According to the New York Times, this is one of the ten best books of the year. What a sad year for literature was 2007!
I wanted very much to like thiAccording to the New York Times, this is one of the ten best books of the year. What a sad year for literature was 2007!
I wanted very much to like this, and there were moments when I smiled at a phrase or passage or even a bit of biting satire, but over-all this was nothing more than literary masturbation ... an author trying to show off how clever he is rather than actually engaging a reader in a story. And, quite frankly, the story doesn't even begin until nearly a third of the way into the book.
I'm no prude when it comes to literature, but I definitely didn't need so much of the obese man's sex life told to me so often and in such detail. Is it funny, once, that such a fat man describes his trials at love-making? Maybe. Is it funny that we have to revisit that over and over? No.
I loved the idea of a country, Absurdisvani, with no more oil and over-looked by the U.S., throwing the wool over Hallibutron's eyes and lying about their oil reserves. This is the story. This is what could have been a great satirical novel. Even focusing on a single individual such as the obese Misha Vainberg, the son of a Russian Jew, could have worked, but it wasn't the story of Absurdistan, it was the story of an obese, spoiled, rich, Russian Jew looking for some meaning in his life. I guess I should have known (remembered) that when the first sentence of the prologue reads, "This is a book about love."
I never cared about Misha, and thus I never cared about his life....more
What do the Ojibway of Ontario, Canada and Irish IRA militants have in common? This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5
What do the Ojibway of Ontario, Canada and Irish IRA militants have in common? For one thing, they both reside along the 53rd parallel latitude. But Author Carl Nordgren brings them together in other ways in his River of Lakes series, book one: The 53rd Parallel.
In this book, Brian Burke has to leave his Irish village. His partner, Maureen O'Toole, is running from her past with the IRA and an experience she's had in Germany. They flee to Ontario, where a Ojibway clan, guided by Joe Loon, keeps a watchful eye on them. Both parties look to maintain a simple way of life and to ward off the modern world, and Joe Loon and the Ojibway sense that Brian and Maureen are connected to the water and were brought to help protect the river.
I was hooked with the opening lines:
With so much light absorbed in the full rolling clouds of fog floating over the River’s lake and shrouding the fir and birch forests it seemed like dusk all day. At the far end of the lake, where the current collected its force to return to the River’s channel, some of the clouds were smoke.
Nordgren's writing is smooth and poetic. At times, this actually becomes a distraction as content makes way for style. The patient, lyrical prose was perfect for the scenes with the Ojibway, reflecting the way in which they lived within the world. But that same smooth-flowing prose fails to capture the passion and energy of a life in the IRA. This is not a call for a novel full of action, but I never connected with Maureen or Brian, and I think it's because I never really understood why they were headed to Ontario. Despite the depth of their background we get on these two, they never feel like real people, not in the sense that Joe Loon and Matthew Loon felt like real people.
There's a great deal of set-up within this novel. We follow two very different sets of lives (Ojibway and Irish) that intersect, and it's this set-up that takes up a greater part of the book. Getting to know the people and the customs, and finally how they relate to one another. But by this time, the book comes to its end.
This is the first in the series, and because I enjoyed the poetic-prose style and now I know the people, I am hoping that we'll get more story in the next book(s).
Looking for a good book? Lyrical and touching, The 53rd Parallel brings together two very different cultures, both looking to preserve a sacred way of life....more
Banville's writing is very lyrical, and one can enjoy the simplest of descriptions. Sometimes, however, the descriptions get in the way of the progresBanville's writing is very lyrical, and one can enjoy the simplest of descriptions. Sometimes, however, the descriptions get in the way of the progress of the story. Any time I encounter writing in which paragraphs run longer than two pages, I begin to wonder if the paragraph is filled with description or advancing story. The best writing, I believe, should be an appropriate balance between the two.
This book was difficult to follow at times, though I've come to see that it is set up as a five-act drama, with each "act" containing specific aspects of the story/life of the narrator. Knowing this helps to put some focus in to the reading of the book. Though I suppose, with my theatre background, I should have been able to figure that out, there is nothing at the beginning of the book to indicate that the story is put together in five parts.
