Fun book if a bit repetitious. Tongue-in-cheek overall but with some genuine research (I frequently found the footnotes more interesting than the main...more Fun book if a bit repetitious. Tongue-in-cheek overall but with some genuine research (I frequently found the footnotes more interesting than the main text).(less)
Wow. This is a phenomenal book. Intelligent, funny, complex, and rich in all kinds of detail. These characters are all so exquisitely drawn (literally...more Wow. This is a phenomenal book. Intelligent, funny, complex, and rich in all kinds of detail. These characters are all so exquisitely drawn (literally and figuratively) that they simultaneously felt both new and familiar. The father in Fun Home is very different from mine in many ways and yet there were scenes between him and his daughter that could have been based in very specific terms on my interactions with my own father. The people and places in Fun Home are alive with possibility . . . it had been quite some time since I have read a book where I knew the characters well enough that they could surprise me without my sensing any authorial contrivance.
There is so much to celebrate about this book: it's exploration of family, of sexual awakening, of the role of literature in our lives, of the difficulties and joys of being gay, it's ingenious structure, the brilliant composition of each frame (several key images were so evocative that I simply stopped to reflect on the wealth of implication and meaning), the lovely use of letters, books, maps, quotations, to draw the reader into this world . . . I can only scratch the surface.
One my favorite in the Culture series which means I rank it with The Player of Games, Look to Windward, and Excession. Below are a couple quotations t...moreOne my favorite in the Culture series which means I rank it with The Player of Games, Look to Windward, and Excession. Below are a couple quotations that struck me as I read them. Below that is my little paean to the series as a whole, written before I started the book. I'm not up to the task of writing a lengthy review at the moment but I will say that this, like Excession, is probably *not* the best introduction to the series. As I read the final 100 pages I felt that delightfully bittersweet sensation of wanting to reach the end but not wanting to finish. As always, Banks mixes humor, action, and fascinating explorations of big ideas.
* * * "Well," the voice said, seemingly oblivious, "one thing that does happen when you live a long time is that you start to realise the essential futility of so much that we do, especially when you see the same patterns of behavior repeated by succeeding generations and across different species. You see the same dreams, the same hopes, the same ambitions and aspirations, reiterated, and the same actions, the same courses and tactics and strategies, regurgitated, to the same predictable and often lamentable effects, and you start to think, So? Does it really matter? Why really are you bothering with all this? Are these not just further doomed, asinine ways of attempting to fill your vacuous, pointless existence, wedged slivered as it is between the boundless infinitudes of dark oblivion bookending its utter triviality?" "Uh-huh," she said. "Is this a rhetorical question?" "It is a mistaken question. Meaning is everywhere. There is always meaning. Or at least all things show a disturbing tendency to have meaning ascribed to them when intelligent creatures are present. It's just there's no final Meaning, with a capital M. Though the illusion that there might be is comforting for a certain class of mind." "The poor, deluded, fools."
* * *
"The tram clattered to a stop at another station, and now she could hear the sound properly, distinctly; it was a low booming collection of tones like very distant and continuous thunder, all the individual claps rolled together and coming and going on the wind." (327)
* * * I just started The Hydrogen Sonata so this is not a review of the book (hence no rating). Instead, it is an expression of my enthusiasm for the Culture novels.
People who have known me for awhile know that, while I am not antagonistic towards science-fiction, neither am I a devotee or even especially enthusiastic about it. Like most genres science-fiction has produced some great books, many mediocre books, and a lot of junk. For many years I would read one or two science fiction novels per year . . . sometimes I wouldn't read any at all.
Then, four or five years ago, I discovered Iain M Banks. He is the only science-fiction writer I read with the fanatic devotion of a hard-core sci-fi fan. When a new novel in the Culture series is released it shoots to the top of my reading list. Period. He's one of the few contemporary writers, of any genre, whose work I buy new when it is released.
