Anarchists, secessionists, and floundering academics! Oh my!
Keith Scribner's novel, The Oregon Experiment, follows Scanlon Pratt and his wife, Naomi G...moreAnarchists, secessionists, and floundering academics! Oh my!
Keith Scribner's novel, The Oregon Experiment, follows Scanlon Pratt and his wife, Naomi Greenburg, as they move from New York City to Douglas, Oregon, where Pratt is ready to begin his first tenure-track position in the Political Science Department.
Immediately, tension fills the pages as Naomi tries to cope with the move. She's eight months pregnant, misses New York, and suffers from anosmia. For Naomi, anosmia is crippling, because she used to design scents and perfumes for her career. She has no explanation for losing her sense of smell and it's been gone since before she met Pratt. The loss becomes something the two explore in their relationship. Naomi teaches Pratt how to more fully experience scents and in return he describes the world to her. It smells like lavender pressed into the collar of a well-loved wool coat, he might say.
Due to this aspect of the characters, Scribner delights in describing the world through various scents and smells. It makes for an interesting perspective and adds rich details throughout the narrative.
Instead of soothing Naomi's anxieties, Pratt continually adds to them. Off to a rocky start in his department, he glosses over his career prospects, and seeks out the local secessionist group to study. But can he stay objective? Lured into the ranks by a seductive, earthy, young woman, Pratt soon finds trouble. Add young, naive anarchists into the mix and more than a marriage is likely to explode.
To be unfair to Keith Scribner, I kept thinking, what would this novel be like if T.C. Boyle wrote it? It has the trappings of a T.C. Boyle novel, but lacks the crisp writing and sharp characters. It's completely unfair and shouldn't shadow Scribner's work. Perhaps, part of the appeal is that it does remind me of a T.C. Boyle novel.
While the pacing dips toward the middle, the last 100 pages read quickly as events pick up. Relationships splinter, the FBI investigates, and a local anarchist, Clay, turns to domestic terrorism. It's in Clay that Scribner's compassion for his characters is fully expressed. At the end of the novel there are two versions of events. Events how they really occurred and events how Clay perceived them. Scribner didn't have to do this, but his decision captures Clay in a moment of glory and fulfillment. Scribner takes a character who may alienate some readers and finds a sweet spot in resolving the plot.
The Oregon Experiment examines love, passion, alienation, and community. Scribner creates a satisfying work that sheds light on an area of society, which is usually stereotyped in the media. Overall, the novel is engaging and extremely relevant as Occupy Wall Street protests swarm into business districts across the country.(less)
The Sleepwalker at Sea is a wonderful collection of poems by Kelly Grovier. The poems meditate on aging, loss, love, and memory. These concepts spill into the dark passageways of childhood, the echoes from halls long empty. Not only does Grovier tie in a love for language and books, but his deft observations of nature position the poems as part of life.
It's part of the human condition to experience loss. There are natural cycles involved with aging, forgetting, and dying, as well as in the movements of a "murmuration" as:
It rises in a bright shatter of wings and lifts like a great mind over the water's still uncreasing canvas, each feathered filing an end
of thought, a pause – each dip and wheel a mute inflection in its organic grammar: a poem of pure
punctuation, a ballet of full- stops, lunulae and ellipses flailing, falling, flicked
by a pointillist's wrist against the deep unweaving loom
of sea and sun and sun and sky.
Full of beauty and sadness, The Sleepwalker at Sea is a must read collection, which readers may find themselves returning to again and again.(less)
The focus of the novel is a character named, Singer, who is deaf and mute. Singer has a deep friendship with another man who is also deaf and mute, Spiros Antonapoulos. During the years of their friendship, the two passed largely unnoticed in the town. It's when Antonapoulos is sent to an asylum that Singer begins to change. He paces the town at all hours. He takes all of his meals at the New York Cafe. Through a change in behavior he is now accessible to the townspeople, even though he cannot speak nor hear.
The perspective of the novel widens to include four characters, all of whom project themselves onto Singer. Each of the four characters meet with Singer on a weekly basis and empty themselves of thoughts and emotions. They talk and talk, but never engage with Singer. Singer becomes a receptacle for them and while they believe their friendship is deep, Singer finds it puzzling, because he does not understand them as intimately as they think.
Another layer to this theme is that Singer has a similar relationship with Antonapoulos, who clearly suffers from some cognitive impairment. Is Singer's relationship with Antonapoulos any different from the other four character's relationship with Singer? How can Singer be blind to this possibility? Ultimately, how well does the reader know Singer? Even though the novel is about him, it's rarely from his perspective. Just like the other characters, the reader projects onto Singer and establishes a relationship that is largely one-sided.