The title of the book is perhaps prophetic as this book seems to have been eclipsed by Banville's The Untouchable (which was published immediately before this), and his most recent, Man Booker Prize winning, The Sea.
Not recommended as a first foray into the books of John Banville....more
This is an interesting book to read both from an historical point of view, and as historical fiction. It's fun to see what Verne envisioned and has coThis is an interesting book to read both from an historical point of view, and as historical fiction. It's fun to see what Verne envisioned and has come true, funny to laugh at what he predicted that seems far from ever happening, and maybe a bit scary to see how close he's maybe come to foreseeing the mechinization of the arts.
The book reads a bit dry and I can't help but think that Verne might have considered this to be an unfinished novel. There were moments of brightness within, but they were kind of few and far between.
The book's hero has a charming innocence about him. He seemed driven to keep literature alive and not succumb to the mechinations of the modern world. But he seems to not know how to go about it, and he is often torn between his passion for art and his passion for a young lady.
While I'm glad I read this (I bought it when it was brand new and it's taken me this long to get around to reading it), I can't necessarily recommend it to anyone....more
I wasn't sure where this book was going to go when I started it, and now that I'm done, I'm quite certain that I don't know where it's been.
Who is theI wasn't sure where this book was going to go when I started it, and now that I'm done, I'm quite certain that I don't know where it's been.
Who is the "ghost writer"? Is it the young man, Nathan Zuckerman, who's own work is still so new that it hasn't it's own body? Is it the old author, E.I. Lonoff, who isn't the embodiment of the writer that Zuckerman was expecting; who freely admits that all he does is "turn sentences around." Is it the girl, who Nathan imagines to be Anne Frank, living her life under an assumed name, and only Lonoff knows her true identity? Is it Hope, Lonoff's wife, who creates the only drama in Lonoff's life by leaving and accusing Lonoff of having an affair with the young girl? Is it all of them? Is it none of them?
This is the sort of book that one needs to read in school to be able to discuss in order to pick out what's going on. To be read, solo; digested only by the reader, leaves the book remarkably empty, and yet I feel there's so much more there to it.
Not recommended at this time, but to be shelved and read again....more
Alfred Jarry is an acquired taste, most certainly. If you are familiar with the works of playwrights such as Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Harold PinAlfred Jarry is an acquired taste, most certainly. If you are familiar with the works of playwrights such as Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, or the novels of Andre Breton, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Stanley Elkin or Harlan Ellison, then reading Jarry will be a treat. The works of Alfred Jarry are considered precursors to the surrealist, dada, and absurdist movements. I'd read very little Jarry before this, but I was most impressed with his plays. The 'Ubu' plays are outrageously funny and much more cohesive than I expected (I was anticipating something more akin to Ionesco's "The Bald Soprano"). Ubu is a childish despot. He is greedy and vain and a delicious poke at power, greed, and politics. For the plays alone it is worth reading. The writings on theatre are also a delight. How fun to read his own take on the theatre of his time. His essays tend to show his off-beat sense of the world and where his Ubu plays are coming from (see..."How to Construct a Time Machine"). The fiction is a little more difficult to read (for me), mainly because of the style and era from which it was written. A bit dry and confusing. Even so, to read more of his pataphysics (his invented science) is a delight....more
**spoiler alert** This is a book that has caught my attention over and over on the library bookshelf, so I finally decided that I would give it a read**spoiler alert** This is a book that has caught my attention over and over on the library bookshelf, so I finally decided that I would give it a read. As a Minnesotan, I enjoy reading books set in Minnesota. In that regard, this didn't disappoint.
But over-all, the book DOES disappoint.
O'Brien's writing is crisp and engaging, and I really appreciated his mixing up of styles, but the book does not open up the material well. By page 280 I still had not learned anything new that I didn't know back about page 50. The book takes too much time to reveal nothing.
