This is a wonderful bildungsroman accompanied by great and imaginative art. My only complaint is that Thompson can sometimes explain things too well....moreThis is a wonderful bildungsroman accompanied by great and imaginative art. My only complaint is that Thompson can sometimes explain things too well. For example, an allusion to Plato's cave would have been more effective than his complete exposition of it.(less)
The book opens on a scene of destruction: a hurricane has ravaged the Ten Thousand Islands region of Florida. A posse o...more
Here lies Edgar Artemas Watson.
The book opens on a scene of destruction: a hurricane has ravaged the Ten Thousand Islands region of Florida. A posse of Watson's neighbors forms and on the ruined beach they kill Watson as he arrives on shore. The end of this man's life marks the beginning of this epic story. The duty of the rest of the almost 900 pages of this book is to answer these questions: who is Watson and why was he killed? Was it a just or unjust death? Who did he leave behind? Was he a monster? Was he loved and did he love?
There is much to be said of the structure of Shadow Country. The first part consists of narrative from Watson's family and acquaintances. The second part is the narrative of Watson's son Lucius trying to reconstruct the story of his father's life years later. And the third and final part is Watson's life story in his own words.
Matthiessen is a master of semi fiction. Edgar Watson was a real man whose life became legend. This book takes the few facts known about the historical Watson and places them into a unique and heartrending narrative worthy of the American canon.
Watson's house on Chatham Bend
Ted and Mamie Smallwood, neighbors and friends of Watson.
If you know me, it's not a secret that I am in love with Shirley Jackson. I named my cat after the protagonist of her masterpiece, We Have Always Live...moreIf you know me, it's not a secret that I am in love with Shirley Jackson. I named my cat after the protagonist of her masterpiece, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Mary Katherine, or Merricat for short. I could spend hours gushing over the genius of that book, but I cannot for the life of me articulate a review for it. But when I read The Haunting of Hill House for the first time a few years ago, it didn't steal my heart the way Shirley is usually able to do. It was an okay but not great 3-star read.
It's very rare that I reread a 3-star book and amend it to 5-stars, but apparently I didn't read this correctly the first time. I must have been a dolt on my first read, because this book is great.
It's a typical haunted house story. Dr. Montague, a respectable professor with an interest in the paranormal, requests the presence of three companions for a stay in the notorious Hill House—a Victorian monstrosity with a history of violence and despair and bumps in the night. Primary among Montague's guests is our heroine (or antiheroine?) Eleanor Vance, a thirty-two year old, socially inept woman looking to finally make some choice in her life which has thus far been chosen for her.
Hill House is insane. It is despicable and has an unquenchable desire to consume. And it seems to have a specific desire to consume our Eleanor.
Like all of Jackson's works, the heroine exists in a gray area. Mary Katherine Blackwood of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a delightful and charming girl, but there is most definitely a darkness that resides in her. You are unsure of her motives, her past, and her capability for good or evil. And so it is with Eleanor Vance, a surprisingly complex character. Much of her personality lies between the lines and without a close reading of the work, you may miss her subtleties.
Like I always say when I finish a Shirley Jackson book: I need to read every word she's ever written right now.(less)
(I love this photo of the three witches, even though they're beardless.)
Have you ever heard of Mr. William Shakespeare? Let me introduce you to this l...more
(I love this photo of the three witches, even though they're beardless.)
Have you ever heard of Mr. William Shakespeare? Let me introduce you to this little-known drama he wrote. It's about bearded witches and a tyrannically murderous king and being a man. It's set in pagan Scotland so there's a lot of sorcery and supernatural stuff going on just like Harry Potter. Actually it's more like Game of Thrones—it's exactly like Game of Thrones, in fact, both in mood and in amounts of blood.
Mr. Ray Bradbury introduced this play to me as a young teenager with his book Something Wicked This Way Comes (which really has nothing to do with the play, it's just a cool title lifted from Macbeth) and likewise Mr. Faulkner reused one of Macbeth's great lines, " [Life] is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
And now I know why two great authors used this play as titular inspiration. It's because this is a wonderfully great, fantastic play. But you didn't need me to tell you that.(less)
Sometimes it's not till I finish a book that I realize how much I am in love with it. That's the case with this lovely travelogue, which smartly does...moreSometimes it's not till I finish a book that I realize how much I am in love with it. That's the case with this lovely travelogue, which smartly does not pretend to be anything that it is not. It's not given any frills or decoration, other than beautiful and inimitable descriptions of nature. It is a humble record of a man's journey through the Himalayas and his concurrent spiritual journey. To ask after the object of the journey is missing the point—and I hope this doesn't sound cheesy, as it does not come across cheesily at all in the book—the journey is the point.
