1. I know dystopias are a big deal for a lot of people, but I'm learning that they're not really my thing at all.
2. More than anything, this reminded...more1. I know dystopias are a big deal for a lot of people, but I'm learning that they're not really my thing at all.
2. More than anything, this reminded me of The Night of the Generals, which isn't a very good movie but at least provides plenty of opportunities to look at Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole.
3. Alan Moore is very pleased with himself, isn't he? Sigh. I've only read Watchmen, but I think the flaws of that work are present here too. Namely, it's overwritten - although Watchmen has many things going for it that V for Vendetta doesn't. The exposition here is very, very clumsy, and the gender roles are gross. I know they are gross "on purpose" but Moore/Lloyd aren't as critical of them as they think they are.(less)
I thought that this was a book I would like, would even love, but I was wrong. William Kennedy wrote many many years ago that One Hundred Years of Sol...moreI thought that this was a book I would like, would even love, but I was wrong. William Kennedy wrote many many years ago that One Hundred Years of Solitude was as important as the book of Genesis and therefore, like Genesis, the only required reading for every person in the world ever. Leaving aside the many obvious problems with such a statement, let me say that Kennedy is indeed correct in saying that it Marquez's book is similar to Genesis in many ways: it is complicated, mythological, deeply rooted in an alien (to me) conception of the world, and multilayered. Like Genesis, I did not give a damn about anything that happened to anyone.
Perhaps it is the translation, because I have heard that his book is excellent in Spanish and miserable in English. And I loved the imagination! Which was practically cinematic (it reminded me of Powell & Pressburger, and there are no filmmakers I admire more for their imagination than the Archers) but I just could not invest myself in it. It was like Chinatown all over again (haha, in more ways than one, shall we say?).
I like books that are ambiguous and confuse me, and leave themselves open to dissection. (Maybe, in this case, vivisection.) That is not a problem I have with literature in general, and nor was it a problem I had with THIS book, because I wasn't confused [unless I was supposed to be:]. Anyway, very disappointed.(less)
I am deeply ambivalent about Lolita. It is clearly a technically exquisite novel, but I don't know if I could ever like it. Additionally, it seems to...moreI am deeply ambivalent about Lolita. It is clearly a technically exquisite novel, but I don't know if I could ever like it. Additionally, it seems to have been romanticized by a disturbing number of readers and reviwers in addition to the misinterpretation that every novel goes through (or at least risks). (less)
Emily Brontë is a very good writer, but this book is hateful and unbearable. There are two characters worth reading about - Nelly Dean and Hareton - b...moreEmily Brontë is a very good writer, but this book is hateful and unbearable. There are two characters worth reading about - Nelly Dean and Hareton - but the rest should be taken out back and shot. It's like reading a book populated by Nietzsche-reading toddlers.(less)
**spoiler alert** The ancient Greek heroes were all assholes (to put things mildly), but Fagles has a truly readable translation of Homer, and there a...more**spoiler alert** The ancient Greek heroes were all assholes (to put things mildly), but Fagles has a truly readable translation of Homer, and there are some surprising moments of empathy and genuine sorrow (the laments for Patroclus are especially moving, and Book 6 where Hector returns to Troy from the battelfield). I don't know how good the endnotes are because they're not noted in the text of the poem (I find this really annoying...but I am not the publisher) so I only read them after I finished the poem. Frustrating!
But, I mean, it's the Iliad. What is there left to say about it?(less)
1. The Salt Roads is SO FRUSTRATING. Because there were a couple things I really loved about it and one or two things I hated with the fiery passion o...more1. The Salt Roads is SO FRUSTRATING. Because there were a couple things I really loved about it and one or two things I hated with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. And those things seemed more significant to the book than the things I liked.
2. First of all, I love the idea of the novel. It's a powerful and layered concept for a book. There are so many angles to examine, and so many resources to mine, that the potential is enormous. It could have been remarkably affecting. It is certainly an engaging book, although I almost feel that by using so many first-person viewpoints, Hopkinson is, um, cheating. Or anyway . . . she's covering all her bases, without having to work very hard at it.
3. I also really loved how flexible sexuality is. That makes a kind of sense, because the book takes place before modern constructions of sexuality (which I think are loosening, but only because we have more names for things), but how often does historical fiction care about that? Not often enough. But ambiguity is present here, in spades. So that is definitely a point in the book's favor.