Others have commented on the ending, and frankly, I didn't mind the ending -- I rather expected it -- but to have read so much, getting so little, and to end with nothing, well...I don't understand the point. There are lots of writers whom I enjoy for their style, but they usually have something to say as well, or at least have a character that you like.
This book just doesn't work. It'll be awhile before I try a Tim O'Brien book again....more
I loved author Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove, so when I had the opportThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 5.0 of 5
I loved author Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove, so when I had the opportunity to read the latest translated book (Backman is Swedish and writes in his native tongue), I jumped at the chance. So often, when a writer strikes gold early on, subsequent books don't live up to the expectation. I'm delighted to report that this is not the case with Backman and Britt-Marie Was Here.
Britt-Marie is a difficult, stodgy, anal-retentive, passive-aggressive woman. She likes routine, and she likes order. But even Britt-Marie can only take so much. Now in her 60's, Britt-Marie packs up her belongings and leaves her 40-year, loveless marriage to Kent. She goes to the employment office but the only job she can possibly get is in the tiny village of Borg. Borg is an economically depressed little burg and its villagers seem to be just as lost as the local economy. All except the children, who fervently practice their soccer on a home-made soccer pitch. The kids have dreams of competing in a soccer tournament against the town kids (12 miles away), but they need an adult coach.
It becomes clear, early on, that Borg needs Britt-Marie almost as much as Britt-Marie needs Borg, and that both will be tremendously changed by book's end.
Even though the ending seems pretty clear, it is the journey that Backman takes us through that really captures the reader. It is with the slow, day-to-day events that Backman sucks us in, helping us to recognize just who Britt-Marie is (perhaps to find a little Britt-Marie in ourselves) and to see beyond the surface of those in the village. All the characters reveal personalities and become 'real' to us with an unexpected depth about them. And because the people are so real, Borg becomes a living, breathing village to us and we care about what happens inside its borders.
Britt-Marie doesn't appear to be the type of person who so drastically changes her life at her age, but the fact that she made this initial move shows just how much she is capable of, under the right circumstances. And because of this, we see a lot of hope in Britt-Marie throughout the book. And this resolve of Britt-Marie's wears off on Borg ... not always to positive results.
This is easily one of the best books I've read this year and because it's not tied to a specific genre it should be enjoyed by just about anyone.
Looking for a good book? Author Fredrik Backman has a stunning hit with his character-driven novel Britt-Marie Was Here. This is one you should read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
I love short stories ... I say it every time I review a collection, and itThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.75 of 5
I love short stories ... I say it every time I review a collection, and it's true. I also love 'discovering' a new voice that appeals to me. Recently, here on my blog, I 'discovered' Tessa Mellas, and R. Narvaez, both writing some very powerful short stories. And now, enter Jacob M Appel.
The title of the collection (also the title of a story inside) really grabbed me, but he could have titled the book after any one of the stories in the collection and it would have been a head-turner. The story itself tells of a child recalling a time when a brochure errantly listed her family home as the once beach house for Albert Einstein. Rather than constantly trying to turn people away, the cash-strapped family, spurred by the opportunist father, charge an exorbitant fee for touring the home. I don't want to give anything away, but the story does take a slightly unexpected turn.
My favorite of the collection, "Limerence," (sadly, I have to admit that I had to look the word up) is possibly the best short story I have ever read. It spoke to me as no story ever has, and it actually left me feeling better and thinking, "yes, yes." Has Mr. Appel been through a similar situation which allowed him to draw from the experience, and that's why he captured it so well? Or is this completely made up, coming not from any past incident but a furtive imagination? I couldn't say, but it doesn't matter. The story is really quite perfect.
I loved the power of "Hue and Cry," a story of coming of age and seeing both the best in people and the worst.
"The Rod of Asclepius" is powerful and heart-wrenching and despite some monstrous acts, it is still a family drama.
Two of the stories are about relationships, specifically troubled relationships, and these did not have as much an impact on me, though I appreciated what Appel did in the stories.