"I feel great gratitude for being here, for being, rather, for there is no need to hie oneself to the snow mountains in order to feel free. I am not here to seek the "crazy wisdom"; if I am, I shall never find it. I am here to be here, like these rocks and sky and snow, like this hail that is falling down out of the sun." -p.108
"This wayfaring in shifting sun, in snow and cloud worlds, so close to the weather, makes me happy; the morbid feeling of this dawn has passed away. I would like to reach the Crystal Monastery, I would like to see a snow leopard, but if I do not, that is all right, too. In this moment, there are birds—red-billed choughs, those queer small crows of the high places, and a small buteo, black against the heavens, and southbound finches bounding down the wind, in their wake a sprinkling of song. A lark, a swift, a lammergeier, and more griffons: the vultures pass at eye level, on creaking wings." -p.89(less)
I should let a little time pass before writing down my thoughts on this gem of a comic. Instead, I will rave about how much I loved it, how hard it hi...more
I should let a little time pass before writing down my thoughts on this gem of a comic. Instead, I will rave about how much I loved it, how hard it hit me, how it's such a huge shame that this is the only book translated into English by this French author/illustrator, how incredible its drawings are, very similar to Craig Thompson if you like him, how Pedrosa is one of the few black and white artists I've encountered who can really utilize the contrast of deep blacks and stark whites to perfection, how happy I am that I stumbled into this book in the library without any prior knowledge of it or its author's existence, how he weaves a simple story of two parents' love for their child and the lengths they will go to to ensure his safety, the kind that really punches you in the gut with the reminder that you and the people you love are mortal.(less)
I'm skeptical when someone says there is a great new high fantasy novel, because, while the bar is set pretty high for high fantasy (Tolkien, of cours...moreI'm skeptical when someone says there is a great new high fantasy novel, because, while the bar is set pretty high for high fantasy (Tolkien, of course), contemporary fantasy writers just seem... not great to me. At least not compared to the usual, non-genre stuff I'm used to reading. What makes this great is its influences. Unless I'm really wrong, Rothfuss got his system of magic from "real" magic systems, that is, the way magic works in tribal or "primitive" societies. I didn't go back to check this to make sure, but sympathetic magic in Name of the Wind follow the same rules set out in George Frazer's chapter in The Golden Bough entitled "The Principles of Magic". And like in tribal societies, the magic is not really magic, it's just another branch of science. It follows natural laws that are just a bit more complicated than what the average person understands.
I just decided I don't have the energy to finish this review right now. But really, the book is pretty great. Now I'll just list some random thoughts without explanation: crazy dragon addicted to meth, Tarbean is like Dickens' London, Hogwarts-University, I hate Ambrose, much better than Game of Thrones, coulda picked a better name for your main character, kinda wish Kvothe and Denna had started a Breaking Bad-type endeavor with the denner resin they found.(less)
In lieu of a proper review of my favorite book, and in addition to the remark that it would be more aptly named Konstantin Levin, I present to you the...moreIn lieu of a proper review of my favorite book, and in addition to the remark that it would be more aptly named Konstantin Levin, I present to you the characters of Anna Karenina in a series of portraits painted by dead white men.
Anna Karenina (Lady Agnew of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargent)
Alexei Karenin (Portrait of Edouard Manet by Henri Fantin-Latour)
Alexei Vronsky (Study of a Young Man by John Singer Sargent)
Konstantin Levin (Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife by John Singer Sargent
Kitty Scherbatsky (Portrait of Julie Manet by Pierre-Auguste Renoir)
Stepan Arkadyick Oblonsky (Monsieur Charpentier by Pierre-Auguste Renoir)
Dolly Oblonsky (The Marchioness of Downshire by John William Waterhouse)
An old muzhik (Tolstoy Plowing by Ilya Yefimovich Repin; yes, that is really a painting of Tolstoy himself, and he looks like what I imagine an old muzhik to look like.)(less)
...is how I would start this review if I wasn't feeling very creative at the moment. Which I'm not.
I remember picking t...moreWhat's it going to be then, eh?
...is how I would start this review if I wasn't feeling very creative at the moment. Which I'm not.
I remember picking this book up as a teenager, sometime after reading Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, reading a page and promptly putting it back on the bookshelf. The narrator, Alex, speaks in a hybrid language called Nadsat that combines Cockney and Russian. As a teenager, I had neither the patience nor the gumption to translate this into something intelligible. Now having read it, I regret waiting so long.
A Clockwork Orange is one of the few books I've read that's completely won me over with its first-person, vernacular (not to mention unreliable) narration. It wins a place next to The Catcher in the Rye. And while I usually try to downplay the fact that I listen to audiobooks, I'm convinced that this is much better read aloud than it is eye-read. For one thing, it's hard for me to conjure up that wonderful Cockney accent that is inseparable from Alex. But when this is read aloud, all the confusion of Nadsat disappears; when someone is speaking, everything fall into context and makes sense.
