[New paragraph added to the end of my original review]
I never trusted this guy. Early on I was swept up in his language and his voice, and began to as[New paragraph added to the end of my original review]
I never trusted this guy. Early on I was swept up in his language and his voice, and began to ask myself - Is this brilliant? Am I listening to a work of genius here? Because the audiobook was great on one level - Foster kind of sounds like Neil Gaiman, and I was tricked into thinking there might be profundity here. (I recently listened to countless hours of Gaiman's View From the Cheap Seats as he read about sci fi writers and graphic illustrators whom I couldn't care less about, because he reads everything as if it's a fairy tale and I'd fallen under his spell.)
But when I attended more closely to Foster's words, rather than his voice, I began to have serious doubts. I grew to dislike him intensely and become upset with the book and his insidious rhetoric that concealed his human-centered biases. He's not saying what it seems. He's making shit up just to be lofty (or beastly). His project is ill-conceived. He's frequently revolting, just to be gross. His stories of hunting were so disturbing I had to fast-forward. And what's with all the shaman crap? (Not that shamanism is crap but that he was probably misusing it.) His contempt for some animals was shocking (in light of his project): He thinks that otters are just nasty little "furry worms" - and he states that even before trying to "be" an otter. And CATS. Not only does he hate domestic cats, he wishes other predators would exterminate them, and he describes a scene in which he chases and torments a cat! (The cat kind of wins, though.) He's being human through and through, not a fox or whatever the hell he was pretending to be. He says he's trying not to anthropomorphize, but he cannot truly extinguish his human senses, not to mention his neocortex or bad sense of humor.
------------ I don't know why I didn't think of Thomas Nagel while reading this, but it took Chuck Klosterman to remind me of Nagel's important essay "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" Here is CK's précis of Nagel's argument:
Nagel asks if it's possible for people to conceive what it's like to be a bat, and his conclusion is that it (probably) is not; we can only conceive what it would be like to be a human who was a bat. For example, bats use echolocation sonar to know what's in front of them. It's not difficult to imagine humans having echolocation sonar and how that would help us walk through a pitch-black room. That experience can be visualized. But what we can't understand is how that experience informs the consciousness of a bat. We can't even assess what level of consciousness a bat possesses, since the only available barometer for "consciousness" is our own. The interior life of a bat (or an octopus, or any nonhuman creature) is beyond our capacity [Italics mine].
This speaks to what I meant when I said I thought Foster's project was ill-conceived. By mimicking the mechanics of a badger or a swift (burrowing or flying) he thinks he can know what they think. He guesses at what they feel (sentience) but he cannot answer the consciousness question.
I'm glad that human beings are finally admitting that we don't/can't know everything about the consciousness of other life forms, and the questions have been asked by philosophers for centuries, for all time. The science is getting interesting, but logic tells me there will always be that gulf. (Maybe shamanism can cross it, but that's not science, and Foster 's book was messy conflation of the two.) I assume (and hope) that the answer to Frans de Waal's question, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, is no....more
Re-read for the first time since 1997, when I'd first discovered this Dutch novel. I've just been reading Caroline Moorhead's books about the Nazi occRe-read for the first time since 1997, when I'd first discovered this Dutch novel. I've just been reading Caroline Moorhead's books about the Nazi occupation of France and the French Resistance and felt suddenly drawn to augment that reading with another resistance story. (For this, too, is a story of resistance, albeit in occupied Holland, though one cannot know that by reading a brief description of the plot, and to explain further would reveal too much about the story, which contains a mystery element that is only explained on the final page.) I again found this beautifully written, haunting, and a gripping page-turner. I finished in tears just like that first time, too....more
I guess I'd give this something like 2.5 stars. I've moved more times than the US average, most recently to a new city in January this year when D tooI guess I'd give this something like 2.5 stars. I've moved more times than the US average, most recently to a new city in January this year when D took a new job. But things haven't quite clicked for us here: I'm still too attached to the old town a mere two-hours drive away, and stubbornly reluctant to put down roots yet. So I had been hoping that Warnick's book could give me some insights, or at least show me how someone else got over that first year in a new town. But, I found the book pretty boring: recitations of well-known sociological research on urban trends, neighborhoods, civic-mindedness, happiness, and "place attachment" (from Robert Putnum, Eric Klinenberg, Jeff Speck, Eric Weiner, & that ilk), mixed with blindingly obvious suggestions (i.e., volunteer, eat local, walk more!). Okay....more
"Babies are a goldmine." Sometimes these little collections of miscellany feel too slight (like Sarah Ruhl's 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write), b"Babies are a goldmine." Sometimes these little collections of miscellany feel too slight (like Sarah Ruhl's 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write), but I thought this was substantive and endearing. It first appears to be a collection of Galchen's thoughts about her baby (aka the puma; the chicken) and babies in the world, and I'm not particularly interested in becoming-a-mother memoirs and novels. But that's not what this is, and even when it goes into that territory she doesn't write what I expected; the baby observations are a springboard for thoughts about writing, about being a writer who is also a mother, being a reader, being a New Yorker, being a thinking adult. And instead of feeling like random observations, when read in order this coheres into an memorable little narrative. Galchen also writes with a funny and slightly odd sentence style that I'd never detected in her NYT Book Review essays or in her fiction....more
My lord this became so strange. I didn't understand where it was headed, even to near the end - and that was one reason I liked it. I also have come tMy lord this became so strange. I didn't understand where it was headed, even to near the end - and that was one reason I liked it. I also have come to trust Lydia Millet, who is wildly talented and clearly nuts (!). The characters of this novel were wonderfully drawn, albeit stereotyped and veering on the cartoonish, but I could see them: Don the hotel host, the two Lindas, Kay, Navid, Will, Lena, Ned, etc. I actually thought "Anna" was an unreliable narrator for most of the novel, but I was cheering for her, and we don't usually do that for an unreliable narrator. (And maybe she remained that. I don't claim to understand this thing.)
