File this one under a new Goodread tag: books-i-gave-up-reading.
I did not hate this novel, but I could not finish th...moreI can't keep doing this to myself
File this one under a new Goodread tag: books-i-gave-up-reading.
I did not hate this novel, but I could not finish this novel. I'll tell you why:
My general rule for reading novels is to give it 50 pages. If by that time the novel isn't doing anything for me--the style of writing, the characters, the story development--I'll stop. I mean: *something* the author is doing must make me want to read. Rarely have I put a book down. Rarely is there nothing--style, characters, story--to make me *not* want to read.
Well, I gave The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle much much more than 50 pages. But I can't go on.
As I've mentioned in other reviews, novelists give themselves away in their novels. It can't be helped; it's part of the creative process. What also can't be helped is that novelists tell you about their novel *within* the novel. With the best writers--in the best novels--this is very subtle. It's almost non-existent, or transparent, because it's so much a fabric of the novel itself. But it's always there. It's always there.
And here it is in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Mr. Murakami warns us what kind of novel he's writing on p. 82. It's free form literature. He mentions three "free jazz" musicians on p. 82. Albert Ayler. Ah, I thought. I see where he's going with this, and I'm not liking it. On the next page, p. 83, Mr. Murakami reviews the main portions of the "story," such as it was up to that point, for us. Thank you, I wanted to say, because I don't remember! And don't really care anymore!
I plodded on.
By page 180 I felt like the narrator when he says to himself: "I had to move my body, to begin working toward some goal." The next page stopped me cold: "I felt as if I had become part of a badly written novel....."
I put the book down and thought: I wouldn't say "badly written." I would say "poorly constructed." To this point in the book it was like reading a Bukowski "slice of life" novel; or, watching Andy Warhol's 45-minute epic "Eat". It's idiotic.
As a writer and reader, I find nothing of value to continue reading this book. I take that back. I find things of value in how *not* to write. But I can't go on.
I'll leave my review of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle at that and close this book and place it back up on my shelf where it will remain likely unread for the remainder of my days.(less)
I didn't like this book much. Oh, there are funny episodes strewn throughout, even some laugh-out-loud moments. But as the "story" moves on you'll fin...moreI didn't like this book much. Oh, there are funny episodes strewn throughout, even some laugh-out-loud moments. But as the "story" moves on you'll find that everything is self-induced. It's just Hunter S. Thompson (and his lawyer) sent by a magazine to cover events in Las Vegas over a weekend, but instead they're loading themselves up on whatever drug they can get their hands on: mescaline, acid, cocaine, uppers, downers, ether, amyl, tequila, rum, pot. "In search of the American Dream."
Just watch the fun now, kids! We’re going to get loaded up on whatever mind-altering substances are available and Let’s…See…What…Happens! Even if that means putting ourselves and innocent folks in life-threatening circumstances! And when we “come down,” don't worry, we’ll just reach for more (or different) drugs and do those! And do it all over again! And again! And because we don’t *really* have anything to say, about anything (throwing a sentence or two in about Nixon to make it look like you're talking about “something” doesn't count), we’ll get in the car (our *rental* car) and drive around and drag race with "the man"! And vomit out the window! And ruin hotel rooms that we don’t have to pay for!
What a dick move.
After a couple of episodes I was wondering when the heroin or crystal meth was going to be administered. Oh. Wait. Is *that* stepping over the line?
Crap like this wears thin really fast because, in the end, it has to end. It’s the same reason Cheech and Chong aren't doing their "drug bit" anymore: it's old and pathetic. Because it's only funny being a dope-head for a little while. A *real* little while. Then you wake up. And that’s when your limited view of the world is revealed; if not to you then certainly to everyone around you: that the drugs are not expanding your universe, they’re actually making the universe collapse in on you—selfish, self-absorbed, pitiable “you.”
How childish. How retarded. And by that I mean "stunted," for that's the origination of this text: a stunted and self-centered view of the world.(less)
I brought this book with me to read on a beach vacation. It fit the bill.
Enjoyable and quick and pleasant enough. I had several...moreGood enough beach read
I brought this book with me to read on a beach vacation. It fit the bill.
Enjoyable and quick and pleasant enough. I had several problems with the plot, the entire situation was not believable, the author's misandry was showing through in spots, and both main characters are incredibly twisted, like a his and (mostly) hers freak-fest.
Title: A writer gets carried away with himself and his style
Some random notes on reading this novel:
1. "Call me Stingo."
Wow. He really nearly opened S...moreTitle: A writer gets carried away with himself and his style
Some random notes on reading this novel:
1. "Call me Stingo."
Wow. He really nearly opened Sophie's Choice with that line. At least he saved it for the second paragraph! What balls to take something from Moby Dick and try to make it your own like that.