Carson McCullers explores what it means to be isolated through physical impairment, race, family, poverty, and political beliefs. It's an interesting technique and one that largely works. Among the four characters who are friends with Singer, none of them are able to identify with the other. They are all outcast or isolated in someway, yet are unable to find solace in one another.(less)
Last week, on vacation in Michigan, I heard an interview on Points North about the reprinting of Robert Traver's (John D. Voelker's) novel Laughing Whitefish. It sounded interesting on two levels. First, I love the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Second, the story of how a Native American woman sued a mining company over her father's unpaid claim sounded fascinating. Having read the novel, I can tell you it is fascinating.
Laughing Whitefish works in two ways. First, Robert Traver does an excellent job describing the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, what drew people there, and what still draws them. He also describes the relationship the state had with mining and forestry. For a state known for its natural beauty, Michigan's history is steeped in environmental destruction in pursuit of natural resources. Traver remarks on this tension. Characters have moments of regret, of asking whether their ancestors understood how the creation of the Sault locks would unlock the region and risk the beauty and wonder of the area.
The other important facet of Laughing Whitefish is how Traver describes the treatment of Native Americans, how this landmark court case was won, and the impact it had on relations between the state of Michigan and Native American tribes. It reminded me of the dismal nature with which lands were usurped and reinforced the ugliness of American expansion. It's easy to ignore this past. It's easy to look at places names and not think of their origin. It's easy for other, more recent American tragedies to take precedence. However, we must not ignore the past. We need to remember.
What detracts from this novel is the side story and use of language. The love interest between the young lawyer, William Poe, and his client, Laughing Whitefish, is obvious and poorly constructed. Also, there are times when the language feels clunky. Is this because Traver was trying to capture the language of the time or was it a lack of mechanics? It's difficult to tell. Maybe, it just seems clunky compared to how we currently speak. The other small point which detracts from the novel is how the court cases become stale. Traver makes an issue of the slowness and tediousness of the law, but from a perspective of narrative flow he could have still captured this idea without sacrificing the pace of the novel.
Overall, Laughing Whitefish is an interesting novel and a reminder of our past. It frames the rights of an individual against the interests of a corporation. In a presaged paragraph the character Cassius Wendell speaks of corporate power. Cash tells William Poe that he is
"forgetting that corporations are organized primarily for profit. The special genius of the corporation is that while it possesses a kind of immortality and can never die, it is never bothered by a heart or soul or any qualms of consience. Corporations can do—and omit to do—things that their stockholders would be horrified to do by themselves. They can do so because the responsibility is finally dispersed among so many that no one is to blame because all are. That is the great fearful power of the modern corporation."
At this point, I'm not going to say much about Blinkby Malcolm Gladwell, because much has been said all ready. Blink is about adaptive unconscious, ra...moreAt this point, I'm not going to say much about Blinkby Malcolm Gladwell, because much has been said all ready. Blink is about adaptive unconscious, rapid cognition, and thin-slicing. It is about those quick decisions, which are correct, but hard to explain. Gladwell also illustrates how thin-slicing works for people, and when it leads them astray by exploring stereotypes and prejudices. The writing is clear, engaging, and frank. If you're interested in cognitive psychology, or wish to learn more about thin-slicing in a way that is not only accessible, but enjoyable, I recommend reading Blink.(less)
The novel opens with Alice as a child, her dislike of skiing, and her father's oppressive persistence that she ski. Alice crashes and is forever disabled with a leg that drags. Also, as Alice ages, she is crippled through anorexia. The eating disorder does not cripple her physically for years to come, but it does cripple her emotionally as she hides the secret from those who love her.
Mattia is a twin, a gifted math prodigy, and a caretaker for his sister, Michela, who has a cognitive impairment, which is never explicitly named. Mattia resents Michela and feels burdened by her. When they are both invited to a birthday party (their first invitation ever), Mattia abandons Michela at a nearby park and tells her to wait. She is gone when he returns and never found. Did she drown? Was she kidnapped? Mattia and his family never know. Mattia grows up with his guilt, which his mother adds to through blame, and begins to self-harm himself through cutting.
In high school, Alice and Mattia meet. They don't fall in love. Or, perhaps, they don't fall in love at once or together. Also, it is never stated, but it seems that Mattia might suffer from a mild form of Asberger's syndrome. Due to Mattia's social awkwardness, he is often confounded by Alice, or doesn't know how to respond to her actions.
