I liked the sly references to Beckett and Wittgenstein, and I liked the creepy invasiveness of the heroine's investigations—hints of Blue Velvet's genI liked the sly references to Beckett and Wittgenstein, and I liked the creepy invasiveness of the heroine's investigations—hints of Blue Velvet's generalized anxiety. I liked less the overall arc of the story: the book feels motivated by revenge....more
A chewy collection of magazine columns about usage. The pseudo-quantitative guide to the question "should I give up on nonplussed?" is perhaps the mosA chewy collection of magazine columns about usage. The pseudo-quantitative guide to the question "should I give up on nonplussed?" is perhaps the most useful.
Yagoda occupies the prgamatic middle ground between the prescriptivist and descriptivist camps: he's coined the unwieldy term "flexiptivist" to describe his position. ...more
This is a masterful work of biography, "the history not of a personality but of a career," as Stegner writes in his introductory note. As such, not onThis is a masterful work of biography, "the history not of a personality but of a career," as Stegner writes in his introductory note. As such, not only does Stegner follow John Wesley Powell down the frightful canyons of the Colorado River and into the even more fearsome halls of the national capital, but the author dwells on Powell's companions and antagonists, his allies and his would-be emulators. He devotes long admiring passages to Powell's associates Capt. Clarence Dutton and Grove Karl Gilbert; he is almost rhapsodic about William Henry Holmes, who provided meticulous grand-scale scientific illustrations for Dutton's geological writings. He explains the dry, hard-rock conditions that Powell found in the west, and makes the connections to Powell's scientific report of 1877, which argued for a pattern of settlement arranged by geology and watersheds and governed communally.
Stegner is wittily cutting about Capt. Samuel Adams, failed explorer of the same Plateau Province of western Colorado, eastern Utah, and northern Arizona. Adams was convinced that the Colorado offered a navigable passage from the ocean to the Rocky Mountains, the author calls him "a preposterous, twelve-gauge, hundred-proof, kiln-dried, officially notarized fool, or else he was one of the most wildly incompetent scoundrels who ever lived." (p. 201) And the account of feud between Powell and Othniel C. Marsh on the one hand and Edward D. Cope on the other is an eye-opener.
Stegner is also a writer of fiction, and he brings a novelist's command of language to this work. The conceit of human geological understanding being directly reflected in the rocks of the Province is particularly fine (p. 120).
New Mexico's tagline is "Land of Enchantment." There's not much to separate enchantment from delusion, and part of the history of the west is the story of that delusion. Powell's virtue was in seeing clearly through the enchantment. Much of his work was truncated, at least in his lifetime, but "the only thing clearer than the failure of his grandiose schemes of study is the compelling weight of their partial accomplishment." (p. 264)...more
Updike crafts a lovely little prose poem out of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom rummaging through a friend's medicine cabinet, stocked with goods from 1979, wUpdike crafts a lovely little prose poem out of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom rummaging through a friend's medicine cabinet, stocked with goods from 1979, with that all-important brand-name macron:
The cabinet has more in it than he would have supposed: thick milk-glass jars of skin cream and flesh-tint squeeze bottles of lotion and brown tubes of suntan lotion, Parepectolin for diarrhea, Debrox for ear wax control, menthol Chloraseptic, that mouthwash called Cēpacol, several kinds of aspirin, both Bayer and Anacin, and Tylenol that doesn't make your stomach burn, and a large chalky bottle of liquid Maalox.
Davis's foray into new sources of material, chief among them dreams of her own or friends, doesn't work for me. There's too much of the personal and nDavis's foray into new sources of material, chief among them dreams of her own or friends, doesn't work for me. There's too much of the personal and not enough of the universal here.