4. Okay, but now I get to talk about the things I hated. Primarily, I hated the way The Salt Roads was written. LOATHED it. On reflection, the style of the book is tied very closely to the first-person narration, so the sentences are choppy and conversational. Unfortunately, this makes them seem disingenuous - although you feel very close (physically, not emotionally) to the characters, it's difficult to connect with them. I'm tempted to call the style stream-of-consciousness, except I like stream-of-consciousness, at least in its modernist incarnation . . . this is post-modern, but usually I quite like that too. Anyway, here is a passage - picked at random - that may help indicate why I find the style wearing (although this is a third person interlude, actually):
Patrice sighed. They were near his cabin. He kept walking, kept thinking. He heard Makandal's soft goodbye, and out of his eye saw the three-and-a-half-legged hound running off to where Couva would be twisted painfully into the stocks, her body cramping and twitching. You gods, let Makandal's plan work. Let the Ginen cease suffering.
5. Another problem with the book is that it is physical without being sensual at all. The sex scenes are fairly graphic, but they are barely interesting (or, at least, the sex isn't; some of the politics are). Hopkinson is very good at conveying physical discomfort, but pleasure is not within her capabilities. Given the role destructive pleasure plays in at least one story line (Jeanne Duval and Baudelaire), I like it when books have a definite sense of physicality, and that is certainly a strength of The Salt Roads.
So all that is a failure too. The blue notebook, which I had expected to be the most truthful of the notebooks, is worse than any of them. I expected a terse record of facts to present some sort of a pattern when I read it over, but this sort of record is as false as the account of what happened on 15th September, 1954, which I read now embarrassed because of its emotionalism and because of its assumption that if I wrote ‘at nine-thirty I went to the lavatory to shit and at two to pee and at four I sweated’, this would be more real than if I simply wrote what I thought. And yet I still don’t understand why. Because although in life things like going to the lavatory or changing a tampon when one has one’s period are dealt with on an almost unconscious level, I can recall every detail of a day two years ago because I remember that Molly had blood on her skirt and I had to warn her to go upstairs and change before her son came in.
Basically, it feels a little like the physical detail (which in TSR is purely factual, and not atmospheric) is used a bit like a crutch.
6. Much like the book in general, I wanted to love the characters and ended up disliking most of them. Thais comes too late in the book to be integrated with the other stories - she feels tacked on, although I love the concept. Also, she is rather stupid, and that's off-putting. Mer is conceptually interesting, and makes fascinating choices, but mostly two-dimensional. I think Jeanne Duval is the most successful, the most rounded character and probably the only dynamic one. The parts of the novel from Ezili's perspective are truly bad.
7. If I hadn't wanted to like this book so much, I would have liked it more. Sorry, The Salt Roads.(less)
There's a school of thought that you should say nice things before you say mean things. So I will begin by saying that The Namesake is incredibly read...moreThere's a school of thought that you should say nice things before you say mean things. So I will begin by saying that The Namesake is incredibly readable. The prose unravels like a spool of thread. And I do think Ashima and Ashoke are great characters, and my eyes definitely watered at some of the father/son moments.
But I really, really disliked the book. First of all, it has no sense of humor - and humor is really a necessary ingredient if you're writing about family and don't want to make your book a tragedy. Secondly, it's a story about people buying into American capitalism and upper middle-class self-satisfaction, and frankly that's a very frustrating thing to read about. Plus, if I wanted to read about it (and sometimes I do), I would reread White Teeth or The Buddha of Suburbia - although those aren't American stories. Surely there is an American equivalent somewhere, but it isn't The Namesake. The Namesake is basically The Time Traveler's Wife with Bengali protagonists and without the time travel. This isn't a compliment. (Although they did come out the same year! INTERESTING.)
Look, I have a high tolerance for whiny men: I am an English and philosophy major. I have to develop that out of self-preservation. But it really annoys me when characters (and authors) don't make any effort to contextualize their environment or think critically about their lives. Gogol never once shows any inclination to do so. He just signs up for anything that isn't Bengali. That's not a very interesting story to read, and it's an approach I find extremely problematic.(less)
This review is going to be one of those exercises in futility, I suspect. Particularly, the kind of futility that comes from trying to puzzle out popu...moreThis review is going to be one of those exercises in futility, I suspect. Particularly, the kind of futility that comes from trying to puzzle out popularity. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
I spent a lot of The Name of the Wind trying to puzzle out why so many people have reacted to it with such enthusiasm. I liked it okay - it's thoroughly enjoyable. It is the fantasy version of Fritos, or something - movie theatre popcorn? Maybe, I'm not sure. Probably the best thing about it is a lightness, a playfulness that keeps the novel from getting dragged down by all the familiar ground it treads. I know SFF books have well-deserved reputations for sincerity and earnestness, but irony has also started to leak into the genre. The Name of the Wind isn't really funny, but it is self-aware (sort of) and it isn't solemn or heavy or anything. I'll probably read the next books, if the ever stay on the library shelves long enough. I suspect, like this one, they will be speedy, entertaining reads.