Instead of falling in love, it might be better to say they fall into understanding. Both have scars plain to see on the outside of their bodies, but the deeper scars, the anorexia and guilt, are visible mainly to Alice and Mattia. They know one another and accept the other person. There are no demands or questions. Instead, their relationship builds on acceptance and respect. Will that acceptance and respect be beneficial or will that lead to their continued isolation? The question is left to the reader and depends on the reader's interpretation.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers is a portrait of two young people finding their place in the world. It's poignant, beautiful, and shares an interesting perspective of two people, twin primes, forever near one another, but divisible only by I.(less)
Middlesexby Jeffrey Eugenidesreminds me of a gilded mirror with intricate details swirled along the frame. The novel is a mixture of family history, c...moreMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides reminds me of a gilded mirror with intricate details swirled along the frame. The novel is a mixture of family history, coming of age, and gender identity. The mirror metaphor works, because the narrator, Callie/Cal Stephanides, spends so much time exploring who s/he is. That's a difficult enough question for most teenagers and adults, but how does that question change when a person's body seems to mislead them? While the narrator is focused on their identity, the novel suffers at times by diverging into the past and getting lost in details. It's obvious Eugenides loves language, but it comes at a cost in terms of rhythm and pace.
Some details I loved about the novel were the descriptions and metamorphosis of Detroit. I'm from Michigan and Detroit is a place that inspires both pride and sadness. Pride because of its greatness, because of the auto industry, because of all that Detroit used to mean. Sadness, because of the past tense, because words like used to linger on. To see Detroit described in its height is wonderful. To see how the city languished in the last 40 years is important.
Middlesex spans three generations and is full of rich characters. It navigates around sadness, but perhaps that is part of the immigrant experience. Lefty and Desdemona upon arriving to the United States are completely out of place. They can't speak the language, their clothes stand out, and they're unsure how to earn money. What must they give up to assimilate? More importantly, what must Cal/Callie give up later on?
Black and white is easy. A light is either on or it's off. A thought either occurs or it doesn't. Black and white seems easy, because it's so limiting. A child is either a boy or a girl. Except when they are not. Same goes with the light, it's not always just on or off. It could have no power, it could be broken, it could be anything less or more than on and off. Immigration takes this idea a step further. Is a person Greek, Greek-American, or American? Why is a choice even necessary? Depending on the context any label may fit.
So what is Middlesex? It it a novel about gender identity? Is it a mix of fiction and memoir? Is the novel about what it means to be American or an immigrant? Middlesex broadens the lens through which life is viewed. Depending on the reader, the novel may illustrate how life is more nuanced than they previously thought.
When a baseball player steps up to the plate and wags his bat at the wall past outfield, it's a sign. Next pitch is a homerun. When someone, in this c...moreWhen a baseball player steps up to the plate and wags his bat at the wall past outfield, it's a sign. Next pitch is a homerun. When someone, in this case, Douglas Kenrick, entitles a book Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life it's the literary equivalent of holding a bat straight out to the centerfield wall.
The introduction begins, "You and I have probably never met, but you might be shocked to learn how well we know one another and how intimately our lives are connected." Kenrick goes on to say, "this is a book about the biggest question we can ask: What is the meaning of life?" However, he explores questions regarding the choices people make and how evolution may play into those decisions, without really addressing the meaning of life, or the other question he brings up, "How can I live a more meaningful life?" Instead, as if he were ready for critic's comments, Kenrick states, "Despite what you might have read in Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, first impressions can be misleading. If you do a blink-style speed-read of this book, you might think it is mostly about me...But if you keep reading, I am pretty sure you'll discover that this book is really about you, your family, and your friends and about the important decisions you confront every day."
It feels like Kenrick is putting the onus on the reader. If you think the book is about me, obviously you are not a close reader, obviously you skimmed my book. Balance those sentences with the powerful title and warning signs may begin to flare. In my experience, books are skimmed because they are not engaging. Let's look at the sentences with some modifications. "If you do a blink-style speed-read of this book, you may think I am not an engaging writer. But if you keep reading, I'm pretty sure you'll discover that this book is worth it." It's hard to get past "but if you keep reading." As I thought about it, my main impulse was to say, "But if you keep reading, I'm pretty sure you'll discover that this book is not really engaging."