Why? Because Banks, who divides his time between literary fiction (his novel The Crow Road is one of my favorite contemporary novels) and science-fiction, knows how to write. His characters are vivid and real, his stories smart and engaging, his moral and ethical explorations poignant and timely, his sentences well-crafted and frequently beautiful. The man can flat-out write. And, for me, that sets him apart. Many science fiction writers have amazing ideas but their writing is riddled with weaknesses (Philip K Dick).
And he's funny. The Culture novels (which are, truly speaking, space opera rather than sci-fi) are clearly the product of someone who grew up on Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001 -- someone who also happens to be one hell of a writer.
I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about the Culture novels here -- it inevitably sounds geeky and wonky when I do. I'll just say that if you're interested you should probably start with Consider Phlebas (the first) or Player of Games (one of my favorites), though it is worth noting that I read Matter first and it obviously did the trick. They are all standalone novels with a shifting cast of characters and changing locales from novel to novel. (less)
A solid first novel with many masterful touches. As always, Sayles has a great ear for dialogue and a knack for switching perspectives, showing his pr...more A solid first novel with many masterful touches. As always, Sayles has a great ear for dialogue and a knack for switching perspectives, showing his protagonists through the eyes of walk-on characters. In this case, I thought he might have spent a little more time familiarizing the reader with his cast of regulars before changing lenses . . . but I still enjoyed the lazy, flowing pace of this first effort very much. (less)
How did I go this long without reading Colette? Why didn't anyone tell me how amazing she is?
I am still reading this collection but there are so many...more How did I go this long without reading Colette? Why didn't anyone tell me how amazing she is?
I am still reading this collection but there are so many stories that I won't be able to read all -- or even most -- of them before it goes back to the library, so now is as good a time as any to jot down some thoughts.
I wanted an introduction to Colette's writing and these stories have done much more than whet my appetite. I wish I'd read these years ago but it is a fine treat to discover such wonderful writing after so many years of reading. So far I have a read a dozen or so stories, including many short-shorts and one longer story (The Kepi). I have enjoyed them all. The shorter pieces are little prose gems: perfectly cut and gorgeous. "The Kepi" is billed in the editor's introduction as the "least sentimental love story ever told" and after reading it I think that description (which struck me as strong praise beforehand) fails to do it justice.
I look forward to reading more of these stories and to reading much more of Colette's work.(less)
Haven't read West since I was in high school so, rather than give a rating based on what I thought of these two short novels twenty years ago, I decid...more Haven't read West since I was in high school so, rather than give a rating based on what I thought of these two short novels twenty years ago, I decided to go ahead and re-read them both.
I read Miss Lonelyhearts yesterday/this morning and was even more impressed with it than I was the first time around. Of the writers I have read who have attempted to capture the feeling of profound disgust a frustrated, embittered person can feel for life and the world around them, only Céline and maybe Swift surpass what Nathanael West has done here. And West does it in less than sixty pages. Four stars.
I look forward to re-reading The Day of the Locust in a few days.(less)
Remarkable. I read this a few years back while waiting for my turn at the barber. I let a few people go ahead of me so I could keep reading. Truly cre...more Remarkable. I read this a few years back while waiting for my turn at the barber. I let a few people go ahead of me so I could keep reading. Truly creepy. My sense of smell was heightened for days after I finished Perfume. Wonderfully translated by the masterful John E Woods who would later bring new life to Thomas Mann's masterworks The Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks.(less)
A fun read with plenty of fresh (ha ha) information about the history of sushi and the culture that surrounds it. I was less excited by the journalist...more A fun read with plenty of fresh (ha ha) information about the history of sushi and the culture that surrounds it. I was less excited by the journalistic elements of the book -- following students through a California sushi academy -- but this, too, had its moments. I also wish it had been less about the rise of sushi in the US and more about sushi in Japan . . . but that is not what this book set out to do, so I can only question the decision and not fault the execution. Worth a read (or, as in my case, a listen) if you're interested in sushi.(less)
As with Habibi, I find myself trying to give a rating that reflects my respect for the artistry of Thompson's drawings and the earnestness of his appr...more As with Habibi, I find myself trying to give a rating that reflects my respect for the artistry of Thompson's drawings and the earnestness of his approach to the material with my frustration and disappointment at the result. Despite several lovely moments and a handful of strong sections, on the whole Blankets struck me as terribly self-indulgent and overlong (I thought a picture was worth a thousand words -- or has the exchange range changed?). Given it's length there is also a surprising shallowness to many of the subplots and minor characters and the ending feels rushed.(less)
Quick, fascinating meditation on Paris by a long-time resident, American writer Edmund White. White knows his subject and does a nice job balancing mo...more Quick, fascinating meditation on Paris by a long-time resident, American writer Edmund White. White knows his subject and does a nice job balancing more informative passages with lively anecdotes and observations. The chapter on the reception of minorities over the years is particularly fascinating (American blacks were generally well-received but anti-semitism has long been a problem). Equally fascinating is a chapter about the treatment of gays: anti-sodomy laws were banned in 1791, a protection that was included in the Constitution under Napoleon, and in 1981 gay rights were enacted (legal recognition of partners who have lived together for two years, age of consent laws that mirror those for heterosexuals, etc.) Ironically, White argues, this very tolerance left France's gay community woefully ill-prepared for the AIDS epidemic.