But. There was something idle about reading this - my enjoyment was all surface-level. I don't even like George R. R. Martin's books, and I resent that it's currently impossible to talk about the genre without mentioning them, but there is something pricking about Martin's work: it gets under your skin, even if you don't think it's that good. Rothfuss didn't get under my skin, and I don't think the world-building is particularly vivid. His dedication mentions Narnia, Pern, and Middle-Earth: three (well - two and a half) of the most vivid and fantastic universes in the ever-expanding list of fantasy worlds. I think the stumble comes - for me, obviously, so many people love this book and probably feel quite differently - in the fact that there's no place for the reader in TNOTW. We are an audience, not a participant. In tone and spirit, I think Rothfuss' book and universe are closest to Pern: there's something quotidian about them both. But you can read Pern and be like, "fuck, I want a dragon" or whatever, and I don't know that a similar reaction is possible while reading TNOTW. I mean, there are more seductive schools of magic (although I like that in this one it is an ACTUAL SCHOOl, I'M LOOKING AT YOU, HOGWARTS). Maybe Wise Man's Fear has some other asskicking organization that spawns a million RPGs, but I doubt it. So what are you supposed to latch onto when reading this? Because usually with a sff series beloved by many there is something.*
I don't think it's the main character. He's okay? He's one of those smug and unreliable narrators with ~*secret trauma.*~ Rothfuss uses a lot of tropes, and he's very skilled at handling them and keeping them from being tiresome - Kvothe is (this isn't a spoiler) the most important person to have ever lived. But now he's in hiding! I have a weakness for this trope - it is my favorite! Ever! Especially when coupled with the "old trouble is coming to find you, hobbits" trope. (Or "your ~heterosexual life partner needs you to come save the world again, Fitz.") Those are my favorite favorite things to read about. (Getting the band back together!) Except except except: that's not what happens. I might be going through a phase in my reading life where I only want forward motion, and this book moves backwards, mostly. But that backstory isn't as gripping as the hints of plot we get in the present. I mean, I like the tricks and stuff. I like meta genre fiction. But after a certain point you want the book to stop showing you how clever and cheeky it is and start actually moving. (Ideally, of course, a book would manage both feats at once.) (There is one plot tangent that GOES NOWHERE. Kvothe gets a bit of information out of it, but I'm sure there are other ways to accomplish that.)
ALSO, oh god, the female characters in this book are embarrassing. I know there is an easy defense to be made here, and that defense is, "but the book is about Kvothe, and he's utterly lacking in emotional maturity, and of course he only sees women and the rest of the world in relation to himself." To which I say: that is a ridiculous argument. There are ways of undermining your POV-character's judgment while keeping them in first-person, and I recently read a book that did this marvelously well (An Instance of the Fingerpost). Also, do you know how many books there are that are about how men see women? It is basically all of them. Good writers can make women in their books mysteries (gross) to their main characters while still making them people to readers. You can't unilaterally excuse the flaws in a novel by saying they originate with the main character. Characters originate with their author, and it's poor craftsmanship and lazy thinking to pretend otherwise.
Man, I have a lot of complaints! But actually, although TNOTW is over-rated, I still enjoyed it very much.
* This isn't the only way to write a good book obviously! But usually when people react with such enthusiasm to a novel, it has this participatory element.(less)
1. Hmm - I suppose I wasn't completely sold on this book, maybe because it can't decide if it wants to be a tightly plotted adventure story or a medit...more1. Hmm - I suppose I wasn't completely sold on this book, maybe because it can't decide if it wants to be a tightly plotted adventure story or a meditative look at art and storytelling (with family baggage). Frankly, at 250 pages, it's not long enough to do both - or, anyway, Frost is not an economical enough a writer to do both. Either of those approaches would have been fine by me, since I am perfectly capable of enjoying both kinds of books when they are done well. In this case, however, Shadowbridge pulled me in two directions without committing to one. I know that this is the first of two books, but that seems to be frankly unnecessary.
2. One really concrete structural change I can pinpoint, and I think it would have made a big difference to my appreciation of the novel: I'd rather Frost had cut the section where we learn all about Leodora's past life and growing up. The novel would have been better served if he'd eliminated the flashback all together, and let us infer the relevant information from the characters' present lives. Instead, the ~50 pages bloat the novel, condescend to the readers, and slow down the pace. This section does not cut down on portentous allusions to the characters' past lives. I assume its purpose is to give us some character development and also wold-building, but frankly the characters have fairly strong personalities and they don't belong to any particularly unusual archetype and anyone even a little bit able to think analytically will figure it out. (And frankly, figuring things out is one of the pleasures of reading!)
3. I know this was on the honors list or whatever for the Tiptree Award, but actually I don't think it does very much with the themes of gender and sexuality?