Stripped away, Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life is a book centered around the author and his interests. The writing trends toward creating a persona of a New York City kid turned intellectual but still with his folksy, blue-collar charm. It comes across feeling as fabricated as Hillary Clinton having a shot of whiskey with rural constituents. Someone may say a scientist researches their interests, and thus Kenrick's interests are really the foundation of his research. That may be the case, but I didn't find Kenrick's interests and research too interesting. Instead, the tone of the book is soapbox. He's not looking to help people have a more meaningful life, but is defending evolutionary psychology against critics. Moreover, he is supplanting structure with stories from his life.
Overall, I came away having learned some concepts of evolutionary and cognitive psychology, but it was at a cost. The cost was wading through a tiresome narrative from a writer who loves spinning yarns, but is not a good storyteller nor an engaging writer. The cost was being placed in the middle of a brawl between a defensive scientist and the status quo without a background in experimental design. The cost was a writer who was ready to turn on his reader in the first few pages of the introduction. With a title like Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life, the reader expects a homerun and deserves at least a double play. Kenrick displayed his personality with a catchy title, then left the crowd disappointed with a grounder skittering along the infield dirt.(less)
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this book, because like a snack, it doesn't require too much description besides it was tasty, left me underno...moreI'm not going to spend a lot of time on this book, because like a snack, it doesn't require too much description besides it was tasty, left me undernourished, and probably has some high fructose corn syrup packed in. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is fun, not entirely well-written, and left me thinking my time could have been better spent. That's not to say the novel isn't enjoyable. However, it is too long and sloppy. Plot not working well? Don't worry, time travel will solve everything.
Besides being funny, Fforde does remind readers, who may have forgotten, what classics like those written by Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, and Jane Austen mean to a number of people. Having read Jane Eyre five years ago, I'd since moved on and left patient Jane with her disfigured Rochester somewhere in a mouldering country estate. Due to the inventiveness of Fforde, I was able to reunite with Jane and Rochester, and follow their relationship in a new way.
I'm always being told to take snacks in moderation; however, it won't take much effort in this case to stop at one. Jasper Fforde has many more novels set in this world, but I'll leave them for another reader.(less)
Like all satirical reference books, I keep this one near at hand and offer it only to serious-minded university students as a source for their mandato...moreLike all satirical reference books, I keep this one near at hand and offer it only to serious-minded university students as a source for their mandatory English composition courses.(less)
I always feel a lack when I read translations. The words, so lovingly put in place, feel out of place. Sentences strung across the page, at times, fal...moreI always feel a lack when I read translations. The words, so lovingly put in place, feel out of place. Sentences strung across the page, at times, fall short. They have communicated a message, transferred their intent, but lost some beauty along the way. It is as if once the writing is outside it's natural language, it is all business, focused on the task. Hardboiled and Hard Luck, two novellas by Japanese writer, Banana Yoshimoto, are two works of fiction that slide into the group of translations which may not do the writer justice.
Both of the novellas revolve around loss and death. Each one has a young woman as the narrator who is reminiscing and saying goodbye to a loved one who has died. In "Hardboiled," the narrator remembers a former love, Chizuru, with whom she had a falling out, and whom later died. It takes place in the span of one night, in which the narrator is visited by a forlorn ghost in an old, countryside hotel. Through this encounter, the narrator learns of the ghost's story from the hotel manager. It's a sad tale of love and suicide. The ghost of Chizuru also visits the narrator and protects her.
In "Hard Luck," a family is grieving the passing of their daughter, Kuni. Kuni has minimum brain function and is being kept alive through machines. Eventually, her brain shuts down and the family makes the decision to disconnect the machines. The family, and more specifically the narrator, fears their own connection with Kuni will be severed when she goes off life support. They spend hours visiting her in the hospital, because it feels as if part of her is still there. Kuni is a young woman who had everything before her, she was cheerful, in love, and to be married soon. Unable to work through the grief in a public manner, her fiancée retreats to his parent's home while she's dying. This action brings the narrator into contact with the fiancée's brother, Sakai, who visits the hospital in his brother's absence. A love, of sorts, begins. Sakai is an outsider; he teaches Tai-Chi, has a long hair, and is quiet in an inward way. The combination of death and love is too much though, and the characters resolve to explore the feelings in the future, after the pain of Kuni's death has diminished. The narrator will move to Italy for her studies, and Sakai vows to stay true to this feeling.