There are also plenty of wonderful passages about writers, the many specialized little museums in Paris, and the practice of Flanerie: wandering the city to observe without being observed . . . the best way to see Paris, White persistently (and convincingly) insists.(less)
"A gynocentric comedy predicated on the scenario where men are cheating bastards and middled-aged women the goddesses who...more Too many sentences like this:
"A gynocentric comedy predicated on the scenario where men are cheating bastards and middled-aged women the goddesses who best them while cementing their sisterhood with Motown-scored makeover montages, vengeful shopping sprees, warmed-over Lucy-and-Ethel hijinks, and random humiliations visited upon women who are younger and therefore by definition stupid whores." (65)
And note enough sentences like these: "The only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out." (49)(less)
Bar none, the most delightfully filthy book I have ever read. Kiernan's "translation" of Sonnet 135 (revealing a host of sexual puns) is worth reading...moreBar none, the most delightfully filthy book I have ever read. Kiernan's "translation" of Sonnet 135 (revealing a host of sexual puns) is worth reading if nothing else.
As fun and smutty as this book is it is also filled with some essential insights into Shakespeare's plays and characters. Her observations about the link between Hamlet's treatment of Gertrude and Ophelia (particularly as revealed in the "get thee to a nunnery" speech) have greatly deepened my understanding of a play I have loved for years. (less)
Laura Lippman is probably my favorite active mystery/suspense writer. Her non-Tess Monaghan books have been consistently suspenseful and smart, freque...more Laura Lippman is probably my favorite active mystery/suspense writer. Her non-Tess Monaghan books have been consistently suspenseful and smart, frequently incorporating social issues into her storylines without, for the most part, slipping into pedantry or propaganda. When I heard that her latest book dealt with a suburban madame who must try to guard her secret life against figures from the past, I was sure this book would be a slam dunk.
It is clear from the book itself and from Lippman's comments in the Acknowledgments section at the end that she has been drawn to the character of Heloise/Helen Lewis for some time (having already written about her once before in a short story). And she is a fascinating character: as she tries to give her son the benefit of a normal, affluent childhood while protecting him from her secret life she necessarily finds herself profoundly isolated. Unfortunately, that isolation also defines the storytelling. Often the difference between good books and excellent books is the skill with which secondary and minor characters are drawn. This has always been one of Lippman's strengths but in And When She Was Good it is curiously absent. The focus is so exclusively on Heloise that other characters feel thin and vague -- difficult to remember if they do not appear for longer stretches. It is possible this is by design (certainly Heloise's isolation is an important part of the story and her character) but when she begins making decisions about or under the influence of other characters her motivations become difficult to understand. This narrow focus also means that we learn little about how her business works at the nuts and bolts level: the clients and "girls" who service them are largely absent.There is still much to enjoy here but, overall, I think Lippman's decision to focus so exclusively on a single character has resulted in a book that is less compelling, less rich and rewarding, than her best work.(less)