Appel's literary voice is quiet and smooth, and he touches the reader rather subtly, despite jarring us with an opening remark or sudden moment:
"So Lizzie was mortified, yet not unprepared, when their father insisted on taking them to meet the sex offender." ... "We'd been living together for eight months when we adopted the hedgehog. I'd wanted a German shepherd..." ... "Rabbi Cynthia Felder was newly married, and in the pulpit only six months, when a former lover asked to borrow the sanctuary."
And although this jarring, maybe shocking moment comes early, Appel softens the tone and delivers the kick somewhat unexpectedly. In part this comes from the characters he paints for us. Such real people he puts forward, some with quirks and idiosyncrasies, but nothing that doesn't feel real. And it's that real-ness, along with this understated voice, that captures the reader and draws us in to the story. And it is the art of the story-teller that he is able to teach us something new, to open our eyes a bit at the world and the people around us, and perhaps, as is the case for "Limerence" and myself, teach me something much more personal.
This is really, really a tremendous collection and kudos to Pressgang for selecting it as their Pressgang Prize winner for 2013. Jacob M. Appel is a writer to watch out for, and this is a story collection that deserves to be featured prominently on your home book shelves.
This book features the following stories:
"Hue and Cry" "La Tristesse Des Hérissons" "Strings" "Limerence" "Einstein's Beach House" "The Rod of Asclepius" "Sharing the Hostage" "Paracosmos"
Looking for a good book? Einstein's Beach House is a tremendous collection of short stories by Jacob M. Appel that should hit home to anyone who appreciates the skill of a strong writer.
I received a copy of this book from the author through the Goodreads First Reads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. ...more
I think that Paul Watkins is one of the finest writers of today. His writing brings to mind the style of Hemingway, and his characters have the same kI think that Paul Watkins is one of the finest writers of today. His writing brings to mind the style of Hemingway, and his characters have the same kind of inner machismo, though without boasting of it.
It is very easy to get caught up in the prose and the characters that Watkins brings to life, but this book leaves something to be desired with its plot. While I fully understood the main character's lonesomeness and even later understood why, I never believed his desire for a certain young lady was anything but a mere physical attraction that would (or even should) develop into something more.
Too, one of the main protagonists was well set up as being the object of conflict, but we never see him again in the last 140 pages of the book. There, the conflict is the final climb and the mountain itself. In this sense, the book is as uneven as the terrain on which "Auntie" and Stanley make their journey
Still, I would much rather read a book by Paul Watkins that is lacking in some story, than most books by other authors.
An author worth reading, but not necessarily this particuar book until you've read a few of his others....more
First, a big "thank you" to Netgalley and publisher Nan A. Talese for makiThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.75 of 5
First, a big "thank you" to Netgalley and publisher Nan A. Talese for making this book available. Margaret Atwood is not an author who needs advance reviews from the average 'Joe' or small-time blogger. Still, it's great for us to have the opportunity to see a copy of a book like this, from a well-known, well-respected author. So thank you.
I've written before about how much I enjoy reading short fiction. One of the first collections of short stories that I remember reading and really enjoying (surprisingly, at the time, as it wasn't sci-fi genre fiction which was all I read for a time) was Margaret Atwood's Bluebeard's Egg. it was, in fact, the book that turned me on to her writing. Fortunately, for anyone who enjoys good writing, Atwood hasn't lost a step through the decades. Stone Mattress is a strong, strong collection.
Some of these stories, much like her novel The Handmaid's Tale, have a slight sci-fi bent to them, while there is also a hint of horror and touch of mystery. Each of them is a strong story, and while not all will resonate with every reader, every reader is bound to find something that appeals among these nine tales.
The first three stories are related. In "Alphinland," a widowed writer (Constance) is continually thinking of her late husband (Gavin) and how he'd react as she moves throughout her day. She recalls sometimes painful memories, such as when she discovered his infidelity. In the second story, "Revenant," Gavin is a grumpy old man who doesn't think much of Constance's 'pulp' writing work, despite the fact that it supported them. The third story of the trilogy, "The Dark Lady," is told through the eyes of the woman with whom Gavin had his affair.