In exploring loss, the novellas also play with time. How do we remember people? What makes us forget moments? Time bends and intertwines with memories as the narrators slip in and out of the present. The novellas go well together, because they act as before and after images of grief. In "Hardboiled," the narrator has moved on and forgotten about Chizuru, even though Chizuru was so important to her. "Hard Luck" though occurs while the pain is at its sharpest. The narrator is locked in her grief. Toward the end of the novella, after Kuni has died, the narrator is able to glimpse into the future. She can see that grief will not always dominate her life. There will be a point when her family can share in laughter again. There will be a time when she can fall into love. She will never be as tough as the narrator in "Hardboiled," but she will move on. We all will.(less)
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is a novella with a fresh voice and unique perspective. The main character, Mikage, finds herself orphaned as she's either...moreKitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is a novella with a fresh voice and unique perspective. The main character, Mikage, finds herself orphaned as she's either finishing high school or early in her college career. It's hard to tell, and ultimately not that important to the story. What is important is how Mikage deals with her grief. She takes solace in the kitchen. The novella begins:
The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it's a kitchen, if it's a place where they make food, it's find with me. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tile catching the light (ting! ting!).
I love even incredibly dirty kitchens to distraction--vegetable droppings all over the floor, so dirty your slippers turn black on the bottom. Strangely, it's better if this kind of kitchen is large. I lean up against the silver door of a towering, giant refrigerator stocked with enough food to get through a winter. When I raise my eyes from the oil-spattered gas burner and the rust kitchen knife, outside the window stars are glittering, lonely.
Now only the kitchen and I are left. It's just a little nicer than being all alone.
Mikage sleeps in the kitchen at night, and finds some small comfort amidst her loss. Yoshimoto then explores the notion of family. A teenage boy, Yuichi, who is around Mikage's age, stops by unannounced, days after her grandmother's funeral. He worked at the flower shop where Mikage's grandmother shopped at least once a week. Yuichi invites Mikage to come stay with him and his mother, Eriko. It's a strange request, but Mikage agrees to visit as there is something disarming and natural about Yuichi's disposition.
What follows is a story about creating happiness in a world full of loss, seeking to define relationships and identities based on love and need, and not on cultural norms. As Mikage and Yuichi struggle to make sense of the world, they also attempt to understand one another and what their relationship means.
If you are new to Banana Yoshimoto, I suggest starting with Kitchen. There is a life to the writing that fills the page, and it seems to be the point from which her other work emerges. Hardboiled and Hard Luck seem like re-writes of the same ideas, but without the energy or originality that makes Kitchen special.(less)
What would it be like if Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce were four struggling cartoonists living in Paris? Add to t...moreWhat would it be like if Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce were four struggling cartoonists living in Paris? Add to that idea a scheme for them to get rich in an afternoon and you have The Left Bank Gang by Norwegian artist/writer Jason. Did I mention this is a graphic novel and everyone is drawn as animals?
The Left Bank Gang is a funny, smart, and imaginative interpretation of writers associated with the Lost Generation. It's an engaging, slim volume that blends literary legends with Reservoir Dogs, though with far less violence. If you're going to pull off a crime, it never hurts to have Hemingway backing you up.
At this point, reviewing a Discworld novel, assuming you are a fan, is rather like reviewing a bowl of delicious ice cream, again assuming you are a f...moreAt this point, reviewing a Discworld novel, assuming you are a fan, is rather like reviewing a bowl of delicious ice cream, again assuming you are a fan. Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett is more of the same: smart, funny, entertaining, and satirical. Pratchett loves bending words and playing with context. Ice cream is wonderful on a warm, sunny day.
This time, Pratchett has focused on the idea of soccer/football, and what sports mean to society. The other area, which Pratchett explores, is inclusion and what it means to be different. Often, Pratchett writes about what it means to be an outsider, and the unfairness of society. By creating such extreme situations, he can point out the fissures in our own society.
Unseen Academicals revolves around an Orc, one of the last of his kind, who doesn't know he's an Orc and has been raised to be useful, worthy, and to seek knowledge. All that is known is that Orc's are warlike and used to tear people apart. Is it fair to base a stereotype on assumptions? Are there people we marginalize because of their culture? These are questions Pratchett takes up, and his views are delivered through the characters of Ankh-Morpork. If you like ice cream, you'll enjoy this novel, though I suggest it be consumed with sprinkles and chocolate syrup.(less)
This novel returns the reader to the Chalk where young Tiffany has her steading. A young pregnant girl, Amber, is beaten by her dad to the point that she miscarries. The townspeople take up the rough music, which spreads on an accord of its own and plan to drive Amber's father from town, or kill him. Tiffany intervenes, but things go wrong from there. It seems a distrust is growing toward witches. Tiffany's actions are misinterpreted and used against her.
