This book fits in very well with a few of my casual 'collections': Greek mythology; well-written, beautifully illustrated children's books; and, of co...moreThis book fits in very well with a few of my casual 'collections': Greek mythology; well-written, beautifully illustrated children's books; and, of course, those by Ali Smith. It brought back memories of my sophomore year in high school (an all-girls) when we studied and acted out the Sophocles play this version is based on.
Because it is by Ali Smith, it is witty, fun, humorous and serious. She chooses to tell her version through the eyes of a crow, with a dog as a supporting character. Her choices turn out to have great meaning. The crow even 'interviews' the author at the end of the book as to the origins of her version of the story, and that, perhaps best of all, has me pulling out my high-school copy of Sophocles' The Complete Plays (still intact, though sans cover) to reread his Antigone.(less)
Upon finishing this book last night, I immediately turned back to the first page and read it again, without stopping. I wanted to see how the author d...moreUpon finishing this book last night, I immediately turned back to the first page and read it again, without stopping. I wanted to see how the author did it. It is amazing what she achieves in only 108 pages.
This is a subtle novella about presumed madness, writing, and what can sustain one through a life that is lacking emotionally. It is narrated by the main character's granddaughter and near the end you may wonder why she includes the story of her other grandmother, until you arrive at the very end for the contrast.
I also enjoyed it because I've been to Cagliari, where much of the story is set, so I could easily picture the dark, narrow streets of Costello that unexpectedly opened to a sea of light:
and the beach at the Poetto, a long desert of white dunes beside clear water that, no matter how far you walked, never got deep:
Interesting and fun (especially in the beginning) for those reading "The Unwritten" series, as it sets out the origins of the Tommy Taylor story as Ow...moreInteresting and fun (especially in the beginning) for those reading "The Unwritten" series, as it sets out the origins of the Tommy Taylor story as Owen Taylor is writing it, his reason being that the "boy wizard character" is a powerful archetype right now -- so powerful this series never has to name its inspiration. I especially liked the references to other iconic fantasy worlds, such as Narnia and Middle-earth, as Owen tries to find his way to the beginning of his own fictional world. The fun dissipated a little bit for me near the end with the intentional too-many analogies to the Harry Potter phenomenon, but really it was fine, as that's part of the point.
The two different styles of illustration for the two stories in this volume are extremely well done.(less)
This isn't the kind of writing I could read all the time, but it's such a great diversion, and for the same reason that I occasionally read Lemony Sni...moreThis isn't the kind of writing I could read all the time, but it's such a great diversion, and for the same reason that I occasionally read Lemony Snicket or even Edward Gorey himself.
Saki's stories range from the chuckle-inducing to the hilarious horrifying, on to a couple that are bleakly dark and then back to those that elicit knowing smiles. I remember reading in school "The Open Window," most likely assigned to us because it's a ghost story being told by a very clever teenage girl.
The Gorey illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the stories. During "The Penance," the tale of three avenging siblings, I could see the children in my mind before I turned the page on Gorey's rendition, and, of course, it was spot-on.(less)
A well-written (Maxwell doesn't write any other way) novel with a nostalgic feel (again, Maxwell doesn't seem to write any other way), with the longer...moreA well-written (Maxwell doesn't write any other way) novel with a nostalgic feel (again, Maxwell doesn't seem to write any other way), with the longer first part (of two) reading almost like a travel diary at times; and just when you're wondering, near the end of that first part, what it might all mean, you arrive at the second part, which is almost meta-fiction, and requires the first part to achieve its ends.
Though the novel is not at all derivative, Maxwell's love for Virginia Woolf shines through, especially in the second part. Insentient beings think and a grandfather clock ticks with no one left to wind it. Actually, this novel is pure Maxwell, with his gentle humor and trademark empathy. I loved the last line, which explains so well why a sleepless person picks up the book, again, that had just been returned to the nightstand.(less)
Much tighter than the first volume, with some referential explanation of earlier events and better storylines. Even the expected gore of certain secti...moreMuch tighter than the first volume, with some referential explanation of earlier events and better storylines. Even the expected gore of certain sections, though it made me cringe, was well-done: social commentary is its purpose. I'm hoping certain characters (not the serial killers!) make reappearances in later volumes. The inventive story had me paging backwards, the ending reflecting back to the beginning, something I always love.(less)
I enjoy the 'tricks' in Auster's fiction, even if they are repetitive throughout his oeuvre. Though this novel contains none of his usual tricks, Aust...moreI enjoy the 'tricks' in Auster's fiction, even if they are repetitive throughout his oeuvre. Though this novel contains none of his usual tricks, Auster seems to explain why he sometimes puts himself into his own works through the words of August Brill, his narrator. Brill is telling himself a story, in the dark, because he can't sleep:
The story is about a man who must kill the person who created him, and why pretend that I am not that person? By putting myself into the story, the story becomes real. Or else I become unreal, yet one more figment of my own imagination. Either way, the effect is more satisfying, more in harmony with my mood--which is dark, my little ones, as dark as the obsidian night that surrounds me.