2. Novelists give themselves away in their books. They can't help it. You've got several hundred pages to fill; some of you is bound to come out inside the story, intentionally or not. In Sophie's Choice, Styron doesn't shy away from this; he *embraces* it. He *celebrates* it. He pulls the plug on himself and let's all of him out.
3. Styron is a writer who loves to write. Boy does he love to write. And write, and write, and write. He can say in 2 pages what could take 2 sentences to express. It's how he does it.
4. In Sophie's Choice Styron gets to "split" himself up: At several points in the text we're told that the "I" is in the "now" (late 1970s) writing about his younger self in 1947. It's a neat literary trick that allows Styron (the writer) to give to his narrator (Stingo, the writer) speech and insight he'd normally not have. If you're not going to take the "God" point of view 3rd person to tell your story, you'll use the 1st person to make the "I" the god. This fits Styron's "fuck God" motto perfectly.
5. This novel is an interesting look into Styron the writer because he uses Stingo, the book's narrator, to explain how he, Styron, came to write two of his novels, Lie Down in Darkness and The Confessions of Nat Turner. Stingo/Styron goes into much detail explaining his writing, why he chose these subjects, his writing habits. See note #3 above.
6. Weeks after writing notes 1-5 I can write this: It took a lot of text for Styron to get to Sophie's Choice. If you want to venture into this novel, keep in mind that it gets to be a bit of a slog after a while. If you know nothing of the Holocaust, this fictionalized look will be a good introduction. If you're a bit of a history buff, like me, you'll know this already but may appreciate the fictionalized details.
Be prepared to go down a few personal side stories with Styron as he admires his alter ego, Stingo, the novelist in the novel. Some of his escapades are really funny; others seem to me to be just the ego-driven ramblings of a young man who hasn't lived much or thought very broadly yet thinks very highly of himself.
It's OK: 3/5 on Amazon 2/5 on Goodreads
PS: I picked up my copy of this novel in Costa Rica, of all places. I ran out of books to read, of the ones I'd brought with me. I read about 100 or so pages in, and our stay ended, but the manager of the resort said, Take it with you. So I did. It's this old, water-worn, beat-up copy of a paperback that's styled like a romance novel. In blazing letters across the front it states: "A novel for everyone!"
Wow is that off base.
PPS: If you're still going to read Sophie's Choice, I recommend balancing it out with Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. It was published just after the war, by a man who survived a concentration camp. It's a somber look at the human experiences of the camps and of how people learned to sustain themselves in and through those experiences.(less)
Title: Clever satire in spots but too long and repetitive, then mean
I waited too long to read this novel. I wanted to like it more than I did. I'm in...moreTitle: Clever satire in spots but too long and repetitive, then mean
I waited too long to read this novel. I wanted to like it more than I did. I'm in my early 50's. I think if I'd read it in my early 20's, or really late teens, without much life experience at all--and during the 1970s--I would have thought much better of it (probably not; I was old at 15). As it is, I come to this novel now with my own books and poetry published and much of life lived already, and here nearly halfway into the 2010s--and enough experiences to fill two lives or more. Experience colors perspective. Of course.
I won't get into plot details here. What little there are. I'm just providing some feedback after reading the book, and my take on things based on my perspective.
I've not a veteran; my experience comes from sitting down and talking in-depth with many veterans (special operators among them) about their service and combat experiences, from WW2 to Iraq (and several other locales in between). My father served 2 and a half years in the Pacific Theater during WW2 and was awarded four bronze service stars. I've talked with and listened to men relate their experiences of losing limbs and watching men die in combat alongside them. I know much more than the average non-military person about the meaning of the words loyalty, duty, respect, service, honor, discipline, and personal courage. These are traits mocked and denigrated in this novel, and these are traits that are mocked and denigrated in our popular culture today.
I told you that as preface to telling you this: Catch-22 is a funny (satirical and absurdist) novel in some little bits, but it's also a tedious and repetitive novel. I agree with Norman Mailer's assessment in an essay in my copy of the 50th anniversary edition that you could remove 100 pages from the middle of Catch-22 and you wouldn't notice as a reader; and, jokingly Mailer writes, neither would Heller: "not even the author could be certain they were gone."
By the time I'd read to page 125 I'd read all of what Heller had to give stylistically, primarily (more later). That is: each of the chapters from that point on presents essentially the same thing: a character, a little plot detail (what little narrative arc there is) to link to the greater "plot," then a self-contained "story" (really just a slice of life experience of that chapter's sort-of main character). In other words, as Mailer points out: Cut 100 pages in the middle and you've lost nothing of the experience of the novel.