On a journey to Ankh-Morpork, Tiffany encounters a spectral figure with dark tunnels of nothingness where his eyes should be. From him emanates a foul stench. The figure screams threats at her and all witches. He is the Cunning Man, the left over hatred of an old Omnian priest. The Cunning Man infects people minds, and his hatred toward witches takes over. It's a mob mentality of the worst kind.
Pratchett's novels usually have some real world issue, which he's poking fun at or focusing our attention on. In I Shall Wear Midnight, he turns his attention to outsiders, class, and persecution. Sure, it's wrapped up in the fantastic story of a witch, but it's written in such a way to transcend fantasy. Discworld is a version of our world, but where they have trolls, vampires, witches and assassins that are known and recognizable, we must look harder to uncover who is malicious and who is not.
The fate of witches hangs in the balance. Tiffany must defeat the Cunning Man or be taken over by him. It's a battle that must not be lost.(less)
Magic is elusive. It contains mystery, it is hard to explain, yet it is also recognizable. In Patrick Rothfuss's, The Name of the Wind, the magic was apparent. The novel was fantasy, but it was also original. It didn't fall into the traps of so many poorly written fantasy novels as illustrated in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. The story was intriguing, the writing was above average, and the main character, Kvothe, was interesting. The Name of the Wind is a wonderful book. As I said though, magic is elusive, and upon reading The Wise Man's Fear, it's clear that Rothfuss has lost it.
If the first novel had not been so good, this would not be a problem. The writing is not as careful nor as creative. Sections that should be summarized fill 60-200 pages. Sections that should be expanded are summarized. Instead of the overall narrative progressing, the reader is forced to follow vignettes (I can't think of a proper term) that are tedious, boring, and do little in terms of plot.
The interesting parts of this series are the Chandrain (sort of like Tolkien's ringwraiths), the Amyr (sort of like the Templars), and how/why Kvothe is now the innkeeper in a backwater town, hiding out, and seemingly powerless. These are the interesting parts and nothing was added to them. Instead, we see Kvothe learn how to become a masterful warrior (cliche), outsmart and have sex with a fairy/demigod of sexuality (tedious), stumble through his relationship with Denna (repetitive), struggle at university (repetitive), and earn enough money to escape poverty. While these stories may be part of the fabric of who Kvothe is, they do little in the novel. Rothfuss seems in love with the character, but unable to navigate time and structure. It seems like he could have packaged these stories as a collection and sold them separately, instead of trying to force them into The Wise Man's Fear.
Whether or not Rothfuss is able to rediscover his magic, and learn the name of storytelling is an open question. After reading The Wise Man's Fear, I have my doubts and will not be reading the third book. He called it once, can he call it again? Perhaps, he needs Elodin to guide his way.(less)
One thing I've noticed with Robert Kirkman's writing is that he seems to mostly portray female characters in fairly stereotypical roles. For the most...moreOne thing I've noticed with Robert Kirkman's writing is that he seems to mostly portray female characters in fairly stereotypical roles. For the most part, they are nurturers with whom the male characters have sex and protect. Looking at the female characters from the first three hardcover books it becomes evident that Kirkman either can't write women well, or is catering to his audience.
Lori is a wife and mother who spends most of the time worrying about Rick and upset he is gone. Carol is a mother and domestic type who tries to commit suicide when she's cheated on. Andrea could be seen as a trophy wife type. She begins a relationship with Dale, who is many years older, mainly to use him for his R.V. Amy, Andrea's sister, is eaten by zombies. Donna is another housewife/mother, but she is portrayed as the overbearing controlling wife who makes all the decisions for her husband, Dale. Julie is a long stricken teenager who dies in a suicide pact gone wrong. Lacey is portrayed as the unattractive, bitter, young woman and she quickly gets eaten by zombies. Maggie comes across as a nymphomaniac. Rachel is a minor character that gets killed. Susie suffers the same fate as Rachel. Patricia is written as a naive woman who can't adjust to current circumstance. Michonne is very unrealistic hero type. She survives on her own, has a samurai sword, is a weight lifter, and a seductress.
I still enjoyed The Walking Dead, but am not in a rush to get the next volumes, there are more interesting things to read at the moment, like the end of 2666.
