The best biography I've ever read. Franklin is so human I could walk into the next room and not be surprised to see him setting there.
The biographer a...moreThe best biography I've ever read. Franklin is so human I could walk into the next room and not be surprised to see him setting there.
The biographer also makes a very compelling argument that Ben Franklin was the most indispensable figure in the American Revolutionary adventure. Or at least tied with Washington.
Most historians agree that without George Washington, there's nobody else who could've stepped forward to successfully keep an army together, miraculously beat the most powerful country in the world, and then step down when people were asking him to become emperor.
After this book, though, you'll believe the war was unwinnable without Franklin - nobody else could've gotten the French to lend the US money and give naval support (and others did try).
Plus, of course, the man's life was fascinating.(less)
Take these three stars with a grain of salt...I feel like I missed a lot in these stories. I probably did. I guess I'm intimidated by Joyce, but some...moreTake these three stars with a grain of salt...I feel like I missed a lot in these stories. I probably did. I guess I'm intimidated by Joyce, but some of the stories seemed to just end in the strangest places. Even if many of them were just profiles where there wasn't a narrative with a payoff, they still seemed to end...oddly.
Nevertheless, if you still trust my opinion, some of the portraits and a few of the stories are really wonderful, sad, and real.(less)
Moral of the story: Don't live in 15th century France. No matter how the dice land, you lose. It's a sucky piece of timespace.
This book, of course, ha...moreMoral of the story: Don't live in 15th century France. No matter how the dice land, you lose. It's a sucky piece of timespace.
This book, of course, has a hunchback, and Notre Dame, and the gypsy La Esmerelda - oh, and a sequence where the titular hunchback wreaks deadly havoc on crowds of marauders below him in the titular Dame - but other than that, it bears no resemblance to the movie versions (I've seen the silent one and the Charles Laughton version). It's worth reading just for that.
I had a hard time believing this was the same author that wrote Les Miserables, except for the very long chapter about architecture. It felt more like Three Musketeers writing. I'd have pegged it as Dumas.(less)
The book should have ended sooner, but whaddya gonna do? Russian authors...
This is my fault, but I really started to drift toward the end. OK, I get i...moreThe book should have ended sooner, but whaddya gonna do? Russian authors...
This is my fault, but I really started to drift toward the end. OK, I get it that Tolstoy believed in God and that this book showed us what Tolstoy felt was undeniably God's presence, and that Anna Karenina's romance was contrasted with Kitty's, and that Vronsky's horse in the steeplechase was symbolism, and that blah blah blah, but I still feel like I didn't get it get it. Maybe I'm missing something; maybe there's nothing to miss.
Isn't there anyone who can tell me what Anna Karenina is all about!?(less)
I was supposed to read this in college. I read far enough to decide it was a big morality statement and women shouldn't do anything but marry somebody...moreI was supposed to read this in college. I read far enough to decide it was a big morality statement and women shouldn't do anything but marry somebody and shut up. I'm embarrassed but pleased at how wrong I was.
I wish I was in a college class again to discuss this, because I really liked it, and would like to sort out the various feelings I have about the characters. It's an incredibly forward-looking book. I can't quite grasp that a woman character was so powerful in a novel back then. I mean, I get that she's not necessarily the nicest woman you'd want to meet, but still.
An impressive work. I wasn't expecting to like it so much.(less)
I did this one as an audiobook (but *NOT* the version goodreads implies - they 'combined' editions and the audio version I listened to is gone. It's t...moreI did this one as an audiobook (but *NOT* the version goodreads implies - they 'combined' editions and the audio version I listened to is gone. It's the version from librivox.org - if you haven't heard of it, but like audio books, I recommend the site - free versions of public domain books).
Anyhoo, I listened to many sections twice, because my mind wandered, because Conrad can be like that for me, but I followed everything, and...
I don't think I get it. What's supposed to be the good part of this that makes it a classic? It's OK, I guess. I need someone to tell me what makes it good.
I added a star (would have been two instead of three), because of the reading. Stewart Wills' reading is perfect for an audio book - lots of good inflection...he keeps it just the right energy...but he doesn't try to make it into a one-man play starring Stewart Wills. It's still Conrad's writing that's front and center.
(As a cf., I tried Lord Jim as an audio book from my library, and that guy's voice was so affected - and constantly affected in different ways - that I couldn't finish it).(less)
The book is good. It's good but it's sad. It's a good, sad book about a good, sad man, and that's what Hemingway intended. He knew that writing a good...moreThe book is good. It's good but it's sad. It's a good, sad book about a good, sad man, and that's what Hemingway intended. He knew that writing a good book is a fine thing, because people will enjoy reading it.
I tell myself that he's right: reading a good book is a good thing. You can be glad that the book is good, and you can be glad that you are not a character in the book, because Hemingway books are sad books, and characters in Hemingway books do not have an easy time of it. But it's a good, fine thing to enjoy as a good read.
Lots of books you are not reading, because you are reading this one right now, may be better - hell, some must be - but do not dwell on that. No, do not dwell on that, but read the good book you have, because you know it is good and is nothing to complain about. You've got a good book and it's a pleasure to read, and it's a damned sight better to read than it is to be one of the characters in the book.
If you are a character in a Hemingway book you will probably get shot. You'll get shot and it will hurt like hell and there will be blood and you might die. If you do not die, you may get shot again, later in the book. That will hurt like hell, too, and if you get shot a second time you might as well die because Hemingway has it in for you.
So be glad that you are reading the book, you bastard, and that you aren't one of the bastards in the book.(less)
Did you ever see "Dead Poet's Society"? You know that scene where it's the first day of school and Robin Williams has them read...moreWell, I tell you what.
