This novel, more than any others I've ever read, does the best job at thoroughly developing the characterization of its setting. The town of Empire Fa...moreThis novel, more than any others I've ever read, does the best job at thoroughly developing the characterization of its setting. The town of Empire Falls is fictional, but extremely convincing; it is at once unique in its detailed setting, but true enough to remind one of many small factory towns. The human characters, for the most part, are well developed, with much depth behind each person's pathologies (and there are many). The novel is downright hilarious at times, and heartbreaking at others. But what I'm most impressed with is Russo's demonstration of the influence that the town, its history and future, has upon its inhabitants. In a very unpretentious, true-to-life way, Empire Falls is the most important and fascinating character in the novel.(less)
I absolutely love these. A good place to start for people who aren't normally into sci-fi, in my opinion. It's a bit dated now, as is the fate of most...moreI absolutely love these. A good place to start for people who aren't normally into sci-fi, in my opinion. It's a bit dated now, as is the fate of most time-dependent sci-fi, but the prose is still really enjoyable and vivid.
There's something for everyone in these stories, whether you be a lit-nerd, sci-fi geek, or even just interested in historical race issues (there's even a story about black slaves revolting against their masters and moving to Mars). My favorite story: the one where the guy builds an exact replica of the House of Usher on Mars. So badass. (less)
Finished reading this over a week ago, and I am still digesting what I have read. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is a sprawling, labyrinthine monster of a...moreFinished reading this over a week ago, and I am still digesting what I have read. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is a sprawling, labyrinthine monster of a book, with experiences and characters repeating themselves and retreading the same ground (though it's not as confusing here as, say, in GGM's 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'. At least Murakami gives his similar characters different names!).
At times while reading this, it kind of felt like each new chapter would be about a spiritual / sexual experience with a new and different mysterious lady. Ordinarily this sort of redundancy really puts me off a book, but the storytelling is so skilled that I just felt compelled to read further. The plot is probably the weakest part of the book overall, and I'm not quite sold on the whole Kumiko story arc.
Despite a weak plot, the book is brilliant. Murakami does a great job of luring the reader into this strange otherworldly version of Japan. The various odd mystical characters could have been really gimmicky in less capable hands, but Murakami (and his English translator) do a really good job of making these characters believable and interesting. Though gruesome, I found the recollections of wartime Japan incredibly fascinating, as I'd never really read anything of WWII from a Japanese perspective. Overall, I'm impressed with how all the disparate characters, elements and time periods were woven together so successfully.
I highly recommend devoting a good, extended week to reading this. Don't try to read this book in bits and pieces over a long period of time, even though the novel is long - you'll have to do a lot of backtracking!(less)
I haven't fallen in love with a book so hard since I first read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in middle school (at the apex of my dorkitude). All of t...moreI haven't fallen in love with a book so hard since I first read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in middle school (at the apex of my dorkitude). All of the characters were really great, well-fleshed out and unique. I have much love for Smyke, the fourteen-armed obese effete Shark Grub, and Urs, the little foodie Wolperting! There's also a funny little character who is basically a lobster / chicken with a funnel for a hat and a barrel for a body. And soulless death machines, and living fog, etc. The plot meanders a bit until about halfway through, when the adventures really start to pick up. The last third of the novel was so tense and harrowing that I only paused reading to go to the bathroom, or to stop my soup from boiling over.
I usually hate it when people describe books and movies using only other books and movies, because I think it's lazy. That said, I do think an efficient way to describe this is: Lord of the Rings epic battles with a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy sense of whimsy, and a little dash of J.K. Rowling for sweetness.
NOTE: though one might get the impression that this is a kid's novel, featuring animal creatures as protagonists and all - it is definitely NOT, and also not a novel for those sensitive to violence. Though I absolutely adore this book, I am not entirely sure I would go rush out to see a movie based on it! Leave it to Germans to think of the most creative torture scenes...(less)
Walter Moers is an impressively creative author. I would love to live in a world with treacherous sugar deserts and other geographical formations, whe...moreWalter Moers is an impressively creative author. I would love to live in a world with treacherous sugar deserts and other geographical formations, where vampires are mere pests that feed off bad smells and noises, where old people live in a tornado, and where you can conduct cinematic dreams in a giant's brain! I can't think of anything I've read that can rival the creativity exhibited in Moers' books - maybe Lord of the Rings comes closest, or perhaps One Hundred Years of Solitude. But even Tolkien borrowed heavily from Norse mythology, and as far as I know, Moers' source for most of his creations is his own bizarre, demented mind! He is especially good at crafting lovingly intricate, mouthwatering descriptions of food. Mmm...those dumplings. Where was I? Right, the review. I might rate this slightly less than one of Moers' other books, Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures, if only because the story is much stronger and more cohesive in Rumo. And this book probably isn't for everyone, judging by the mixed reviews here on Goodreads. It's not so much a novel as a collection of stories starring Bluebear, interspersed with encyclopedic entries about this madly fantastic world Moers has created. As such, it doesn't really have much of a plot.