That said, "Idea for a Sign" is a lovely neurotic rant; "The Language of Things in the House" is downright whimsical; "The Magic of the Train" is also strong. Perhaps travel by rail is especially salubrious for Davis. "Local Obits," presumably reworked found material, is pitch-perfect....more
A useful, engaging collection of profiles of American women naturalists, from the well-known (Rachel Carson) to the obscure (Ynes Mexia). These pioneeA useful, engaging collection of profiles of American women naturalists, from the well-known (Rachel Carson) to the obscure (Ynes Mexia). These pioneering women show a range of personalities, pleasant and not so; but all of them who succeeded at field work show an acquired taste for beans. Bonta emphasizes the mutual support networks that arose among them, especially the Althea Sherman-Margaret Morse Nice-Amelia Laskey axis. For a number of reasons, many of these women do not leave a record of extensive publications (Florence Merriam Bailey and Carson being notable exceptions); rather, their legacy is often in assembling collections and organizing museums (Alice Eastwood, Ellen Quillin).
It seems unfair to downrate a book for something outside of the author's control. However, the paperback edition is marred by a production error for which the publisher, Texas A&M Press, should be abashed: on several pages there are illustrations that don't take up the entire page and the text continues under the illustration. Or at least (presumably) it does so in the original 1991 hardcover edition; in my paper edition, the text is just missing. Cutting two half-paragraphs out of Alice Eastwood's story, for instance, does her no good service.
Good pointers in the bibliography to more complete treatments of several of these groundbreakers—a good resource for some of my Wikipedia projects....more
To capture the immense span of Texas, Ferber wants to strip the commas from her prose, so that her arms may spread all the wider. It's a risky stylistTo capture the immense span of Texas, Ferber wants to strip the commas from her prose, so that her arms may spread all the wider. It's a risky stylistic choice that I like:
Downstairs and upstairs, inside and out, on awnings carpets couches chairs desks rugs; towels linen; metal cloth wood china glass, the brand JR was stamped etched emroidered embossed woven painted inlaid. (ch. 4)
The structure of this big novel of social themes, gently satiric about lifestyles of the Texas rich and baldly indignant about racism toward Latinos, beginning as it does at the end in the 1950s and then flashing back to the 1920s, makes for some less-than-happy flashforwards—the "if she knew then what we know now" sort of thing. And Leslie Lynnton Benedict, of Ohio-Virginia gentility, poor in property but rich in heritage, is a silly girl, after all, but she is our lens on the Texas enormity, and she does her part well.
Ferber has an ear for the Lone Star lingo ("choused," "ganted"). The barbecue scene in chap. 11 is quite fine, especially the description of barbecoa (tip: it's not that stuff you order at Chipotle). And Jett Rink (the JR of the passage above) is a fine antagonist to the Benedicts; he's one sorry SOB indeed....more
I found the cool, detached first person plural narrators' voice of this novel absolutely intoxicating. Chang-Rae Lee finds a graceful way to explain hI found the cool, detached first person plural narrators' voice of this novel absolutely intoxicating. Chang-Rae Lee finds a graceful way to explain how his narrators can be omnipresent but not omniscient. At about page 62, there's a lovely modulation of focus from Fan, the young girl who has begun her picaresque journey in the mountains, to the boy Reg, who left her behind in the new company town of B-Mor; the focus slips back in time and place and then returns, softly, to Fan. The tone even finds a way to accommodate the utterly harrowing episode of the Nickelmans.
There's a fairy tale quality to this story (the narrators at one point refer to the "trials of young Fan"), and something that reminds me of the film Pleasantville. Fan, in a way, restores color to the lives of those she meets.
And there's more than a dash of Huxley here, too, as the people of this future world willingly maintain their places in the new socioeconomic strata, and (especially those in B-Mor) embrace the communal good at the expense of an individual thriving. We are all cousins, as the narrators say.
Some elements are less than perfectly successful. Certain turns of phrase might be more comprehensible to someone who is a closer reader than me. And the dramatic compressing of all the book's events into the brief period of Fan's undetected pregnancy stretches credulity.
I found this novel, one of three of Carkeet's books featuring the bemused linguist Jeremy Cook with which I'm familiar, somewhat less successful thanI found this novel, one of three of Carkeet's books featuring the bemused linguist Jeremy Cook with which I'm familiar, somewhat less successful than the others. The plot requires that Jeremy be rather boneheaded about the ways of men and women in a relationship, boneheaded even by the standards of 1990, when the book was first published.
To its credit, the story introduces us to Roy Pillow, Jeremy's infuriating boss, comically opaque and grotesque....more