This is a fascinating, even riveting, account of how the first novel to attempt an uncensored depiction of the full spectrum of human thought and expe...moreThis is a fascinating, even riveting, account of how the first novel to attempt an uncensored depiction of the full spectrum of human thought and experience was conceived, written, published, banned, burned, smuggled, pirated and -- finally -- became the basis for the court decisions that overturned decades of prudish, restrictive obscenity laws and opened the door for the freedoms of expression we enjoy today. The first five paragraphs are a masterful hook, demonstrating with striking clarity just what an unusual book Ulysses is--not only for its contents but for virtually every other aspect of its early existence.
Unlike so many of the books written about Ulysses over the years, this is not another dry academic tome of interest only to Joyce devotees and scholars. Birmingham's writing is lively, often bursting with infectious enthusiasm. And with good reason. Even readers with little or no interest in Ulysses are sure to find the cast of historical characters (famous and little-known) colorful and fascinating. Alongside expected figures like Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Beach, are the suffragists, anarchists, socialists, socialiates, printers, publishing pirates, attorneys and judges who each played a role in defying the ban on Ulysses -- or trying to uphold it. My only complaint about The Most Dangerous Book -- and it is minor -- is that the scope of the epilogue is confined mostly to Ulysses itself and does not touch on what came next for its cast of characters. There is sense in Birmingham's choice, though, for Ulysses itself (even more than its creator) is the hero of The Most Dangerous Book. Some of the most charming and touching moments in Birmingham's book are to be found in accounts of how Ulysses worked on readers from the inside out over time: the writers, critics, lawyers, judges, and would-be publishers who were initially unimpressed, repulsed, or baffled, found themselves unexpectedly won over by Ulysses.
The Most Dangerous Book is a passionate reminder that the same novel many of today's readers avoid because of its reputation for difficulty or recall with loathing years after they grappled with its many challenges as undergrads, once engendered enough love and devotion to make it the center of a decade-long battle for the right to create art that expresses any truth about life we might wish to express -- and to be able to expose ourselves such works of art -- without fear of fine or imprisonment. As Birmingham reminds us, obscenity laws still exist but before the lifting of the ban on Ulysses the presence of a single obscene word or "pornographic" scene was enough to justify the outright censorship of a book, regardless of any artistic merit within the text as a whole. Now, thankfully, that standard is reversed and the list of works we are able to enjoy as a result is beyond measure.(less)
A remarkably sure-handed debut. Darkly funny. Interesting that McDonagh's first effort featu...more"That's Ireland, anyways. There's always someone leaving."
A remarkably sure-handed debut. Darkly funny. Interesting that McDonagh's first effort features two female leads when so much of his later work is centered on men. Also fun to see McDonagh playing with the conventions (and traditions and stereotypes) of his native Ireland. (less)
Would love to find a higher quality edition (assuming one exists) with clearer prints -- the original images are murky and atmospheric as it is. That...moreWould love to find a higher quality edition (assuming one exists) with clearer prints -- the original images are murky and atmospheric as it is. That said these are phenomenal photographs; essential (even definitive) images of Paris in the '30s. Iconic photos of an iconic time and place. Brassai's essays on various aspects of Paris are also wonderful. I particularly enjoyed his accounts of the Ancient Guild of Cesspool Cleaners, the argot of the criminal underworld (police were given the names of birds: partridges=criminal investigators; swallows=police on bicycles, etc), and Le Monocle "one of the first temples of Sapphic love" where all the female staff dressed as men.(less)
Spent a morning glossing and perusing this book. I'd only known Brassai as a photographer (his photos of Picasso and his studio and circle of friends...moreSpent a morning glossing and perusing this book. I'd only known Brassai as a photographer (his photos of Picasso and his studio and circle of friends would make this a fascinating book by themselves) so I was pleasantly surprised to find that he also writes well. Clear, concise, evocative accounts of conversations and gatherings (based on notes Brassai jotted down at the time and then stuffed in a large vase) make up the bulk of this book.(less)
As a baseball novel: excellent; as a novel, generally: very good. This was one of those uncanny reading experiences where several personal interests a...moreAs a baseball novel: excellent; as a novel, generally: very good. This was one of those uncanny reading experiences where several personal interests appeared in a single story: baseball, Melville, Stoicism. Even the culture of the small liberal arts college had some personal resonance.
The Art of Fielding is one of those novels that just sort of happens as you read it: the prose and the pacing are so smooth that I found myself reading a "few" pages only to find that I had, in fact, read twenty or thirty or forty or more. This isn't easy but Harbach makes it look easy. As the book nears its final finale, several of the characters start behaving in ways that seem to have more to do with plot than with who they are as people on the page and some of the writing begins to feel a bit manufactured. Still, as is often the case with good novels, these faults are in the service of a larger plan and most of the climactic scenes and certainly the final chapters pay off as Harbach intended.
An enjoyable read, then, and an impressive debut . . . but also more than just a good book for a summer vacation. The Art of Fielding deals with some genuinely difficult themes and, more often than not, does so earnestly.(less)
Gave this collection a pretty good going over. Often with collections rating/reviewing can be a difficult proposition: I loved several of the poems in...moreGave this collection a pretty good going over. Often with collections rating/reviewing can be a difficult proposition: I loved several of the poems in here, failed to connect with many more, and probably missed many as I skipped around. So, I'll simply say that I definitely prefer Bolaño's prose -- a preference that is probably informed by my being limited to English translations. That said, I even preferred the prose poems in this collection to much of the verse. I also appreciated that this is a bilingual edition, so I could at least get a stronger sense of the original word order and sound of Bolaño's writing. (less)
Really more like 3.75 stars. There is much wisdom here and Irvine does a good job packaging the work of the Roman Stoics for contemporary readers but...moreReally more like 3.75 stars. There is much wisdom here and Irvine does a good job packaging the work of the Roman Stoics for contemporary readers but this book could have easily been 1/3rd shorter than it is. Repetition and a tendency to over-explain fairly straightforward concepts (part of what makes Stoicism appealing is it simplicity) reveal an academic writer who is, perhaps, underestimating his popular audience. Still, the basic value of these ideas (and Irvine's particular presentation of them) is worth learning when to skim and skip now and then.(less)