This slim novel is about more than creativity and insomnia. Its musings have more to do with humanity's seemingly insatiable desire for war (the idea that if a certain war was eliminated, up would pop a different one) and the stories we tell ourselves to try to distance ourselves from the horrors. In its ending (giving me a frisson of discomfort, I saw it coming at the first mention of -- no, I won't say it) Auster ends up looking at one of the horrors unblinkingly, a tribute to the other meaning of the title.
Perhaps because its themes are executed in a span of relatively few pages, I was reminded (superficially?) of Martin Amis' Time's Arrow. And the man in the hole in the story-within-the-story helped me understand more fully the possible meanings of characters of Haruki Murakami (another writer with his own 'tricks') also finding themselves in deep holes in the ground.(less)
A fun second installment of the series, though not as heavy with the elements I loved in the first one, though they are there, i.e., the cab drivers a...moreA fun second installment of the series, though not as heavy with the elements I loved in the first one, though they are there, i.e., the cab drivers and the "tips" (book recommendations) which, once again, I enjoyed figuring out. Even more than before, the two girls in the life of the almost-13-year old Lemony remind me of the women in hard-boiled detective fiction, a la Dashiell Hammett, though Snicket insists he himself is not a detective. I liked the musings about bullies, both what to do about them and understanding why someone might be one.(less)
As we all know, reading is a matter of taste, and two big elements here are not to my taste. First, the love story is too romance-y, even though I und...moreAs we all know, reading is a matter of taste, and two big elements here are not to my taste. First, the love story is too romance-y, even though I understand its purpose, reminding me of how I felt about Orringer's The Invisible Bridge (the one flaw for me in that work of historical fiction was the romance). Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, a principal of each love story is based on, or is a homage to, a relative of the writer. Second, the main theme (of good arising from tragedy) was stated too obviously and often for my taste.
Unlike the several other works I've read by Phillips, the writing didn't pull me in for the most part, though I found the 'magical realism' (for lack of a better term) sections the best written. I didn't care, though, for the ability of the main character, Emily, to 'sense' things out of the blue, though the reader suspects this intuition comes from one of the murdered children. I much prefer Phillips' Lark & Termite for the blending of fact and fiction, and a well-done 'fanciful' scene I still remember.
Perhaps the characterization of Emily, a newspaper reporter, is my main issue. The dialogue she shares with her two closest friends seems by turns a bit anachronistic and then at times too hokey. In her depiction one of my pet peeves is employed: a beautiful woman being so attractive that every male thinks so, even when that's not pertinent to the story. I know she's the lone female doing her job among several powerful men, but every single one of them seems to be smitten with her in one way or another. Perhaps that's also the fault of Emily being a homage to the writer's mother. (I didn't know this until after I finished the book; it's stated in the acknowledgments.)
Perhaps I expected too much based on what I've read of Phillips previously. I also won't discount the fact that I was just coming off the high of Tartt's The Goldfinch and this just couldn't compete.(less)
Though this is not a novel of 9/11, I can't help but wonder if it is (partly) Tartt's response to it. It certainly seems to be informed by the event, as it details and describes a character (actually two characters, though the other is in the 'middle-ground' of the story) who has survived a catastrophic event in NYC and suffers from PTSD, how his life is irrevocably altered by one event, spiraling out of control and into choices that are unconscious and perhaps fated. The prevalence of drugs in the world -- and the results of their easy access -- is also a relevant, contemporary topic.