Any time I read a collection such as this, I can't help but try to determine which stories were my favorites. That's difficult here because I liked all the stories so well. I would probably look at "Alphinland" and "The Dead Hand Loves You" and "Stone Mattress" as my top three picks. "The Dead Hand" is the story of a successful horror writer who forged an agreement as a youth with his friends that each would share, evenly, their financial success should they achieve fame/success. And "Stone Mattress" is a revenge story of a woman who accidentally runs in to a man who ruined her life and she plots ways to kill him.
Many (MANY) years ago I attended a conference/convention of noted authors. At a panel a question was asked, "Other than length, what are the differences between short stories and novels?" One author (I'll leave his name out of it in case I am remembering it incorrectly) said that he had heard, from another author considered to be a 'grand master' that the short story was about things people do and the novel was about people who do things. I've often thought back to this and realized that there is a great deal of truth to this. A novel, by virtue of its length, gets to explore people in-depth, while they are doing things, while the short story doesn't allow us the time to get to know people and we only see snapshots of what they are doing. However... Margaret Atwood bucks this simplified version of the difference between the story and the novel. Atwood's stories are about people, and as I read through this collection and came to that realization, I also realized that this is why her stories stand out so much from other short fiction I read. A story about people, especially when well told, will often be much more interesting than a story about 'things.'
The stories (about people) in this collection are:
"Alphinland" "Revenant" "Dark Lady" "Lusus Naturae" "The Freeze-Dried Groom" "I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth" "The Dead Hand Loves You" "Stone Mattress" "Torching the Dusties"
Looking for a good book? Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood is a collection of nine tales that you really should own and read. ...more
If you've done any research on this book...reading reviews on blogs or on GoThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 5 of 5.
If you've done any research on this book...reading reviews on blogs or on Goodreads...you'll know that there are an awful lot of people really moved by this book. I'm here to add my two cents worth and tell you it's all true.
Ove is the curmudeonliest curmudgeon on the planet. He is the old man down the street whose yard you didn't walk across when you were a kid. He is the neighbor who watches from behind the chained door as you walk down the hall of your apartment or condominium. We all know an Ove. But we don't all know what makes an Ove. This book not only looks at the creating of a curmudgeon, but it also helps us empathize with the life of someone who is constantly cranky.
Ove is an old man, living alone. He's a 'by-the-book' sort of guy, living a black and white life in a world full of color. One of the very few things he'd ever done that took him out of his comfort zone, was meeting and marrying a beautiful young woman who could see through his rigid exterior to his heart. She is the 'L' to his 'Ove' - making him complete. But as we meet Ove, his wife of forty years has passed away and he's been forced in to retirement. There are burglars in the neighborhood and new neighbors who don't seem to know how to do the simplest of things (such as back up a vehicle with a trailer).
Author Fredrik Backman successfully makes Ove a real person and someone who the reader can relate to, or at least understand and empathize with. And once he's done that, he lets us in on Ove's secret, which may surprise some readers. Backman also touches ... no ... tugs on our hearts. Somehow, Backman makes one of the most cantankerous curmudgeons in literature a symbol of love and hope and the feel-good character of the year.
Maybe there's a bit of Ove in all of us. I know I was a bit Ove-like before reading the book. I'd seen the reviews and high ratings on Goodreads and thought that there was no way it could really be such a feel-good book, and I began with a "prove it to me" attitude. With that mind-set going in, it took me a little longer, perhaps, than most, but I did succumb to the gentle beauty of the book. I think you will, too.
Looking for a good book? This is it. If you read only one book this year, or you want that perfect book to read on the beach, this should be your first choice....more
The Library of Unrequited Love isn't a book, or novel, so much as it is a monThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25/5
The Library of Unrequited Love isn't a book, or novel, so much as it is a monologue. A librarian opens up her department of the library to discover a patron who has been locked in over-night. She begins talking to the patron and winds up letting out a great deal of pent-up frustration. For ninety-five pages.
