This was not as good as its predecessor, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but then, most sequels aren't. This was stil~~Spoilers for the first novel~~
This was not as good as its predecessor, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but then, most sequels aren't. This was still pretty good; it was definitely interesting, and I found myself staying up late to read it, neglecting homework to read it, driving to work a little faster than usual just so I could get there a couple of minutes early and read it in the parking lot . . . you get the idea. It's very compelling.
This story picks up pretty much at the end of the last novel, with Lincoln recently assassinated. Like the first novel, it's told in third person, with first person block quotes throughout. Like the first novel, it's alternate history. And, like the first novel, it's all about one particular character who gets worn down by constantly struggling with a series of unfortunate, even tragic, circumstances.
So what's different? Well, pretty much everything else. For one thing, the main character is Henry, not Abraham. For another, the tone is very different. Whereas all the block quotes from the first novel are from Lincoln's diaries, narrating things as they happen, these block quotes here are from recordings of Grahame-Smith's (yes, he worked himself into the story again) interview with Henry. Because of this, these quotes are all told from the slightly more cynical perspective of someone who is recalling things from 150 years earlier. Instead of seeing a character's ups and downs through his own eyes as they happen, you get a relatively static picture of Henry from a long time afterward. Additionally, the 19th-century diary entries from the first novel felt like they took place in the nineteenth century. It was a little bit jarring, in this book, to hear a character narrate in the first person events from the 17th century, describing them with 21st-century analogies.
Another big difference is the gore. Wow, is this ever gory. Sooo many people (and children!) get shot in the head, and then come the detailed descriptions of which part of the head exploded first, and how the brains came out, and what they tasted like. There's violence TO the good guys, violence FROM the good guys, and violence that you find out only afterward didn't even happen, since it was just a daydreamt fantasy. This book even goes back to a death from the first novel that was treated vaguely (but very well-written), and re-tells it with this whole extra set of gory details that I did NOT need to know. And while the plot of the first book was pretty much a single issue, the Civil War and everything leading up to it, this book deals with pretty much every historical issue you can think of from Jack the Ripper to 9/11. It felt like a whole lot of name dropping, especially since so many of these events (in the story too, as well as real life) were unconnected. Henry goes to such-and-such famous place, meets so-and-so famous person (who really was either working for vampires, was working against vampires, or was a vampire). It's too disjointed. It also tends a little bit toward plot summary: I didn't feel I was reading a story as much as reading the Cliffs notes for one. There IS a main villain to sort of tie things together, but the motive, which isn't explained until late in the story, is pretty weak.
I thought Henry was a very interesting character in the first book, but he doesn't seem terribly interesting here. He doesn't even feel like the same character, and neither does Abe. Maybe it's because so much of the first book was about his friendship with Abe, and here he's pretty much a solo character for the first 2/3s of the story. Even when he and Abe are together, they don't really seem to connect. They had the mentor/student relationship in the first story, and here they're more equals. At least, that how one of the characters talks about their relationship, but it's never really shown in much detail.
In the first novel, they parted on very bad terms, and in that novel's epilogue, we see vampire Abe and Henry working together for a common goal. So when this novel came out, it seemed like we'd get something of what happened in between those two moments, of their reconciliation and coming to terms with everything. Turns out that there wasn't much. Every now and then in the early parts of the novel, Henry feels guilty that he and Abe parted on bad terms. When they finally reunite, it turns out that Abe is angry for a few weeks and then gets over it, and most of that happens outside the story. All that build up, and we don't get to see it. It's also harder to invest in the characters because so much of this story is action, without a lot of heart. There is a brief moment, early on, when Henry hears about the death of Abe's grandson. Remember how Abe's kids dying was such a big deal in the first novel? It's glossed over here. We don't see Abe's reaction to the news, and for all we know, he's completely unaware of it. And you remember all those strong supporting characters from the first novel? Joshua Speed and Mary Todd and everyone else who added so much? There aren't really any supporting characters in this story because of the episodic nature of it all. That's really too bad. The pacing is really weird, too. For example, he starts something really interesting with a surprise revelation about Adolf Hitler, but then just a few pages later, he abandons that whole idea, drops the thread entirely, and glosses through WWII. Meanwhile, the Cold War drags on, and on, and on, and so does Henry's backstory. In the first novel, Abe loses pretty much everyone and everything he cares about, and it's poignant and tragic. Here, Henry loses pretty much everyone and everything, but it's just not as deep, somehow. Maybe because there isn't as much of a connection to Henry to begin with?
