Karl is my kind of American. While I can enjoy a good thriller with the likes of Jack Reacher overcoming every obstacle in my heart I say give me your...moreKarl is my kind of American. While I can enjoy a good thriller with the likes of Jack Reacher overcoming every obstacle in my heart I say give me your hapless, your clueless, your basically decent guy. Karl "wondered how may of his misapprehensions of the world the world had the patience and resources to correct."
Karl is an underdog by virtue of his upbringing, a kid in a home where he experienced "an adult male's effectively telling a child every day for years, My life counts for more than yours." Karl shrunk his world to his bedroom and job until his life gets a shaking. He begins to realize that he impacts other people's lives. After reverting to his recluse life for a time, a character remarks on how he vanished. "Karl had always assumed it was other people who disappeared."
It is interesting that this book, written in 2010 can be seen as a bildungsroman for the current time when coming of age may not happen at all.
It is the language and the flow that propel this novel to a high rating. Sharpe is unpredictable and quirky in his ability to create a mood and a scene through language. Comparing one author to another can only end in in disappointment but Lethem, Vonnegut, and in this quote Dostoyevsky came to mind as a character refers to Karl's job as a math teacher, "the purpose of math is counting, and counting is a form of aggression." I look forward to reading more books by Matthew Sharpe. . (less)
How had I missed Ngaio Marsh for so long? It must have been the silent 'g' that hinted at a dry British superiority that in fact could not be further...moreHow had I missed Ngaio Marsh for so long? It must have been the silent 'g' that hinted at a dry British superiority that in fact could not be further from the truth. This is a hip, funny, clever mystery that takes place in a theater, a setting Marsh knew and brings fully to life. Vintage Murder unfolds in New Zealand. Wikipedia informed me that Marsh was born there so I was intrigued to read the only one of her mysteries set there.
Vintage Murder was written in 1937 and in many instances shows her unshakable egalitarian nature. One is the inclusion of an urbane doctor who is Maori and studied at Oxford. It also contains the following line, (no spoilers, I hate that) good evidence that bigotry was not universal at that time, "Mr. Liversidge added that Courtney Broadhead was a white man a phrase that Alleyn had never cared for and of which he was heartily tired". You go girl.
Another passage shows her witty descriptive incisiveness, " - was seventeen years old, dreadfully sophisticated, and entirely ignorant of everything outside the sphere of his sophistication. He had none of the awkwardness of youth and very little of its vitality, being restless rather than energetic, acquisitive rather than ambitious". (less)
There is charm in this autobiography of an American ship Captain circa 1812-1840. This was a working guy, trying to make a living delivering goods, pi...moreThere is charm in this autobiography of an American ship Captain circa 1812-1840. This was a working guy, trying to make a living delivering goods, picking up goods to sell on his return. Captain Dunham mainly plied the Caribbean Sea, leaving New York and going as far south as Venezuela. These are lively tales from a guy who was there and, importantly, who saw First Nation people (and black people) as people first, not hung up on the fact that they painted their faces and dressed differently. This obviously won him deep friendships and opened doors that we as readers get to journey through.
I often learn the more about history from an autobiography that from a textbook and that holds wonderfully true in this case. Captain Dunham was not a famous war hero but he was part of the fabric of what makes America attract immigrants to this day. He was a cool guy, he took people as individuals, worked hard, played fair and like to party. (less)
E.M. Forster shares his love and deep appreciation of Alexandria, Egypt by evoking the sense of being "on the margins" that he felt Alexandria embodie...moreE.M. Forster shares his love and deep appreciation of Alexandria, Egypt by evoking the sense of being "on the margins" that he felt Alexandria embodied. On the coast of Africa, peopled by Egyptians, Greeks and Jews, inhabiting a city of steeped in history, the city imparts a poetic feeling to those who position themselves to receive it. Lawrence Durell in his Quartet and C.P. Cavafy, the great poet wrote both drew from this well.
Forster shares the interest of Cavafy in a "different Greece", not "Athens and Sparta, so drubbed into us at school" but the Greek legacy from Alexander and the Ptolemies, Greek Pharaohs descended from Alexander's generals, through the Byzantine Empire.
He brings a characteristic wit and skeptical eye toward the rich as here when he describes Clement of Alexandria, an early Christian. Clement wrote 'The Rich Man's Treatise' and "handles with delicacy a problem on which business men are naturally sensitive and arrives a the comforting conclusion that Christ did not mean what he said".