I'll admit that, despite this being a short book, I was hesitant to dig in to it. Mainly because the ninety-five pages are one very long paragraph. That's right...there are no paragraph breaks herein. And doesn't the mind (or the eye, or the psyche) just hate looking at a page with no paragraph breaks? I know mine reacts negatively. But, so very fortunately, the writing is so crisp and the librarians voice is so authentic, that you are immediately caught up in this woman's life and her passions and frustrations.
There is a little bit of history here (I actually really liked learning what I did about the Dewey Decimal system) and a little about the politics behind running a library, but mostly we learn about the librarian and her passions, which include a researcher named Martin. But, alas, you only need to read the title again to know that this is an unrequited love.
This book works, I believe, for a couple of reasons. First, the librarians 'voice' is so clear and consistent. We can almost see not only her, but the patron she is talking to. This is quite incredible when you stop to realize that this is a monologue and there is no narrative description.
Second, as readers (and most of us are, or we wouldn't be looking at this book) we can identify with the librarians passion for books, and understand what being in a library is like.
And third, I think that this book speaks quite well to the human condition. While the librarian is talking about her passions, we recognize the passions of most humankind.
She's a bit prophetic, our librarian. About writing and books she says:
Writing only happens when something’s wrong. If everyone on earth was happy, they wouldn’t write anything except recipes and postcards, and there wouldn’t be any books, or literature, or libraries. It would be the sign that humanity had finally dealt with all its traumas and sexual hang-ups. Because in the end that’s all writers ever think about.
and about libraries she says:
…when we go into a library and look at all those bookcases stretching into the distance, what descends on our soul, if not grace? … Those endless bookshelves reflect back to us an ideal image, the image of the full range of the human mind.
And about librarians she has this to say:
The library is an arena where every day the Homeric battle begins between books and readers. In this struggle, the librarians are the referees.
But if you think she's the typically librarian without a sense of humor, who wouldn't enjoy the sarcasm of a librarian who says:
The readers down here, they’re seriously depressed and that cheers me up.
All in all, this was a really terrific read. I'd like to see this staged sometime. It would be a perfect vehicle for a solo performance for an actress.
I received this book from Edelweiss for an honest review.
Looking for a good book? Once the librarian in this book starts talking to you, you won't want to put it down!...more
From urban noir, to urban dark fantasy, to simple, urban gut fiction (that fiction which shows us the underbelly of society), R. Narvaez's collection,From urban noir, to urban dark fantasy, to simple, urban gut fiction (that fiction which shows us the underbelly of society), R. Narvaez's collection, Roachkiller and other Stories, is simply good writing.
Two things struck me as I read this collection: 1) Narvaez is a really good writer, and 2) there's a very strong 'street' element to most of the works here, which generally would have me feeling like a complete outsider, but Narvaez writes it in such a way that it pulls the reader in and makes him feel at home (a dirty roach-infested, stale-beer-smelling, coke-in-the-carpet home, but home none-the-less).
In most short story collections that I've read, I tend to know what I'm going to get ... some awesome sci-fi or some dark horror or some great mysteries or some slice-of-life fiction ... but Narvaez manages to pull the rug out from under us and surprise us with each passing story. This is both attractive to the collection, and a distraction. Attractive, because who doesn't like a good surprise (and these are good). But a distraction because after two or three stories that are so urban...filled with street talk and the plight of those who inhabit this lifestyle...to suddenly read something so noir-ish, takes the reader back a bit. Or, as was my case, I recall thinking...'wait a minute...did he...is this...? When did this become a sci-fi/Phil Dick type of collection?' and then I had to start the story over.
I don't know why Narvaez isn't a house-hold name. Anyone who likes good fiction, or well-defined characters, or strong writing ...