What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?
As for the book itself... its themes are very troubling to me (as they are undoubtedly supposed to be.) Burgess uses this book to passionately defend the right to free will for all of humanity, which of course I agree with. But then again... he chooses the psychopathic and sadistic Alex as his hero/antihero and I am still perplexed if someone like Alex should retain that free will. It's not as cut and dry for me as it is for Burgess. Whereas I tend to be utilitarian, he is much more idealistic.
The image of a clockwork orange, "an organic entity, full of juice and sweetness and agreeable odour, being turned into a mechanism", is one that will stick with me.(less)
Need I really explain to you why I gave Calvin & Hobbes a five-star rating? If you grew up during the eighties and nineties or were sentient durin...moreNeed I really explain to you why I gave Calvin & Hobbes a five-star rating? If you grew up during the eighties and nineties or were sentient during that time period, or if you are sentient now and have access to the Internet or if you have ever had a friend who knows what good stuff is, then you know that Calvin & Hobbes is a wonderful, beautiful, hilarious, perfect thing.
I grew up on this. In the early nineties, I woke up every morning and stomped to the front door to retrieve the newspaper and spend some quality time with the comics section while eating my Lucky Charms or Count Chocula (the closest thing to Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs I could lay my hands upon). I delighted in the exploits of Calvin and his pet tiger, Hobbes, who was obviously a real and ferocious but lovable beast, but appeared as a stuffed animal to Calvin's parents, peers and superiors.
When I opened my front door after walking home from the bus stop, I always wished I would be greeted with a tiger attack.
When I got a snow day off from school, I strove for the creative and technical brilliance of Calvin's snow sculptures.
Like Calvin and Hobbes, all of my games and sports eventually morphed transmogrified into Calvinball.
Spaceman Spiff was my favorite astronaut hero.
What's interested me in my rereading of the complete collection of Calvin & Hobbes is that it's not written for kids. I mean, it is. It's completely appropriate for children. But there is so much depth and subtlety to the comic that I missed as a kid. Spaceman Spiff was my favorite as a young reader, but what I find appreciating even more as an adult is the culture criticism and commentary. There's a lot of focus on the media and the environment. It speaks for itself:
But my absolute favorite part of reading through the canon of Calvin & Hobbes is trying to figure this precocious kid out. The most obvious characterization for him would be that he is a sweet but mischievous kid with an imaginary best friend. But there's a darker element to Calvin and his tiger. At times, the strip makes you wonder: is there something wrong with Calvin? Should he be receiving some intense therapy?
There is one particular story arc that felt very unsettling to me. Calvin begins receiving letters from an unknown writer; they come marked with a skull and crossbones and they must be decoded.
And what happens, of course, is that the letters are actually coming from Calvin's own house! Which means that Hobbes wrote and sent them! Which, if you recall, is impossible, because Hobbes is an imaginary tiger! And Calvin honestly does not remember writing and sending these messages to himself, which means that he probably has a serious case of Dissociative Identity Disorder (a.k.a. multiple personalities).
So the question becomes: what sort of tragedy has Calvin suffered that has fractured his personality thusly? It's a troubling question, for me, at least.
One final word of praise for Mr. Watterson. He knew when to quit. After ten years of writing about a funny kid and his imaginary tiger, he was able to realize that he was running out of steam. As much as I hate to admit it, the last year of Calvin & Hobbes displayed a downward spiral in creativity and cleverness. Like so many others find themselves unable to do, Watterson retired his strip before it soured. And another congrats to him for not licensing his images to be plastered all over lunchboxes and t-shirts and bastardized in endless movie adaptations. (Yes, this means that if you have a sticker on your Chevy of Calvin pissing on a Ford logo, you are in breach of copyright; also, don't be stupid.)
Calvin will always be my favorite megalomaniacal and possibly schizophrenia-plagued child.(less)
Check out that photo above that I stole from Amazon. Isn't it pretty? It's a whole bunch of reading devices that fit into a colorful box. There's a ha...more
Check out that photo above that I stole from Amazon. Isn't it pretty? It's a whole bunch of reading devices that fit into a colorful box. There's a hardbound book, there's a Little Golden Books-style book, a couple newspaper-sized comics, and several doodads and even two or three various whatchamajigs. It weighs in at six pounds.
This is the incredibly creative Building Stories by Chris Ware. In it, the reader discovers the lives of (mainly) four characters who share the same building. They're all very normal. They feel lonely a lot of the time, even if they are with friends, spouses, or family members. They have trouble communicating their true feelings. They spend much of their time laying on the couch in their underwear and investigating the lives of their exes on Facebook. They go jogging after inspecting their emerging paunches in the mirror. One of them is missing a leg.