I was reminded of the end of Magnificence, and really the entire How the Dead Dream cycle, in Millet's way of combining the quotidian and the off-the-wall, the transcendent; demotic language and big ideas. Or maybe they're not combined, but just intermixed - because to combine would be smooth and seamless and too easy to swallow, where she wants to leave the juxtapositions rough and unsettling. Magnificence built toward a conclusion of a grandiose and profound (if not clearly explained) vision of human evolution, animals, and a "great chain of being." And this novel shares the theme of non-human animals and humans' place in the order of things. (Did anyone else think of Magnificence when they read the scene in SLoH with the polar bear skin mounted on the wall?) But reading the end of that cycle I felt caught up in that grand vision, given a glimpse of something very meaningful, mystical, and necessarily inexplicable. Reading the end of this I felt ....?
Sweet Lamb of Heaven went pretty far out there, maybe too far. I mean, what the hell? By midway I was swiping pages rapidly: I always feared for the protagonist and her daughter, and I was sure by then that this wasn't a clear-cut domestic violence story, and the surveillance story-line was scary. But the Book of Revelation material, that was a head-scratcher, and I had trouble with the explanations of God and "deep language." I hope Millet doesn't think climate change and a coming Armageddon are linked. That's all metaphorical, right?
-- It's just occurred to me that this could be the start of another series/cycle of linked novels. I haven't read a single review or interview yet, so maybe everyone else already knows this. But Millet has created these colorful characters about whom I want to know more - and she ends with the beginning of a battle between the forces for good and the forces of darkness. Don asks Anna "Are you ready?" Of course! And while this time Millet focused on Anna and Lena, the next book could be about one of the other characters. This could get really interesting (and weird-good). ...more
This was almost nothing like The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth, which I read last summer. I liked that one a lot, too, but that was aThis was almost nothing like The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth, which I read last summer. I liked that one a lot, too, but that was a sort of travelogue and humorous survey of all the Nordic countries by a non-Nordic admirer of the lifestyles and social policies of the five nations. This book, by contrast, is told by a Finnish journalist who moves to the USA for love and then applies her Finland-honed sense of justice to her new country, comparing and contrasting Finland and the USA. As you might guess Finland comes out better in many areas, but she's also pretty balanced and has enough distance to criticize her home country, too.
I'd downloaded the audio without having read any reviews or even any dust-jacket blurbs, feeling anticipatory delight at another wistful exploration of Scandinavia. In the beginning I began to fear that this was a sort a chick-lit memoir about following the handsome love-of-your-life and giving up everything you've ever cared about and worked for to be with the guy. But it quickly became a very different sort of book: a critical and well-reasoned examination of American policies in health care, education, child care, the American idea of success and social mobility, and gender roles and marriage. At the same time it remains a very personal book, as Partanen frames her arguments around her own adjustment to living and working in the US, along with her impressions of American culture and her bewilderment at our acceptance of many unjust and illogical traditions and public policies. It's so trenchant and well reasoned that I several times found myself near to weeping with frustration during her discussions of the US health care/health insurance system. I think my audio book parts were either playing out of order or she kept returning to the subject for hours and hours. God please stop ... but yes, Anu Partanen you are so right!! (I'm overly sensitive lately, due to a four-month long and still-unresolved insurance over-billing, not to mention the unease many of us live with that our insurance will not support us if we become truly sick, and the fear that we freelancers have that the ACA might be undermined.)...more
The second in Moorehead's proposed trilogy of French Resistance histories. What I had assumed might be a sweetened story of rescuers and goodness in tThe second in Moorehead's proposed trilogy of French Resistance histories. What I had assumed might be a sweetened story of rescuers and goodness in the midst of the Holocaust turned out to be a complicated story - the truth is not so black and white. It's also the story of the Nazi occupation of France and how this region stood slightly apart from the Vichy regime. One man is often credited with the rescue and hiding of Jewish children at Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, but the region itself had a history of resistance, and many other women and men were instrumental and perhaps more crucial than Trocmé. This historical memory is disputed as well, and apparently Moorehead received threats after publication. Why are some rescuers honored by Yad Vashem and others are ignored? - it's political and controversial, of course. (Made me think of the David Rieff book I just read, In Praise of Forgetting, and his suggestion that historical memories can be problematic if they become dogma.)
I read this soon after listening to A Train in Winter, so I had a terrifying and immediate understanding of the agonies any of those unfortunate enough to be caught and deported would undergo. ...more
The first half told a detailed background on the French Resistance and one becomes familiar with the women and their lives in occupied France. Parts 8The first half told a detailed background on the French Resistance and one becomes familiar with the women and their lives in occupied France. Parts 8-11 of the audiobook were a devastating (and important) listening experience, as Moorehead followed these women into Ravensbruck and Auschwitz. I cannot believe some of them survived those horrors. Based on Moorehead's interviews with these women, and also describes what their postwar lives were like. ...more