Often when I read books from the early 20th century or earlier times I make allowances for, and gird myself against, the offensive racism and Anti-Semitism that was so openly on display. It is important to note that authors of this time do not deserve this free pass of being "just a product of their time". The works of thinking people as represented by E.M. Forster prove that, even then, racism was a failure of sympathy and a weakness of character. Forster rose above this and in so doing demonstrates that in our own time we can not fall back on cultural norms or whatever justification we manufacture to excuse bigotry. There is a glittering vein of gold in human action, celebrating nature, our bodies and each other. Forster mined this vein; Pharos and Pharillon is one of his gems. (less)
This is a thought provoking work. I found Gregor's transformation less unsettling than the lack of questions it spurred. That is saying a lot as his t...moreThis is a thought provoking work. I found Gregor's transformation less unsettling than the lack of questions it spurred. That is saying a lot as his transformation is shocking. As David Cronenfeld notes in his excellent introduction, there should be philosophical questions brought up by Gregor and his family and the fact that are not is a powerful aspect of the book. Poor unappreciated schlmiel Gregor, what does it all mean? As one who believes that a good question is often more fruitful than a good answer, I am happy to have this question continue to stir in my brain.(less)
Worthwhile account of mathematic's vital role in describing natural parameters that shape processes including evolution, genetics and the formation of...moreWorthwhile account of mathematic's vital role in describing natural parameters that shape processes including evolution, genetics and the formation of matter. Stewart argues passionately that it's math damn it that reveals the fundamental, inescapable foundation of the universe.
While the book was uneven, going occasionally on long detours and other times brief stops at interesting patterns, the overall effort was rewarding. I like the fact that Stewart is more interested in the future of math, what he hopes will be new ways to look at shapes and patterns in what he terms 'morphomatics'.
I was hoping he would get into Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio and he did, explaining not only the facts but how they were discovered and ongoing experiments surrounding them. There is a chapter on broken symmetry which I found fascinating. I can't explain it but I found it fascinating.
The book is very concerned with chaos theory which was emerging around the time this was written, 1995. The idea that apparent chaos can be recognized as having a deterministic origin was well explored. He gives as an example a ping pong ball in an ocean storm. Without knowing where the ball was released and without any ability to predict where the ball will go next, this seeming chaos has some qualities we can recognize. The ball will always be on the surface of the ocean. The surface is its 'strange attractor'.
Another winner. This one is written during WWII and one is able to feel life during those years in a different way because the War is not a plot point...moreAnother winner. This one is written during WWII and one is able to feel life during those years in a different way because the War is not a plot point in the novel but just the reality in which it takes place. As always, humor abound, the plot is tight and the characters compelling. What's not to like?(less)
It's one of those things we are fatigued just thinking about much less dong something about it: what is in our food. It's tiring to me because I have...moreIt's one of those things we are fatigued just thinking about much less dong something about it: what is in our food. It's tiring to me because I have a bad feeling about it. There was an SNL skit years ago in which a guy goes to heaven and asks St. Peter,"what's the grossest thing I ever ate?" He answers, "you couldn't handle it". That always struck me as true. Sweetness#9 revolves around a character who is a flavorist. He's the guy in the lab coat putting together chemicals to make our mouth think Wild Cherry! so that corporate beverage sellers don't have to go to the expense of adding real cherry. The book has an ax to grind but it's one that isn't ground often enough.
Not only does the book have a purpose, the writing is quite good as well. The theme of flavor permeates the book with subtlety and effect. In a great take on the Cold War Clark writes that "we answered Sputnik with Tang". The main character, wonderfully described as "morbidly sensible" has a daughter who figures as the character who literally refuses to swallow the food additives and GMO products. "Priscilla preferred brown. Brown Eggs, brown rice, brown sugar, brown bread. The color white didn't represent purity to her, as it had to the children of my generation. To her mind the color was evidence of a great deceit..."