It was very interesting to read these stories, most of which are also plays by the author. It is not clear if the stories were written before the playIt was very interesting to read these stories, most of which are also plays by the author. It is not clear if the stories were written before the plays or afterwards, but according to the inside flap of the dust cover, Ionesco prefers writing fiction to drama. There is certainly a sense of wonder, in his characters, over the events that happen in these absurdist pieces, and the playfulness, particularly in "Stoller" comes through nicely. A work such as "Oriflamme" or "Rhinoceros" might work better on stage because of the shock value of actually seeing a growing corpse or people turning in to rhinoceroses.
"Spring 1939" was interesting. I'm not sure if it's actual fragments of a journal or a story to come off that way. It grew a little tedious, which makes me think it's truly a journal.
For me this was a real pleasure. There isn't much Ionesco that I haven't already read (in English), so to find something like this, which is new to me is an absolute prize.
I can't imagine too many people liking this as I did, so it doesn't get recommended, but it does get "thumbs up."...more
Like most people, I suspect, I am familiar with René Magritte from his remaThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5
Like most people, I suspect, I am familiar with René Magritte from his remarkable, surrealist paintings, but have no clue as to his writing prowess. Until now.
Not surprisingly, the brilliant and extremely creative mind that produced some rather iconic works of art is just as introspective and creative in his writing as well. But Magritte is not a writer in the sense of producing novels or even short stories in the traditional sense. But he does reflect on his work and the works of others and on the idea(s) of art in general. Some of the writings here are only a sentence or two long and some of the writings included are really not 'writings' at all but interviews that have been conducted with Magritte. A more apt title might be 'The Musing of René Magritte.'
Magritte tends to be rather philosophical and sometimes a bit existential in his thoughts, which seems appropriate given his work and the era in which the artist was painting.
It is interesting to get a little insight into the mind of the man who painted the iconic "Apple" paintings and the painting of the pipe with the words "This is not a pipe" included on the painting. It makes sense what he writes in 1967:
I believe Victor Hugo said, "We only ever see one side of things." Now it is precisely "the other side" that I try to express.*
And in an interview with Marcel Fryns in 1966 he says:
Pop art is rather the descendent of Dadism, but without Dada's freedom at that era. I notice that real avant-garde art has always been badly received, whereas fake avant-garde art is enormously successful. Pop art lacks the authenticity that would give it the power to be provocative.*
When asked, in a 1947 interview, what he is interested in, Magritte answers:
Creating. My only wish is to be enriched by exciting new ideas. For me, art consists in expressing charm and pleasure. Before the war my works reflected anxiety. Experience of conflict and a load of suffering has taught me that what matters above all is to celebrate joy for the eyes and the mind. ... I live in a very unpleasant world because of its routine ugliness.*
One brief passage struck me as particularly interesting and unexpected from an artist ... someone who earned his living with his paintings.
Anyway, it's not necessary to see a painting! There are heaps of reproductions, art books. For me, a reproduction is enough! Like in literature, you don't need to see a writer's manuscript to be interested in his book!*
But among all the little nuggets and gems of philosophy offered by Magritte in his writings (and there are plenty), I think his thoughts are best summed up with his 1955 article titled "A Poetic Art" which opens with the sentence: "The art of painting, as I see it, makes possible the realization of visible poetic images."*
Looking for a good book? I recommend René Magritte: Selected Writings.
*Please note: all quotes are from an Advance Readers Copy and may be different from the official, published volume.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
The book could have used some trimming or serious editing!
I was engaged with the story in the beginning, and I was caught up again as I approached theThe book could have used some trimming or serious editing!
I was engaged with the story in the beginning, and I was caught up again as I approached the last 100+ pages, but the 300+ pages in the middle became a morass of verbiage which did little to nothing to advance the plot, nor did it set mood or location.
Something I've seen only one other reviewer mention is the confusion over who is narrating any particular chapter. Imagine my surprise after a hundred pages, thinking my narrator was a woman (and I'm sure it was when I started), and to suddenly have someone refer to the narrator as "Paul."
I've long enjoyed the Dracula mythology and looked forward to this book. I struggled to stay interested in it, and I'm not sure that my valiance paid off in the end.
