bosnian War. The photograph appeared everywhere, and had unintended consequences both for the photographer and his subject. I've often wondered how war correspondents and photographers survive the things they witness -- not just in the sense of physical survival, but also in the sense of mental and moral survival. Maybe I'll find out by the end of the book. (The author was a war correspondent for many years, before he took to writing fiction.) (less)
What I like about Donna Leon's Brunetti books are the way in which her central character, Brunetti, is so much like most people whilst doing an uncomm...moreWhat I like about Donna Leon's Brunetti books are the way in which her central character, Brunetti, is so much like most people whilst doing an uncommon job as Commissario in the Venice Police. What is also the case is that the city of Venice is also a character within her stories. This particular story I found faster-paced than many of the others: a page-turner. It also deals with topics that are very much current affairs in Europe: the opportunities for greed and criminality to take advantage of the complexities of EU regulations, the lack of any true will to govern in the interests of the majority of citizens (an abrogation rather than malfeasance, though the latter occurs as well), the separation of the majority of people from the sources of things like food that they depend upon. If you want to know what people in Europe think, how they see the supra-national government of the EU, and what concerns them most, this is as good, and entertaining, a place to start as any. (less)
Not everyone will 'like' this book, but I believe it speaks intensively and extensively to those who have reason to grieve. As I put it to a friend, t...moreNot everyone will 'like' this book, but I believe it speaks intensively and extensively to those who have reason to grieve. As I put it to a friend, the characters in this book are in one way or another 'bereft'. I purposely don't use the term 'berieved'; its connotations are somehow too conventional.
The characters in the novel are all dealing, to one degree or another, with absence. In the novel's particular context, it is about gay men grieving for the friends and lovers they have lost through AIDS, but also about family (parents in particular). In a more general way, the novel is about connectedness or the keenly felt lack of it with those who are gone or are about to go. Even to Frank's ancient cat who, as Frank says, has shared 16 years of his life and therefore hasn't long to live, has a place in Frank's life that will soon be left empty and with which Frank must deal.
Although there is a great deal in this short novel about gay men and gay life in Washington DC, I feel the gay scene is peripheral to or simply an interesting vehicle for the author's long conversation with grief and the state of being bereft. I lost my second husband to sudden death 22 years ago, but still remember how it felt (and feels) to be bereft, which is perhaps why I view this book as a conversation with grief in all its many forms rather than as a 'gay' novel: grief ranges from 'moving on' through 'marking time' to letting grief rule one's life utterly in the sense that grief can sometimes be a form of death before actual death. I also see echoes in it of my adopted son's bereft-ness: he lost his mother to death when he was only two, and his father to abandonment, and though eleven years have passed for him and he scarcely remembers his mother (as he says, more from photographs than anything else) I can also see that he carries on an emotional conversation -- that changes over time but doesn't disappear -- with grief.
Not everyone will enjoy this book. Some will get hung up by its 'gay' aspect, while some will be bored or repelled by its central theme of grief. But if you have to face the imminent death of someone close to you or have already done so, I think this book will speak not so much to you, as about the questions you have half-formulated about how to live a life that has to accommodate grief somewhere. (less)
Cleanth Brooks in his Introduction to the Modern Library College Edition writes: 'Light in August is by common consent one of Faulkner's finest novels...moreCleanth Brooks in his Introduction to the Modern Library College Edition writes: 'Light in August is by common consent one of Faulkner's finest novels, but it is not one of his easiest. The reader coming to it for the first time should be warned to discard some of his stereotyped notions of Falknerian "materials."'
It struck me as a novel consisting of two tales told in parallel, with a few common elements such as time and place, and five characters that appear in common in both the tales, but in each playing different roles. One tale is that of the ill-fated Joe Christmas, illegitimate orphan, maybe part Negro maybe not (even he does not know for sure). The other is of Lena Grove, young, patient, strong-willed and pregnant, and her search for her lover Lucas Burch, who has clearly strung her a line and fled the situation. Lucas Burch/Brown is one of the link characters between the two stories, along with Byron Bunch, the disgraced Reverend Hightower, and two elderly people who turn out to be Joe Christmas's maternal grandparents. Burch has fled to Jackson, Mississippi where he works in a planing mill, and calls himself Brown. He ends up living in an abandoned Negro shack with Joe Christmas who also works in the planing mill. Byron Bunch also works in the planing mill, and he is there working one Saturday afternoon when Lena comes in. Before he realizes it, Byron has described Brown, now absent, so clearly that Lena knows he's her missing Lucas. But at the same time there is a terrible fire, in which a woman is found dead with her throat cut. Suspicion falls first on Burch/Brown, then he points to Christmas as the guilty party, and events move on inexorably to the end for Joe Christmas, but to a different end for Byron and Lena, and yet another for Lucas Burch who once again disappears. (less)
Her Majesty's corgis get out of control and go haring around a corner of Buckingham Palace, with Her Majesty (unusually) in pursuit. The dogs lead her...moreHer Majesty's corgis get out of control and go haring around a corner of Buckingham Palace, with Her Majesty (unusually) in pursuit. The dogs lead her to the mobile library that stops at the palace every other Wednesday, where she meets a scruffy young underling. He recommends some books to read, though Her Majesty is not really a reader, as such: things are read for her or to her, and they are mostly about the day-to-day practicalities of monarchical business. Gradually, she finds herself hooked, and her staff become alarmed as she takes to reading during rides in the royal limousine, starts appearing late at functions because she has just another few pages to read, and so on.
One thing leads to another, of course. She begins writing as well -- at first without much thought for any particular direction, then increasingly with focus.
Alan Bennett keeps the climax of the plot of this little book for the very last page, and it's a surprise.
Of course, we've now gone past the years in which this was supposed to have taken place, so one has to suspend knowledge of the present in order to enjoy the story fully, but it really is worth the effort.(less)
I really enjoy the Brunetti series. It's taken awhile, but Comissario Brunetti does grow older, mellower, and more than ever in love with his wife and...moreI really enjoy the Brunetti series. It's taken awhile, but Comissario Brunetti does grow older, mellower, and more than ever in love with his wife and his decaying, dying, but lovely city. I find the books interesting as well for their implied commentary on life in modern-day Italy, with the people-on-the-make, the horrid politicians, the untrustworthy police, the even-less-trustworthy judiciary -- except that one can get through life by going through contacts (hasn't it ever been thus in Italy?, but one does have to worry about what the future may bring. And is true justice in Italy a matter for the discretion of the investigating policeman? Maybe so.(less)