A major flaw in the book for me was that the protagonist seemed to break character with alarming regularity. I don't feel I got to know him or have an idea how he would react to things. This was true for the other characters with the exception of Priscilla, a complex and compelling character fully realized.(less)
I had to create a new shelf for this one in to honor the upcoming referendum to decide if Scotland separates from the UK to become an independent nati...moreI had to create a new shelf for this one in to honor the upcoming referendum to decide if Scotland separates from the UK to become an independent nation. This issue figures in this, the latest John Rebus novel by Ian Rankin. I am so glad that Rebus did not go gentle into that good night after Exit Music, touted as the last in the series. He's too good a character for reasons that are explored more in this novel than any of the others. Rebus is old school, no debate there, but he is and always has been his own man, never content to just follow orders no matter if they are given by his superiors or by his more senior brothers in arms. Rebus has his own moral compass and it is that compass, along with his impeccable taste in music and his sense of humor, that defines him and his appeal to decades of readers. Rebus has some Dirty Harry in him and there is an attraction to a character who metes out justice to criminals who might evade it by working the system. There is a line though beyond which I lose respect for a character who uses his badge to bully, intimidate and frame people. It is this defining line that is beautifully explored by Rankin while he simultaneously entertains us with a fast paced, well plotted story. Then there is the great Rankin dialogue, to me the heart of modern noir fiction and just plain funny. To his friend Clarke who has just had three cups of espresso and orders one to go he says, "You sure about that? I'd say you're already shakier than a Neil Young tribute band". Rankin describes an ex con, nervous under questioning by Rebus this way, "He was wearing a padded jacket. It made noises when he twitched".(less)
Nice work fleshing out the enigma, the legend. Guralnik really did his research and is willing to let the man emerge, not deify him in his mind and fi...moreNice work fleshing out the enigma, the legend. Guralnik really did his research and is willing to let the man emerge, not deify him in his mind and find proof for his conclusion.
I was lucky enough to meet Honeyboy Edwards in Blue Hill Maine in the early 1990's. He had traveled with Robert Johnson in the 1930's. I tried to think of something to ask him about Robert Johnson that I couldn't find out somewhere else, ended up asking him, "was Robert Johnson funny?" He replied, "not really" and then addded a cool anecdote. When they traveled somewhere, hitchhiking or a train car, they would typically arrive in a town early in the morning Honeyboy would be rumpled, tired, hair a mess, wrinkled but he said Robert Johnson always looked neat.
Honeyboy himself turned out to be a gifted player and a fascinating man in his own right. Also there were Etta Baker, Roy Bookbinder, John Jackson and Howard Armstrong. Yes!(less)
Big Bill Broonzy is as articulate writing his autobio as he is in his many songs that are still standards in blues. You can't help but wish he had liv...moreBig Bill Broonzy is as articulate writing his autobio as he is in his many songs that are still standards in blues. You can't help but wish he had lived a little longer to see the emergence of black pride. He was so let down after coming back from WWI and finding that his service had changed nothing in the eyes of white southerners. His experience reminded me of my grandfather who fought in WWI for the Germans and returned only to be perceived first and last a Jew. Big Bill would have loved hearing James Brown on the radio singing "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud!"
There is some footage of Big Bill Broonzy on youtube, taken by European film makers in the 1950's. (less)
A character who eventually saturates media can inspire derision on some readers. This novella is the first longer story involving the highly original...moreA character who eventually saturates media can inspire derision on some readers. This novella is the first longer story involving the highly original character Simon Templar, the Saint. The Saint is glib, handsome and seemingly effortless in his quest to extract a pound of flesh from criminals before turning them over to authorities who, then as now, often fail at stripping ill gotten gains. Simon keeps 10% and gives the rest to the London Hospital. The pace is brisk and the language humorous. The novel succeeds on its own terms, to deliver a gripping story that elicits a knowing smile.
After reading Lelsie Charteris' description I appreciate more than ever the fine job done by Roger Moore in personifying Chareris' immaculate conception. (less)
Excellent ending of a great trilogy. There are cops in this world who do it because they want to contribute to justice, to be a cog in that wheel, not...moreExcellent ending of a great trilogy. There are cops in this world who do it because they want to contribute to justice, to be a cog in that wheel, not to either dominate people or enforce every tiny law; 'got my rules and regulations you know'. Henry Palace is one of these cops and the world will always need these men and women. Henry Palace is stiff but he's cool when it matters. He's a great character and Winters produces writing that serves him well. As borders are disintegrating we find Palace in catching some Z's, "in a sleeping bag under a YOU ARE HERE sign."
Winters can sling some great noir too, "Vengeance is the cheapest of motivations, it's a tin star on a shabby coat."
The characters are forced to look within to find meaning.
"Almost always things are exactly as they appear. People are continually looking at the painful or the boring parts of life with the half-hidden expectation that there is more going on beneath the surface, some deeper meaning that will eventually be unveiled; we're waiting for the saving grace, the big reveal. But almost always there's no glittering ore hidden under the dirt."