While I still enjoyed reading The Walking Dead, it seemed like the writing suffered some in this volume. There are rough transitions between scenes, a...moreWhile I still enjoyed reading The Walking Dead, it seemed like the writing suffered some in this volume. There are rough transitions between scenes, and I asked myself if I missed something? Were the pages glued together? Nope, Kirkman's writing is loose and he forces the reader to fill in gaps. Overall, still a fun series.(less)
I'd heard of The Walking Dead, but haven't read any comics for quite a few years. My source for comic books had always been my childhood friend who n...moreI'd heard of The Walking Dead, but haven't read any comics for quite a few years. My source for comic books had always been my childhood friend who now co-owns Top Comics. Throughout college and those years between degrees, he'd fill up a long box of comics when I was home and sort it according to: titles I like to read, titles I should read, superhero comics, and random titles that he didn't care whether I read or not. My guess is The Walking Dead would be in the "titles I should read." It's fast paced and gritty, but it also has good timing in terms of action and drama.
If you're wondering what it's like, just imagine Cormac McCarthy re-wrote The Road but with zombies. Read it, enjoy it, and remember gunshots only attract more zombies.(less)
I picked City of Glass off the bookcase because I heard Paul Auster interviewed on Radiolab. In the interview he described getting a phone call, after...moreI picked City of Glass off the bookcase because I heard Paul Auster interviewed on Radiolab. In the interview he described getting a phone call, after the novel was published, by a man asking for Quinn (the character in City of Glass who takes on the identity of Paul Auster). It sounded like an intriguing novel, and I decided to give it a chance.
It's no secret that I'm not a Paul Auster fan. At times, it seems like he is more interested in exploring identity, whether it is that of his characters or overtly himself, instead of telling a complete story. Plot is sacrificed for style, and postmodernism and metafiction shape the writing.
The novel starts with Daniel Quinn receiving a phone call asking for Paul Auster, the detective. Daniel Quinn is a writer whose wife and son died, which has caused him to distance himself from his friends and career. Quinn writes under a pseudonym, William Wilson, about a detective named Max Work. Quinn identifies with Max Work, but only through the separate identity of Wilson, his pseudonym. Without Wilson, he would be unable to Work. After getting the call again, Quinn takes on the case and becomes Paul Auster.
What layer does it add that Paul Auster has written himself into the novel? I like it when Charlie Kaufman wrote himself into Adaptation, so why am I less thrilled when Auster does it? Part of the reason is that it seems like Auster's motives seem less about fiction and story, and more about ego. He does bring up interesting questions like what is the relationship between the writer and his characters? In the end, that's what City of Glass is interested in exploring. How we create language, how we tell stories, and who forms whom. Do the characters in Auster's head define Auster, or does he define the characters?
The other point where I diverge with Auster is how I view the universe. I don't believe in fate. I don't believe in magical coincidences being anything other than the play of statistics. I do believe in chance, but I don't put any extra importance on chance. Someone could win the lottery and their life would change. Is there special meaning in that, or is just that random events happen? A world where events and possibilities are linked by something unseen is a much safer world, but it's one that ultimately is a false world, another fiction which has been created.
As City of Glass continues, the writer who is many people slowly disintegrates and loses himself in his own fiction. He believes he is the detective and the case is real. He trusts in the circumstances and doesn't check his facts. Another key question is who is telling the story? Actually, that's not a question, because we all know that Paul Auster is telling the story, but there's another narrator toward the end of the novel, a friend of Quinn's who speaks in the first person. Here we add another layer in the identities of the author.
Lastly, Auster tries to mirror Don Quixote, which is fine, but he explains it all to the reader. Why not let that be present, and if the reader notices the similarities then it adds texture to the story. If the reader doesn't notice it, there's no harm done. Instead, it's spooned into the reader's mouth through a few pages of clunky exposition.
Overall, I appreciate Auster's exploration of writing and the relationships between characters and the writer, but feel that some elements that drive a story our sacrificed for style and ego.(less)
While the Women Are Sleeping is the first work I've read by Javier Marias. It's a collection of short stories spanning over 30 years of writing. I ten...moreWhile the Women Are Sleeping is the first work I've read by Javier Marias. It's a collection of short stories spanning over 30 years of writing. I tend to think of collections like this as greatest hits album. A writer's been around for a while, re-releases a bunch of stuff, it takes minimal effort, and generates some interest. That may not be a fair comparison. Though written in vastly different times, the stories are linked together by their tone and subject matter. Whether it's a difference in translation, culture, or age, the stories don't read like contemporary fiction, but more like something written in the late 19th or early 20th century.