This is everything that comics should be; it's the antithesis of the Sunday funnies and superhero comics. Chris (yeah, we're best friends, we're on a first name basis) weaves labyrinths out of paper. Instead of reading left to right through panels, Ware moves your eye around the page in a pattern that's easy to follow but completely unlike any reading experience you're familiar with.
I want to say, but I hesitate to say it, that this is a comic book for non-comics readers. Thankfully, there are no capes in this book. If it were somehow translated into prose it would fit snugly in the literary fiction department. But it's still pretty nerdy. I spent a lot of time geeking out at the beautiful art and saying to my wife "check out these lineweights and the way he moved from this thought bubble to this panel and isn't that awesome how the building is thinking out loud" (to which my wife responded by continuing to watch Say Yes to the Dress).
But this is undoubtedly near the pinnacle of graphic books. It's up there with Craig Thompson's Habibi and Art Spiegelman's Maus. I'm pretty sure nothing drawn and written has reached the summit of what books with pictures can do yet, but this is getting dangerously close.(less)
The history of the Mormon religion cries out to be adapted into an action movie starring Nicholas Cage. Mormonism was born when Joseph Smith, the son of a poor farmer, allegedly discovered a buried cache of gold plates with ancient Egyptian characters spelling out a sacred text, the cornerstone of a new religion. He gathered a quorum of eleven men to attest to the existence of the ancient plates. The rest of the history of Joseph Smith and his followers is blood soaked and controversial.
In fact, that Mormonism is a long, continuous string of violence is one of the main points of this book. What you read about on the blurb, about how in 2003 a woman and her infant daughter were killed by the fundamentalist Lafferty brothers by divine decree, is a crime in keeping with the spirit of the history of Mormonism. Joseph Smith himself was a violent and criminal man who lived and died by the sword. His successor, Brigham Young, continued the tradition of bloodshed by fighting to make an independent Mormon state in what is now Utah. Krakauer's main objective is to draw a direct line from these earliest Mormon men of war to the double murder in 2003.
This is not to say that Krakauer condemns all Mormons or the Mormon faith in general. Mormonism is a huge religion today, more than 15 million members worldwide, and mostly benign. There are as many practicing Mormons in America as practicing Jews, so they can't all be bad. But like any religion, it has its fundamentalist and extremist sects. In Utah, near its geographical roots, there are small parcels of fundamentalist Mormons, about 20,000 total, about 8-15,000 of whom practice Mormonism's most controversial tenant: polygamy.
It's from polygamy that much, if not most, of the violence has stemmed. The Lafferty brothers took Brenda Lafferty's and her daughter's life because of a dispute in which Brenda encouraged a friend not to allow her husband to take a second wife. The religious sects that promote polygamy attract child molesters and sociopaths who arrange marriages between themselves and 13 or 14 year old girls. The Lafferties do not deny that they killed a woman and her baby daughter. On the contrary, they are proud of what they did, because it was commanded by God.
It is this divine amnesty that encourages so much violence, depravity, and subjugation (not just of women, but also of minorities). If you can claim that what you do is the will of the Almighty, you can do anything. Joseph Smith claimed divine will when he took 28 wives. Mormon militia leader John D. Lee did the same as he carried out the William McCary, calling him "a black man with the blood of Ham in him which lineage was cursed as regards the priesthood". When you are "under the banner of heaven", for what can you be held accountable?(less)
Last night I read the last line of this book. I shut it, set it on the nightstand. I switched off the lamp, pulled the covers over me and closed my li...moreLast night I read the last line of this book. I shut it, set it on the nightstand. I switched off the lamp, pulled the covers over me and closed my lids.
I woke in the middle of the night during a summer storm. Lightning intermittently set my bedroom aglow and at the foot of my bed I saw the outline of a man. A large man with a mop of hair messily piled onto one side of his head.
Paralyzed with fear, I lay there helplessly and heard these words from the specter emitted in a gravelly and woeful tone: "...is with me always - in every form - drives me mad! She left me in this abyss, where I cannot find her! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot die without my life! I cannot die without my soul! Catherine! My.......” and the specter faded back into oblivion.
No, not oblivion, for in oblivion there is no suffering.
This morning the afterimage of Heathcliff's phantasm, shadow, daemon, apparition remains burned into my retinas, corneas, fovea, vitreous humor (into whatever visual element images become burned) and its speech repeats itself within my mind on a locked groove.
Lockwood the faithful recording angel and his storyteller Ellen Dean must have gotten something wrong. There is no peace for Heathcliff - not in this world or any other.(less)