If you are looking for an epic adventure, I'd recommend you read Rumo instead. If you're just looking to escape in a world about a billion times better (and tastier) than our own, definitely pick up this book!(less)
Like some previous reviewers, I found that I enjoyed this even more than Kitchen Confidential. It's a behind the scenes glimpse into his thoughts when...moreLike some previous reviewers, I found that I enjoyed this even more than Kitchen Confidential. It's a behind the scenes glimpse into his thoughts when filming episodes for the Food Network, as they sent him around the world. I really appreciated his honesty, and though he obviously maintains a certain amount of bravado on his show, which involves eating things like still-beating cobra heart and warthog anus with a smile...here he'll admit when he wants to eschew the jungle sticks and go for a pampered hot bath in a hotel sometimes. Who wouldn't?
There is, amidst the many f-bombs and epicurean binges, a surprising amount of thoughtful reflection on places like Vietnam and Cambodia - visceral revelation as to the impact of how his home country's policies affect others. Here's my favorite quote: "Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands."
This, in a foodie travel book??? Hell yeah it is, and this is why I am counting 'A Cook's Tour' among my favorites.(less)
Love this, love Sarah Vowell and wish I was her best friend! She's so funny and dorky and makes even the dullest presidents (cough, McKinley, cough) e...moreLove this, love Sarah Vowell and wish I was her best friend! She's so funny and dorky and makes even the dullest presidents (cough, McKinley, cough) entertaining. I especially appreciated her bond with her toddler nephew Owen, and how they tour cemeteries together. Also the curse of Robert Todd Lincoln, jinxy McPresidential death guy. I might recommend passing this book up, though - but in favor of the audiobook version!(less)
A heartbreaking look into the inner lives of several North Korean defectors. I'm a bit of a "North Korea nerd," if such a thing exists, and I've read...moreA heartbreaking look into the inner lives of several North Korean defectors. I'm a bit of a "North Korea nerd," if such a thing exists, and I've read other materials on North Korea including the deeply excellent and thoroughly researched work by Bradley K. Martin (which is referenced extensively here by Barbara Demick). So factually, I didn't learn much about life in the regime that I didn't already know from other sources: I knew about the labor camps, the "three generations" rule of punishment, the horrible conditions during the height of the famine, etc. Everyone knows that North Koreans have a pretty rough standard of living - probably even the most fervently patriotic DPRK citizens have realized this by now.
What Demick does here is to take the testimonies of these defectors, and build them into a compelling and affective narrative. Most other defector testimonies I've read tend to exclusively dwell on the extraordinarily awful aspects of life in North Korea. To be sure, Demick does not gloss over these. But the accounts here also incorporate the ordinary, the mundane, the humorous and sweet moments in the defectors' lives. It's the first account I've read that treats them people as people, not just hapless victims of a brutal artifact of the Cold War. They fall in love, argue with each other, gaze at a sky full of stars (and there are many of them, since there's none of the light pollution that hazes the sky to the South), dream of steak and wine dinners even as they cautiously ration bowls of thin gruel made with leaves. This book actually left me angrier at Kim Jong Il and his regime than reading the lengthy rap sheet on North Korea at the Human Rights Watch website. I found myself truly invested in the fates of everyone in the book: the fiery spirited Mi-ran, and the plucky and resourceful Mrs. Song were my favorites. I rooted hard for all of them to escape with their lives and sanity.
I'd love to read more on how the defectors are adjusting to life in South Korea. To go from extreme deprivation and limited movement, the drab grays of North Korea, to the absolute chaos, color and superficiality of the South? Unfortunately it seems that life is still hard for these refugees, in different ways. Hope Demick follows up with these people in, say, ten years or so. (less)
Beautiful, just beautiful. Patti Smith tells the story of her and her forever-buddy Robert Mapplethorpe, growing together (and apart) as artists, and...moreBeautiful, just beautiful. Patti Smith tells the story of her and her forever-buddy Robert Mapplethorpe, growing together (and apart) as artists, and does it in such an eloquent and unpretentious way. Even as she mentions other renowned artists she encounters, it never seems like name dropping, probably because of her straightforward, matter-of-fact tone (won't include spoilers, but I laughed out loud at a few of these interactions with familiar names). Like other reviewers, after reading this, I do sadly regret that I was born too late to be a half-starved idealist roaming around NYC in the 60's, with no possessions but an unwavering devotion to art. Thankfully I don't have to tighten my belt or invent a time machine, and can live it vicariously through Patti's words. (less)
Loved. this. book! Both in audiobook form (it's really great to hear Tina Fey deliver these quips herself), and in ebook form for the pictures. Bossyp...moreLoved. this. book! Both in audiobook form (it's really great to hear Tina Fey deliver these quips herself), and in ebook form for the pictures. Bossypants is my new Bible, and Tina Fey is my new Oprah. (less)