The title story, "While the Women Are Sleeping" sets a mood similar to Poe or Hitchcock. The narrator and his wife have been watching a couple at the beach while on vacation. The man whom they observe is obese and much older, he also constantly films his young, attractive girlfriend. Through a change in setting, the narrator meets the older man and asks him about his activities. The older man replies that he adores the woman, and wants to capture the last days of her life. Is she ill, the narrator asks? No, is the answer. From there a conversation ensues about love, life, and death. The story is slow to develop, but high in tension and discomfort.
"A Kind of Nostalgia Perhaps" also visits the ideas of life and death. In this story a ghost haunts an old woman, but only the young woman who reads to her can see the ghost. The young woman falls in love with the ghost, who never speaks to her, and develops a relationship of sorts. The story asks the reader to question time. How do we perceive the passage of time? How do we remember events? Who is haunting whom? It's a beautiful and sad critique on growing old and finding love.
A story that differs somewhat is "Gualta," in which a young, charming, highly successful man encounters a colleague in the same corporation who is exactly the same as the narrator. The encounter leads him to a realization that he hates himself. The narrator tries to revise his personality and makes an effort to become coarser. Unexpectedly, the other man has suffered from the same identity crisis. Strong for the most part, the story concludes with an ending low on satisfaction as it loses momentum and direction.
Overall, the stories are entertaining and work well as a collection; however, in terms of being great stories they fall short. Some of the stories like, "An Epigram of Fealty," and "Issac's Journey" seem concept driven with little impact. While stories like "The Life and Death of Marcelino Iturriaga" develop slow enough that the writing seems to value style over accessibility. The best story out of the collection is "While the Women Are Sleeping" and you can read it online through the New Yorker. Though the other stories may not hit all the points to be classified as great short stories, they are full of creativity and worth reading.(less)
The chapters are divided into: Classic Time, Long Time, Switchback Time, Slowed Time, Fabulous Time, and Time as Subject. Silber explains what each term means and illustrates how the writer created the desired effect through their approach of time.
How does a novel that takes place over a school year (Harry Potter) differ from a novel that takes place over a lifetime (Love in the Time of Cholera)? How does Alice Munro convey decades in the span of a few pages? What happens in surreal stories where time seems to exist outside of normal experience? Silber addresses these questions and many more. As actions and consequences exist (in most cases) as a temporal experience, it's important for writers to consider time. While writers who are just starting out may be more concerned with basic mechanics, these questions and discussions are wonderful for people who have been writing for years and thinking about fiction. Moreover, if the reader is familiar with many of the works Silber references it makes the book even more enjoyable. The Art of Time in Fiction is a quick read, but worth reading for writers interested in the subject.(less)
If you're a reader who likes plot points neatly tied and convention followed, this book is not for you. Point Omega by Don DeLillo revolves around a c...moreIf you're a reader who likes plot points neatly tied and convention followed, this book is not for you. Point Omega by Don DeLillo revolves around a character named Elster, who is an intellectual that was brought into the war effort around 2004. I can't think exactly who he is modeled on, but he's an apologist, a hawk, a salesman coming up with terms like "a haiku war," as if by changing the words we use to wage war we can change the context or identity of war.
Elster has quit the scene and escaped to a home in the desert when the reader meets him in the novel. He's out there with a man in his earl thirties, Jim Finley, a not so successful film maker, who wants to do an interview / monologue with Elster. Put the camera on the man and let him ramble for 90 minutes. Moreover, he worships Elster's intellect, even though Elster seems to be in a state of decline.
This narrative is sandwiched between two chapters called: Anonymity and Anonymity 2, which take place at the Museum of Modern Art where an installation of 24 Hour Pyscho is being played in a sparse, dark room. These two chapters are narrated by an anonymous man who comes to the installation for hours at a time every day. He is obsessed with the film, but also observes the other attendees. Is this nameless narrator just a passing stranger, or does he have something to do with the disappearance of Elster's daughter, Jessie?
I don't care how well this novel works or doesn't work. What I appreciate is that DeLillo is trying something new, and that he has enough caché for the book to be published. Point Omega ends with the reader wondering what may have happened; however, Elster and Finley are in the same quandary as the reader. Jessie, Elster's daughter who has been staying with them, has disappeared and no one knows what happened. Did she wander into the desert? Did she hitch a ride and run off somewhere? Was foul play involved? There are moments in life that will always be a mystery. We can conjecture, toss possibilities into the air, and ruminate, but ultimately we will never know. The book leaves the reader with these questions, and the mystery of Jessie's disappearance haunts for days to follow.(less)