When the story would become almost unbearably bleak, the subtle allusions to Dickens' works was exciting (at least, to me, a Dickens fan), causing me to smile, especially the last one when Theo wakes up in his hotel room and realizes ... well, I won't give it anyway. While grasping these literary references isn't essential, they are more than just for fun: they fit an overarching theme about the relationship of art, any kind of art, to the individual, a theme beautifully described in the last few pages, pages that brought tears to my eyes, even more so when I reread them this morning. Theo has The Goldfinch in the same way I believe Donna Tartt has Dickens.(less)
I found this at a library sale for $1 when I hadn't had the greatest of days. I opened it up twice, at random, and landed on the two quotes I shared o...moreI found this at a library sale for $1 when I hadn't had the greatest of days. I opened it up twice, at random, and landed on the two quotes I shared on my status updates, clinching the purchase.
If you've read "A Series of Unfortunate Events," some of this might seem superfluous, but if you don't know Lemony Snicket, some of those same quotes are going to seem completely off-the-wall. And, yet, there are some quotes (including one about aphorisms at the end) that I think would've made me chuckle even without the prior reading of the Series.(less)
I had the great pleasure of meeting McConduit at the Louisiana Book Festival yesterday. I enjoyed our talk and I enjoyed this book. I'm especially imp...moreI had the great pleasure of meeting McConduit at the Louisiana Book Festival yesterday. I enjoyed our talk and I enjoyed this book. I'm especially impressed with the rhyming text and the musical notes he wrote for anyone who can read music and wants to set the text to song -- what a great idea! The illustration of the little boy is adorable. The book fits in perfectly with the other children's books by Louisiana authors I've collected.(less)
I had the great pleasure of meeting McConduit at the Louisiana Book Festival yesterday. I enjoyed our talk and I enjoyed this book. I chuckled when Bu...moreI had the great pleasure of meeting McConduit at the Louisiana Book Festival yesterday. I enjoyed our talk and I enjoyed this book. I chuckled when Buddy screams that the cheer Saints fans are known for doesn't make any sense. The book fits in perfectly with the other children's books by Louisiana authors I've collected.(less)
I read the first edition of this reference book from cover to cover. Not sure when I will do that with this updated edition, but as soon as I got the...moreI read the first edition of this reference book from cover to cover. Not sure when I will do that with this updated edition, but as soon as I got the book home, I read the Lafcadio Hearn entries since I'm rereading Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, and learned new things about him that surprised me, not to mention the title of a Hearn biography I want to read one day.
I'm sure there will be more in this space at a later time.
Susan is not only a pleasant, openhearted person, but one of the best advocates this city has.(less)
William Maxwell's works contain the elements in fiction that I love: interiority; lovely, empathetic prose; and quotable passages that...more4 and 1/2 stars
William Maxwell's works contain the elements in fiction that I love: interiority; lovely, empathetic prose; and quotable passages that illuminate the universal. He understands human nature, from 4-year-old Abbey to the elderly, forgetful Mr. Ellis; from the quietly ambitious spinster sisters to the people-pleasing, slightly insecure, main character. Maxwell seems to understand us all, from the petty resentments we feel when our good deeds are misunderstood to those tenuous, fleeting moments when we feel truly connected to another.
Not until near the end does anything much seem to happen (which was fine with me, I loved the beginning and middle too), but that's deceptive, and perhaps a typical misunderstanding of life in a small town, because within its people resides a wide range of emotions that lead to quiet, though not necessarily benign, actions, and sometimes non-actions.
In the last few pages a loose end was too tightly tied up for my taste, while I thought a stray ribbon on that same bow might've been lengthened, but that's a quibble, as I'm still in love.
I think I've read enough of Maxwell now to add him to my short list of favorite writers, which means I want to read him all. I'm on my way ...(less)
I didn't do it on purpose but having read Julian Barnes' Levels of Life right before this, it was as if I had a primer on grief as background for this...moreI didn't do it on purpose but having read Julian Barnes' Levels of Life right before this, it was as if I had a primer on grief as background for this novel. "Enon" also reinforced the idea I had from the Barnes book about the use of metaphors as perhaps the only way to describe feelings and emotions.
Harding's descriptions of what his first-person narrator sees go beyond the norm. His character sees into the very core of things, and there are quite a few objects that are symbolic of this. When he sees into the past of his town, I was reminded of Erpenbeck's Visitation.
As expected of the writer of Tinkers, the writing is extraordinary. Though the prose is more straightforward here than with his first novel, there are still long lovely lyrical sentences, especially past page 80 or so. His imagined scenarios are breathtaking. Some of the surreal passages reminded me, believe it or not, of Neil Gaiman; and I imagined Mr. Gaiman's reading this novel thinking, ah, yes, and understanding completely.