Did you ever see "Dead Poet's Society"? You know that scene where it's the first day of school and Robin Williams has them read that essay out loud, with all sorts of formulae and things for analyzing poetry - where Robin Williams graphs a formula on the board: PxI=G ?
That's the feeling I got with this. It seems to miss the forest for the trees.
OK, it's an analysis of drama and epic poetry. But to what end? Aristotle apparently felt it would be prescriptive to writers, so that they could produce better work. Maybe to a small degree it does.
But if something works, it works. The success of any form of art is nothing more nor less than its gestalt effect - any checklist of qualities to determine its worth is necessarily bound to failure.(less)
It's sweeping like a War and Peace where for the first third of the book you're not really sure who t...moreMiddlemarch - you know what? Kind of a long book.
It's sweeping like a War and Peace where for the first third of the book you're not really sure who the protagonist(s) are (that's what I liked about Adam Bede - you know from page one that the book is about a guy named Adam Bede). Eliot has such a wonderful detached humor about human nature, though, that I didn't care. And then it does end up being more about a couple of characters than any other, eventually.
And the last paragraph - can we have a collection of greatest last lines of novels? I mean, you might need spoilers everywhere, but it is an art that should be acknowledged - the knock-you-dead last line.
...for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
I didn't know what to expect - the central gimmick, of course, is a cultural touchstone - but I had no idea what Kafka did with it. "Come for the bug...moreI didn't know what to expect - the central gimmick, of course, is a cultural touchstone - but I had no idea what Kafka did with it. "Come for the bug man, stay for the ..."?
Imagine if Dostoevsky decided to write a sci-fi.
It's odd. And it has humor. Especially in Part I. Really dry stuff. If I were a bug, I think my reaction would be along the lines of "AAAAUUUUGGGHHHH!!!! I'M A BUG!!! I'M A BUG!!!" but Gregor is more like, "Wow, the boss is NOT going to like this."
It also has despair and loneliness. And resignation. And rebirth - maybe not rebirth I'm supposed to feel good about, but I did. Maybe I'm supposed to hate and resent the hope at the end, but I couldn't. Anyway, it's there.
Basically, it deals with the reality of becoming a bug in a lower-middle-class family. The parallels to having a wage earner in the family who's suddenly permanently incapacitated are obvious. Maybe not on first thought, but on second thought. And the dynamics play out much the same.
It's a quick read, and I highly recommend it. Of course, I may be the last person on goodreads who *hasn't* ever read this, but in case I'm not, go read about the bug man.(less)
Ferris Buehler, in England, about 1900 - that's Denry Machin, the eponymous "card." It's a light "read" (I did this one as an audio book, see below),...moreFerris Buehler, in England, about 1900 - that's Denry Machin, the eponymous "card." It's a light "read" (I did this one as an audio book, see below), with a great, great main character in Denry Machin.
These chapters wouldn't quite work as independent stories, but they are very episodic - without bothering to do any research, I'm going to guess they were serialized somewhere first.
There's a free audio version of this with a superb reader (Andy Minter) at http://www.archive.org/details/the_ca... - at times, you can hear the production quality isn't quite pro, but his voice is, and it's a great commute listen.(less)
This is a very subtle novel. On the one hand, it speaks of the psychological torture of...
I'm just kidding. This thing is about as subtle as a brick s...moreThis is a very subtle novel. On the one hand, it speaks of the psychological torture of...
I'm just kidding. This thing is about as subtle as a brick slammed in your face by Chuck Norris, as that scene would be described in one of those "Left Behind" novels, and while you're reading the words are turning into flames. Also the words are screaming themselves out in Nathan Lane's voice.
Still, it turns out to be an interesting book, after the first few chapters of slave traders being monsters and explicitly talking about slaves as not capable of human feeling and an evil slave owner kills a slave's dog. No, really, he does kill a dog, and, really, the book turns out to be interesting.
Uncle Tom (the character, not the novel) has gotten a bad rap for being too easy on Whitey, and too submissive, but the Christ analogy is intentional, explicit, and you can't very well have your Christ figure striking Whitey down. Uncle Tom is much more respectable and noble than his stereotype has become.
Also, there are other surprisingly interesting characters (I was expecting all good slaves, all bad slave owners, and all good northerners). To wit:
Augustine St. Clare: a well-intentioned slave owner who can't figure out how to fix the problem of slavery but doesn't respect the institution.
Augustine's daughter Eva: a miraculously not-prejudiced, angelic kid.
Augustine's cousin Ophelia: a New Englander against slavery, but who, when Augustine forces to confront her overly-simplistic views, discovers her own dislike of blacks, and her own refusal of responsibility in fixing the problem. I guess the modern equivalent would be people who want to outlaw abortion and think that would make abortion go away, and who wouldn't be willing to support unwanted children.
Augustine's wife Marie: pretty much a monster, but wow it's - um, fun? - to watch her twist every situation into one where she's the victim, and the slaves don't know how good they've got it. Honestly, if you can be detached, it's a fun character. Like Cruella de Vil is a fun character.
Other characters have very little nuance, but make for a rocking good plot. Stowe claims in the final chapter that every character is based on real people-types she has seen, and I believe her.
The reason it's called "Uncle Tom's Cabin," when all of one half of one chapter occurs there, is ham-handed, and explained in the penultimate chapter, and who cares? By that time you're enjoying the melodrama of it all too much to care about forced symbolism.
Get yourself in the right mood, and you'll really enjoy this book, and also believe this little lady REALLY MIGHT HAVE been the one to start all that trouble.(less)