As the novel progresses it becomes bitter and even mean-spirited. Heller lets loose in certain parts of the novel, showing his absurd anti-war sentiments. (Similar to John Lennon's dangerously childish and naive Utopian cult hit "Imagine.") You'll also get this from the extra material in the back of the 50th anniversary edition. Heller absolutely hated war. At all costs. His fictionalized account of American fighter planes strafing Americans is not funny, it's twisted. Read Heller's essay "Reeling in Catch-22" to see what the man really thought. How there was in the 1960s a "change in spirit, a new spirit of healthy irreverence." He goes on to call "Americanism....horsesh**." How it doesn't work. How it's not true. I wanted to say, Really, Mr. Heller? Well, I have a friend who served 2 years in a Chinese re-education camp who came to the U.S. who thinks, pretty much, exactly the opposite as you do. Or read Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Heller's attitude gels with Utopian peaceniks of the 1960s. It doesn't work so well in the modern realities of Russian gulags and Chinese re-education camps. And the post-modern world of new Islamic jihadist caliphates.
So, for me, where this novel fails miserably is when Heller is tearing down the appropriateness and necessity of war, and when he treads into bitter, completely absurd territory. In some spots I actually was pissed off at how the character Yossarian places other men in danger because of his actions, because he doesn't want to do his duty. That's beyond cowardly; it's not at all funny; it's inhuman.
Having said all that I will say this: I did enjoy portions of the book. Heller's take on the absurdities of the military bureaucracy are funny. There are laugh-out-loud moments, mostly early on, but as the novel goes on the humor lessens and the dreariness and repetitiveness and absurdity settles in and all around. Commanding officers up and down the chain are idiots and worthy of contempt. It wears thin after a while.
Back to my "more later" comment above: Curiously, the final 50 pages of the book are written in a serious (not completely absurdist-satirist) tone. Then the last 5 pages returns to Yossarian's nuttiness. The end.
During the Vietnam War this novel may have served its purpose to give some Americans what they thought they needed: an alternative "narrative" to what they thought America represented. At least what it represented to them living in their cocooned lives out in suburbia. Here we stand at the end of American empire in the first decade of the 21st century, and the novel reads to me like a child stomping its feet in front of its parents about how unfair the world is and how mummy and daddy don't know nothing about nothing and about how everything would be alright if only we could all play nice.
Here's a news flash, Mr. Heller: Life's not fair. The world doesn't care about you. Life doesn't owe you anything. Very often you are asked to look outside yourself and give yourself to something society deems the greater good; this is called real life. There is evil in this world. That's why there's no playing nice. And sociopaths (and a**holes) are at the top because their personalities give them the skills to stomp on good and just people's heads to get there, and stay there. That's the way it is.
If there's an analogy to be made in the movie world, it may be this: Catch-22 is to "war" what Office Space is to "the job". Both poke fun at the "insanity" of their environments by using exaggeration, but we all know that's not how it really is. At least, we should know.
It’s hard to say exactly why I’m so disappointed with this novel. It may be because there was so much build-up around it, so I came in with very high...moreIt’s hard to say exactly why I’m so disappointed with this novel. It may be because there was so much build-up around it, so I came in with very high (too high) hopes. It won high praise from many critics, and it won several awards. I’ll admit that’s partly why I read the book. I do pay attention to what people are saying. (Heck, it was a National Book Award finalist!) So I came in really wanting to like and enjoy this book.
It started nicely, poetically, a bit oddly muted and muddled. Less than a quarter of the way through I was beginning to feel like there was a bait and switch going on. The characters, the story, the scenes, the writing… I wasn’t connecting. And I really wanted to. Like Mr. Powers, I’m a poet and a novelist, so I know the skills he’s bringing to bear here. I get his writing, his writing style, and I can appreciate it for what he was trying to do.
First, I didn’t connect to the characters (and there are only *three* of them). They read undeveloped to me. I wasn’t feeling who they are, so I wasn’t caring for them very much as they were going through their “story.”
Which brings us to problem number 2: there’s not much story here. We have 11 chapters, alternating in time and space, over 226 pages. It is a short novel. Told in a first person point of view, the narrator wedges in bits of his memories from the fields and odd encounters with the enemy in Iraq and then back to his return and trying to “fit in” in his home town in Virginia. But he feels out of place. And I do, too, as a reader.
Another problem for me was the scenes in the book. The scenes the narrator was describing did not make me feel as if I were there with him experiencing the events in his story. Mr. Powers’ gift with language was his weakness, too, because it felt sometimes like Mr. Powers, the writer, was getting in the way of Private Bartle, the storyteller.