So after all this, why am I giving a 4-star rating? Because the things it got right, it got very right. There are a few chapters with Arthur Conan Doyle, and a few with Mark Twain, and a few John F. Kennedy --chapters that hit the right mix of quirky and charming. There was definitely a sense of building up to something (though the quality of the pay-off is debatable). And Henry's melancholy and tiredness, especially near the end of the story, is very well portrayed. Most of all, I want to rate this book on its own terms, and it's a pretty good book. It's all very fine and dandy for me to sit here and list the things that are done better in the first book, but the truth is that if this were a standalone, or even a companion novel with different main characters, and not a direct sequel, I'd like it a whole lot better because I wouldn't be comparing it to anything. On its own, I'd say it's a very interesting/enjoyable/exciting/funny book to read, and recommend it to everyone. Go figure....more
From antiquity to the present day, from glaciers to politicians, this book shows Indiana history in all its glory: the good, the bad, and the just plaFrom antiquity to the present day, from glaciers to politicians, this book shows Indiana history in all its glory: the good, the bad, and the just plain weird. Did you know of the Hoosier who declined Lincoln's invitation to come to theater? (Yes, THAT theater.) Or about the road that splits in two to avoid disturbing an old grave? Or about the river that disappears underground only to reemerge miles later? This book, crammed full of history and factoids, offers a unique view of a wonderful state....more
Mark Twain's sense of humor is peculiar, for want of a better word. I think I understand what he was trying to do here, but if I could sum this book uMark Twain's sense of humor is peculiar, for want of a better word. I think I understand what he was trying to do here, but if I could sum this book up in just one word, I would call it strange. I'm always amused when an author addresses the readers (say, in an introduction, or in an afterward) without actually breaking from the fiction of the narrative, and that seems to be the whole point of this revenge edition.
"The Amazing Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is a short story about a man who gets roped into listening to another man who loves to hear himself talk. The poor guy has to sit through a stream of meaningless stories that don't seem to go anywhere, and he can't get a word in edgewise. The man talks about a horse, about a sick woman, about a dog, and of course, about a jumping frog. It's not my cup of tea, but I can appreciate the humor that comes first of all from the dialect, secondly from the archetype of the old-timer who leisurely rambles on about whatever comes into his head, and thirdly, and to a much lesser degree, the weird nature of the stories themselves.
This edition, however, isn't really about the original short story. Twain must have really loved framing because he takes his handful of stories within a story and shoves the whole lot into yet another story. Twain introduces the text by saying that he wants to rebut an unfavorable review about his talents as a humorist; his argument is that the reviewer (who was French) did not get to appreciate his work fully because he was reading a crummy translation that screwed up the humor of the tale. This introduction is some of the funniest prose in the book. Twain includes his original story, the French translation, and his English re-translation of the French.
It is here that the humor falls flat, at least for me. Twain's goal here is *not* to show his anglophone readers how the French experienced his work. His goal is to entertain, and he does this by offering a silly re-translation, mistranslating (I assume on purpose) so that he can poke fun at --what, exactly? French syntax? The lack of a French equivalent to an American southern drawl? The idea of translation? All of the above, perhaps. But what I don't understand is why. He claims to have done the translation himself, and he also claims not to speak French. These claims may or may not be true; I get the feeling he's spinning another yarn. And, as though to substantiate these claims, the translation is bad. I mean really, really bad. Again, I assume this is deliberate. How else would he get away with translating adjectives as nouns and treating single negations as double?
The actual story within a story within a story -- the actual part about a frog -- would not be interesting at all without the frame of the long-winded storyteller with a captive audience. Yet the pseudo-translation, which is hilarious by itself (seriously, just try to read it out loud with a straight face), loses all its power in the framing. Twain snarkily calls it a serious translation, and clearly he means it NOT to be, and somehow, this just seems like an odd vehicle for such a hatchet job.