4. Sometimes this book is funny, and then I enjoyed it. Well, maybe smart-alecky is a better way of putting it - anyway, those are the good parts. And the world-building is also interesting, or would be . . . it's kind of specious. I also thought the stuff about art and music and stories was interesting but - well, not sufficient. This book needed to be more elegant or denser, but it certainly shouldn't be two books (Lord Tophet is only 240 pages). So, yeah.(less)
The Game of Kings sounds like a book I should like: "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles," as...moreThe Game of Kings sounds like a book I should like: "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles," as they say (or, anyway, at least some of those things - replace giants with gypsies, and so on). It wears its erudition on its sleeve. The main character is a charismatic mess (allegedly). It's funny, but in a sly way. It starts off in on one foot and ends up on the other.
But here's the thing: that bait and switch doesn't really work. First of all, it's transparently obvious that the switch has to happen in order for the book to even occur. Second of all, the plot is structured in such a way that, I think, what is supposed to be happening is a gradual unspooling such that you start to doubt more and more that everything is as it seems and then you finally get a big AH HAH!! moment. But although this sort of thing can be quite successful (An Instance of the Fingerpost, although in that case it's more OH NO) it doesn't work particularly well for TGoK because, I think, we know this is just the first book in the series. So what should be a neat, extremely satisfying storytelling trick ends up just being coy. And I don't think the plotting is that great, either - I'm not sure how much of this is because it's the first book, and so it has to plant the seeds now and harvest them later. Certainly a significant portion must be. But then there are some tertiary plots that resolve (at least apparently) in the novel and they are kind of red herrings. Red herrings can be very effective, but it's difficult to make them so - more often they are irritating.
I'll admit to never warming up to Lymond. I much preferred Richard. This preference is probably, despite my griping about the plot, at the root of my failure to connect with the book. If you find Lymond effective and charming and interesting, then the novel will succeed with you, and you'll read the next four or five - however many there are. I thought I would like Lymond - I like Errol Flynn, I like difficult heroes, I like witty fuck-ups - but I was wrong.(less)
1. American Prometheus is well-written, but its agenda is too immediately palpable for it to be a truly great book. First of all, the authors are very...more1. American Prometheus is well-written, but its agenda is too immediately palpable for it to be a truly great book. First of all, the authors are very firmly committed to proving that Oppenheimer wasn't a communist. Haven't we come of age enough to react to the word communist with something other than shrieked denials? They're very thorough (but not really very convincing), which is certainly true of the book generally. I can't fault their fact finding. The narrowness, however, is a bit ridiculous. They want Oppenheimer to be a hero, and I can understand that - you're bound to get fond of your biographical subjects - but it's a very narrow definition of hero that they're using.
2. And FURTHERMORE, this whole atomic bomb thing! The book only offers the opinions Oppenheimer held - to be fair, his opinion changed as scientists discovered more - and anyone who disagrees with him tends to be treated as villainous. And also stupid, like they clearly weren't smart enough to "get" him. Whatever: smart people are often assholes! It's practically a requirement. Anyway, they're willing to criticize other people for being assholes, but when Oppenheimer does something nasty it's part of his charm, right? And I get that, but that sort of behavior deserves closer scrutiny.
3. Although there's one or two instances where they mention Oppenheimer's "fragile ambiguities," an awareness of these doesn't really come through. He's presented mostly as a martyr. Fine, but if he's a martyr, he definitely helped build the pyre on which he burned. (I don't know: that kind of behavior might make you a better martyr, actually! I am not one.)
4. There are a couple of tone things that stuck out and made American Prometheus a bit of an uncomfortable experience. The one I remember best (ugh) is the repeated use of the word "Negro" - and not in quotations. This book came out in 2005, and unless you're talking about segregated baseball (or quoting someone) I'm pretty sure you can use a better word. The context for using "Negro" was simply not there.
5. Lastly, if you ever wanted to find out how bad a poet Oppenheimer was, this is the book for you. He was really bad. It's good he found physics.(less)
Although I enjoyed Ash, I found it a little disappointing. The genres didn't fuse properly until about two thirds of the way in, which I think was bec...moreAlthough I enjoyed Ash, I found it a little disappointing. The genres didn't fuse properly until about two thirds of the way in, which I think was because Lo needed more worldbuilding. When they do fuse together, it produces a very nice, very creepy old-fashioned fairy tale kind of vibe, filled with sudden violence, bad bargains, and self-understanding.
My other problem with the book was that the villains never attain any depth. There are occasional gestures towards rotundity, but basically they are all stock characters. Additionally, the main fairy character is basically David Bowie. I love David Bowie; I just think we need a new template for menacing fairies who have creepy fixations on young women*.
Still, I think the reinterpretation makes Ash worth checking out. Also, the hardcover (this ISBN) is a gorgeously put together book.