There was some nice writing, sure. But there was a lot of writing that just rambled, for no apparent reason. And sometimes at the strangest moments, so much so that it felt like Powers had to reel himself back in from his own tangents. I have no problem with stream-of-consciousness writing, but the stream should lead somewhere. At other times the language (similes, metaphors, ramblings) Powers uses just gets in the way because of its strangeness. I mean, there was writing I stumbled over--that, really, just stopped the book for me. For example: “Clouds spread out over the Atlantic like soiled linens on an unmade bed” (p. 99). My first thought when I read this was: Huh? I had to re-read it. And not for pleasure. Because my next thought was: Ewww. And using Vonnegut’s “So it goes” (p. 135). I almost set the book aside when I read that because I thought: He really just re-used *that* line? And: “We trickled out into the city like water rung from a mop” (p. 194). What? “from a mop”? Writing should draw me into the novel and make me experience what the characters are experiencing, not make me look up and think: “What the hell?”
There are also some bits that seem really disjointed (as other reviewers have pointed out), as if the text was in need of a good editor: birds flying out of an orchard that’s just been shelled to pieces; a woman standing motionless for hours—hours!—upon hearing of her son’s death; dark night suddenly becoming the dawn.
Finally, for me, the story felt strangely heartless, oddly soulless. I was hoping (intending) to finish the book with a better understanding—a better feeling—of war. A character spent a page describing his experience of war (like the moment suspended before a car accident), but I felt none of that while reading this book. Instead, the book felt rushed and undone, incoherent and incomplete. I wanted to know more because, at the end of it all, at the reveal of the “big, traumatic event,” I felt robbed of knowing. I felt the author owed me more. And I felt cheated out of what should have been a good novel, if not a great novel, about the *experience* of our most modern war.
“Did not like it” 2 stars Amazon 1 star Goodreads(less)
Title: Excellent introduction to how language impacts individual thought, a culture, and a civilization
(Background: Over a couple of decades' time I p...moreTitle: Excellent introduction to how language impacts individual thought, a culture, and a civilization
(Background: Over a couple of decades' time I planned to read the scriptures of the world's great religions/philosophies. I started with my own, reading the Bible in two different translations, first the Hebrew-Greek Word Study Bible by Spiros Zodhiates, and then the NIV. Next I turned to Islam and Al-Quaran. After that The Bhagavad Gita and the Analects of Confucius. Every reading is helping me go a bit deeper and wider into man's search for God and, through that, meaning in this life. More books and reviews to come.)
I read this book on a beach vacation a few years ago. I enjoyed it very much. I'd not read much previously about Confucius or Confucianism, the ethical and philosophical system derived from the man's teachings; this volume filled that void.
The book consists of a lengthy Introduction--70 pages. The Analects are then presented in 20 "books"; the Chinese text is presented alongside the English translation. Appendices take up the remainder.
What I enjoyed most about this book was the Introduction. The authors go to great lengths to explain the times that Confucius (551-479 BC) lived in--the government, the politics, the family structure--and the language of classical Chinese. This is most important to understanding a people, their culture, and what (and why) they believe what they believe, and how they build their civilization. We in the West know that the Orient is different; the authors gave me a better understanding of why. For example, in classical Chinese there are no words as there are in English for--among others--"freedom," "liberty," "choice," "individual," "reason," "autonomy." The authors write: "None of these English words has a close analogue in classical Chinese...." (p. 54).
If you don't have a word to describe something, then that something simply and "correctly" does not exist for you.
Frightening and eye-opening all at once.....
So for me the Introduction and the insight it provided into Chinese language and, thus, fundamentally, Chinese thinking was worth the price of the book.
The Analects themselves are stories of Confucius' wanderings in the countryside and his sayings on what he thinks is best for proper government, from the emperor down to local rulers down to relations among family. That's about it. But it provides great insight into Chinese thinking. The text at times is rather dry and straightforward. Don't expect "Confucius say...." nonsense. It doesn't exist.
Read this book for the great introduction it is to one of the world's great and largest philosophical (some would say religious) systems. And also for the keen insight it provides into the Chinese people and why things are the way they are.
I picked this one up in a supermarket, of all places, just before leaving on a beach holiday. I've known about Bonhoeffer for a long time, just not th...moreI picked this one up in a supermarket, of all places, just before leaving on a beach holiday. I've known about Bonhoeffer for a long time, just not the details of his life. I flipped through some pages of this little book, and the reading level seemed about right for a "serious beach read." It reads to me about middle school level.
I found it to be a nice, quick, not overly complex introduction to the man, his theology, his time, and him struggling to make his way and find his place (and peace) in his time. Excerpts from his letters sent from prison are particularly heart-wrenching because you know how the story ends. The Nazis hang him just a few weeks before the end of World War II.
A camp doctor wrote of witnessing the execution, and confirming Bonhoeffer's death: "In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."