But that's not all! What's a revenge translation without an epilogue? Twain tells of an encounter with a man who claims that the story of the jumping frog dates back to antiquity. According to the epilogue, this man produced a book containing an ancient Greek tale that is eerily close to Twain's story. At first, Twain says that he had not meant to repeat the story. He says that he had never heard of the story, and that the similarities are just a coincidence. Then, Twain claims that the stories are far too similar, and he realizes that the alleged ancient text was phony. I don't know how to respond to this, since I think there's a pretty good chance that the whole epilogue was phony. If so, it's perhaps one of the more interesting takes on an unreliable narrator. I have read fiction books with nonfiction, honest, serious introductions and afterwards. This was not one of them. Then again, it's Twain, so what did I expect?...more
Dark, unsettling, profound, ironic, and certainly fun to read -- I really liked these poems, even though they are somewhat . . . troubling. Not the plDark, unsettling, profound, ironic, and certainly fun to read -- I really liked these poems, even though they are somewhat . . . troubling. Not the place to go if you're looking for humor! I suppose that by now, the ideas in these poems may not seem so original, but I still found them chilling. ...more
I found this book to be distasteful and disrespectful. In order to explain why, I am going to draw from a TV show that deals with a similar concept.
InI found this book to be distasteful and disrespectful. In order to explain why, I am going to draw from a TV show that deals with a similar concept.
In one episode of M*A*S*H, Col. Potter says that he had chosen to get married on Groundhog's day so that he would never forget his anniversary. This is a sort of cute idea, and two special days -- one a holiday and the other a day of personal significance -- would coincide. Potter and his wife would celebrate both things on the same day, and it is possible that the festivities might blend together in his mind and in the minds of his friends and close family. For example, the phrase "six more weeks of winter" might remind him to buy a gift; "anniversary" might call to mind furry little rodents.
However, these two different occasions are not, could not possibly be, one and the same. His daughter is married, for instance, and it would be ridiculous to suggest that she checked the whether, glanced at a rat, and called it a wedding. Just because two events coincide does not mean that they are interchangeable, and that is the central flaw of this book.
Most people today recognize that the day we celebrate as Christmas coincides with (or, at least, comes within a few days of) many ancient pagan festivals. This does not mean that Christmas IS a pagan festival, although book claims that it is; specifically, it claims that Christmas is a version of Saturnalia [an ancient Roman festival]. Count writes, "The habit of Saturnalia was too strong to be left behind. At first the Church forbade it, but in vain. When a river meets a boulder which will not be moved, the river flows around it. If the Saturnalia would not be forbidden, let it be tamed. The Church Fathers now sought to point the festival toward the Christian Sun of Righteousness." Ouch.
He also claims that Christmas celebrations today are a watered-down version of the Babylonian and Persian annual tradition of human sacrifice, called Sacaea. I am not kidding. He writes, "One and the same basic idea . . . has . . . caught up with itself wearing another guise." Yes, this tradition occurred close to the same time of year. And sure, when different events happen at the same time, some ways of celebrating may be shared. This might be what happened with Saturnalia, with some minor traditions such as lighting candles being shared. On the other hand, this was before electricity -- didn't everyone use candles anyway? And Sacaea? Human sacrifice?!?
Count's evidence for these brash claims are sketchy at best. He says that the inspiration for "Santa Claus" is only partly St. Nicholas, and that Santa is really a blend between the Christian saint and the Norse god Odin. He supports this claim, in part, by saying that Odin's symbol was a boar. Then he quotes the Christmas tune known as "The Boar's Head Carol." Okay, so Christians ate boar. Among other things. Big deal! I eat bacon--does that mean that I worship Odin's great-aunt Edna? No! And this carol was one of many that focuses on festivities rather than religious doctrine. There are Christmas songs about decorating, building snowmen, shopping for gifts, and eating figgy pudding. Wait! Maybe I should write a book revealing how snowmen are actually a testament to the marble statues of ancient Greece, and we're all really just honoring Athena and Aphrodite without realizing it! Or maybe it's just a snowman . . . .
I feel really bad for slamming this book, as the author clearly has done a great deal of research, and there are several chapters that are nice to read. He also includes the words to some early Christmas carols, and they were a pleasure to read. However, he could have tracked some Christmas traditions without pushing his own agenda so forcefully and tactlessly. And he did, in places. For example, some people believed that evergreen plants brought the life of summer into the winter. Count writes, "Box, bay, ivy, holly, yew, larch, juniper, pine, spruce, fir--all are shields against the witches and demons [of winter]." That's interesting. That's history. Why couldn't the rest of the book be like that....more