In a recent New Yorker article Martin Amis wrote “When we say that we love a writer’s work, we are always stretching the truth: what we really mean is...moreIn a recent New Yorker article Martin Amis wrote “When we say that we love a writer’s work, we are always stretching the truth: what we really mean is that we love about half of it.” I don’t agree with that as a general rule but it sums up my feelings about Anne Tyler pretty well. Some of her books I really love (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Saint Maybe, Back When We Were Grownups) and they’ve become a permanent part of my mental furniture. Others leave me cold (The Accidental Tourist, An Amateur Marriage) and I pretty much forget about them as soon as I close the book. Happily, this one falls in the first category.
This is Tyler's first book but many of her ongoing themes are already evident here (more so than in A Slipping Down Life, the other NC novel I’ve read). The plot is slight but the characters are engaging, the voices of Shelley and Gram in particular rang true for me. We see them from the outside (like people in real life) so we don’t know these characters intimately but they still come across as real. The six sisters do kind of run together but that seems intentional (and probably true of large families) and “the sisters” definitely have a distinct personality as a whole even if they don’t always as individuals. I like the way that Tyler gives us a slice of these characters lives without revealing all the details of their pasts or concluding too much about their futures. The book left me wanting to know more about their lives both before and after this story.
As with all of Tessa Hadley’s books that I’ve read I liked this very much. Her writing style is sturdy but spare. She provides plenty of plot interest...moreAs with all of Tessa Hadley’s books that I’ve read I liked this very much. Her writing style is sturdy but spare. She provides plenty of plot interest but doesn’t tell you everything straight out; she tells you just enough and let’s you fill in the rest. This book gets better as you go along. I liked the second Cora section better than the first Paul section. The ending is great, the pictures of Cora and Robert in each other’s houses are quite moving and the final section somehow ties the whole book together very effectively (more thematically than plotwise though). It’s an ending that could easily have seemed sentimental but instead feels inevitable and left me with the distinct impression that these characters’ stories would continue after the book’s end. It’s rare for me to be this satisfied with the ending of a book (so often books start out great only to fizzle at the end). I can’t figure out quite how she did it so well here but I wish she’d give lessons. (less)
More than a pastiche, this is a true blue Jonathan Ames novel (with all his characteristic tics and concerns) infused with the Wodehouse spirit. Once...moreMore than a pastiche, this is a true blue Jonathan Ames novel (with all his characteristic tics and concerns) infused with the Wodehouse spirit. Once again he walks a fine line between comedy and hopelessness that is entertaining without being trivial. Having read a few of his books now I have to wonder if he's just going to keep telling the same story over and over in different formats but if he can keep up this standard I say why not. And on a practical note, if I ever decide to retire permanantly to a delusional fantasy world the Wodehouse novels would be a great choice. I can't believe I never thought of it before! (less)
This book was not what I expected. Based on the other Fitzgerald I've read I was expecting either straightfoward realism or satire, and instead found...moreThis book was not what I expected. Based on the other Fitzgerald I've read I was expecting either straightfoward realism or satire, and instead found this to be surprisingly modernist. I'm not scared off by modernism (in fact I usually like it) but I found this book difficult to read and, difficult to like. I felt like I was being purposefully pushed away from the center of the story (the Divers marriage) even as I was being told all the details. The character of Dick was completely unappealing to me and the character of Nicole never came into focus at all. I loved the use of popular music (especially when Nicole uses her phonograph to seduce Dick) but ultimately I admired this book more than I liked it.(less)
Warning: this is a big heavy art book; it's not for reading in bed, or on the bus. You will need to make time to peruse it at a substantial, well-ligh...moreWarning: this is a big heavy art book; it's not for reading in bed, or on the bus. You will need to make time to peruse it at a substantial, well-lighted table or desk, but it's worth the effort. The catalogue of a 2005 exhibit at MOCA, it spans both comic strips and comic books, and features an excellent selection of artists ranging chronologically from Winsor McCay to Chris Ware and stylistically from Charles Schultz to Gary Panter. The first half of the book is the best part, a long survey essay by John Carlin accompanying substantial excerpts from the comics themselves. Carlin does a great job of putting each artist in context both within the time period in which the work appeared and within the overall history of comics. And the comic reproductions are well chosen to spotlight the artwork while also demonstrating how it functions as part of the narrative whole. All of the work included is interesting and well presented but I found the sections on the early newspaper strips (McCay, Herriman, Feininger, E.C. Seegar and Frank King)particularly fascinating, maybe because it was less familiar. I'm a long-time Gasoline Alley fan but the strips from the 20s and 30s were a revalation; I had no idea it ever looked like that.
The short essays on individual artists in the second part of the book are uneven in quality and the reproductions lean heavily on out-of-context splash pages and cover art, making this section of the book generally less interesting. But overall this is a great introduction to a broad range of some of the best American comics and their creators. (less)
I really like Vendler's writing, it is clear and engaging and I always get the gist of what she is saying even when I don't understand all the technic...moreI really like Vendler's writing, it is clear and engaging and I always get the gist of what she is saying even when I don't understand all the technical details. I also find her focus on close reading of individual poems very appealing.
I enjoyed all of these essays but to my surprise the ones on Keats and Eliot (which focused on two of my favorite poems) were my least favorite, maybe there was just less scope for surprise because these poems are so familiar. I was also surprised at how much I liked the Milton essay. I'm not a big fan of Milton, I'd never read L'Allegro before and I kind of expected this essay to be hard and boring but after reading it I actually like the poem.
The Plath essay was my favorite though, not only did it help me appreciate a poem I didn't like that much before (The Colossus) but it also articulated for me what I find appealing about Plath's poetry in general. It's not the sensational confessional details and suicidal angst that make her poetry remarkable(plenty of bad poets offer those all the time) but her wry impertinent voice and her masterful use of linguistic structure and metaphor that make her poems stick in my mind.
Looking forward to reading Vendler's new Emily Dickinson book even more after this!(less)
This book is both a critical appreciation of Daphne Du Maurier's writing and a personal account of Nina Auerbach's relationship (as a reader)with Du M...moreThis book is both a critical appreciation of Daphne Du Maurier's writing and a personal account of Nina Auerbach's relationship (as a reader)with Du Maurier. As usual, Auerbach offers fascinating insights into her chosen subject and the personal anecdotes about her own reading are engaging and add interest. Auerbach's Daphne Du Maurier is not my Daphne Du Maurier but she is undoubtedly interesting. Sexual politics, which are key to Auerbach's experience of Du Maurier's work, have never been at the forefront of my own reading of Du Maurier and this book hasn't changed my mind about that. Auerbach is great though at putting Du Maurier into the context of her literary family history and her description of Du Maurier as a chronicler of genealogical and national decay is spot on. The chapter on movie adaptations of Du Maurier's work is also excellent. Best of all, she recognizes and conveys the intrinsic "weirdness" that is the at the heart of Du Maurier's appeal.(less)