Barnes is a Master of Metaphor. Every single element he introduces in the first section is used, nothing is wasted. I'm left marveling at the connecti...moreBarnes is a Master of Metaphor. Every single element he introduces in the first section is used, nothing is wasted. I'm left marveling at the connections his mind makes. Even the story he weaves of the nonfictional Burnaby being confused by metaphor becomes a metaphor. And what else is metaphor but the connection of two things with no previous connection, a theme Barnes uses to start off each of the three sections. And how else can emotions be described, except by the use of metaphors.
Though this can be read in one sitting (it's basically an extended essay), it's powerful. Despite Barnes' atheism, in the later sections I was reminded of C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed. Perhaps that's a facile comparison, but it seems a true one to me, especially in the unflinching honesty of both.(less)
This novel is both extraordinary and ordinary: extraordinary in its prose, and its insights into the mind and behavior of two ordinary...more4 and 1/2 stars
This novel is both extraordinary and ordinary: extraordinary in its prose, and its insights into the mind and behavior of two ordinary boys, their families, other friends and even teachers and university administrators. It has a lot to say about the impact of the early death of a mother and of a distant father on a boy, even during a time when that distance must've been viewed as ordinary.
The outline of the plot is ordinary, the intense friendship between two opposites inevitably tested when they are at college together; but the writing, especially those passages when the narratorial voice steps out of his storytelling at the perfect times to explore the wide spaces that come between even the closest of human beings, and what we must do to traverse those spaces, so we can expand beyond ourselves, so we can live, is extraordinary.(less)
This volume is getting 5 stars from me, because it is just about the only place to read Maxwell's first novel, Bright Center of Heaven. I was further...moreThis volume is getting 5 stars from me, because it is just about the only place to read Maxwell's first novel, Bright Center of Heaven. I was further gratified to have the volume in hand, because I'm so in love I wanted to keep reading Maxwell after finishing his first novel, and so I did, immediately turning the pages to his short stories. (I'd read They Came Like Swallows prior to buying this.) Once done with the first set of stories, I immediately moved on to The Folded Leaf, continuing a love affair I didn't want to end.
I've reviewed the novels included in this volume separately, but I should mention that the 'extras' included here are just as worthwhile: not only the short stories, but also Maxwell's introduction to one novel, his preface to another, and the text of a speech about being a writer. The chronology and the notes by Christopher Carduff are very much appreciated as well, shedding interesting light on various episodes.
All in all, it's a beautiful volume (with a ribbon and slipcase, too), a Library of America subscriber edition that I found used. Of course its companion, Later Novels and Stories, is on its way to me.(less)
I've read that this first novel of Maxwell's was written before he found his 'voice,' which he did in his second; and that is true, tho...more3 and 1/2 stars
I've read that this first novel of Maxwell's was written before he found his 'voice,' which he did in his second; and that is true, though his gentle humor and kindness still come through in his depiction of his characters, as he renders them all fully. As with They Came Like Swallows, the mother at the center of the novel reminds me of Woolf's Mrs. Ramsay, though at the beginning I was reminded more of her Clarissa Dalloway. The artist Cynthia, who is struggling with trying to depict more than just form, is perhaps like Lily in To the Lighthouse, and her philosophical musings certainly reflect Maxwell's view of what he is trying to get at with his writing.
I also read that Maxwell tried to suppress this novel, as he found it "hopelessly imitative" and "stuck fast in its period" (see The New Yorker), though I don't think that was necessary. The older Maxwell was being very hard on his younger self. The novel is well-written, with a few overwrought passages, but I found those forgivable in the case of the infatuated teenage son and a young, unmarried actress who's pregnant but has told no one yet, not even the unemployed teacher she loves and who loves her to literal distraction.
I don't usually do a synopsis (no spoilers) in a review, as those can generally be easily found elsewhere, but that's not the case with this novel. It details one day in late summer in the life of a widow with two teenage sons who takes in boarders at the family farm. The lodgers are all creative people of one type or another. The conflict, which takes a while to arrive and is dealt with too quickly, arises from the widow's inviting a lecturer to stay with them. He is black; her elderly spinster sister-in-law, who lives in the family home, is from the South and racist. This was written in 1933 when Maxwell was 25 years old.(less)