This is one book that may actually be served well to have a Reader's Digest Condensed Version....more
Mood. That's what this book does well -- it creates a mood that is enticing, exciting, and entrancing.
As readers, we want to keep reading, not so mucMood. That's what this book does well -- it creates a mood that is enticing, exciting, and entrancing.
As readers, we want to keep reading, not so much to find out what the characters are doing, but because we are 'rêveurs,' circus groupies who enjoy spending our nights exploring the tents.
For this, novice novelist Erin Morgenstern is somewhat brilliant. The atmosphere here is unlike anything I've read. Darker and more mysterious than Harry Potter. Sexier than The Magician.
But we have to be thankful for this mood, because without it, the book is empty.
There is a very nice twist to the story (no spoilers here), but of course it involves the circus directly.
The basic plot involves a pair of magic-touched lovers who are pitted against one another by their guardians, ancient magicians who play some cruel game against one another using real people.
The set-up is fun, but the game gets boring and the characters, at best, two dimensional. Still...there is the circus, and anytime Morgenstern brings us back with all that is magical, we're sucked in and settling down among the sawdust, waiting for daylight.
In case you can't tell, I liked the circus. I liked the characters that inhabited the circus. I even liked Celia and Marco, our love interest -- at least I liked them when they were macigians, planning and practicing for their competition. I liked them much less when they were Romeo and Juliet clones, defying their destinies and families to come together.
The mood was the great. The atmoshpere. But when all is read and done, I'm not left with anything remarkable. I'm not hanging on to the story, and I'm not wishing or waiting for the inevitable sequel. It was a fun read at the time because I enjoyed the magic of the book....more
Finally. Finally I have read a major prize winning novel that is unique, and exciting, and adventurous, and easily worth the time I spent reading it.
IFinally. Finally I have read a major prize winning novel that is unique, and exciting, and adventurous, and easily worth the time I spent reading it.
I admit that I was somewhat hesitant to even start this novel as so many of the big prize-winning novels that I've read recently have been dull, boring works of self-loathing and pity and moroseness. To read a 600+ page novel of the type was not something I looked forward too. Fortunately, Kavalier & Clay was anything but.
Perhaps it's my own interest in the comic-book medium that helped make this novel so enjoyable, but I'd like to think that I would have been engrossed in this even if I'd never read a comic in my life. The research seemed impeccable, and the biographical style was brilliant. There was just the proper amount of 'biographer-removed' and 'biographer-respect' in the telling of the story.
Part of what marked this as incredibly well done is that I wanted, so badly, to see and read the comics that Kavalier and Clay created, and at the same time, it seemed that I had seen them. Absolutely remarkable.
Ther relationship between Joe and Sam and Rosa was extremely well plotted. It's hard to imagine any other possible way for the relationships to co-exist.
The war years for Joe seemed odd, at times, but it helped to explain much of what he had done.
Really a brilliant novel, and well worth the read....more
I was a little interested as the young man worked hard to move himself up in the world, and I was slightly interested as the man married the wrBoring!
I was a little interested as the young man worked hard to move himself up in the world, and I was slightly interested as the man married the wrong woman (though was probably more frustrated by this act) and almost interested as he expanded his businesses. But...there was an awful lot to have to wade through to get to these things, and I struggled mightily to get to the end.
Why is it that so many Pulitzer Prize winners are so dull and dry? What is it we're supposed to get from these books?
There is definitely a certain amount of interest in following this young boy through to his being a business mogul, but it doesn't seem to go anywhere, and by the time he makes the wrong decisions in marriage, we lose any care we might have had for the character, making the last half of the book tremendous effort to read.
This book was recommended to me twice, first through a listing of books that I've generally liked, and then by our local librarian who has very similaThis book was recommended to me twice, first through a listing of books that I've generally liked, and then by our local librarian who has very similar tastes as I do. Unfortunately, this book completely failed to capture my attention.
Michael Beard was an unsympathetic character. Somehow, this nerdy scientist, who is never described as particularly attractive, has women falling all over him and each time he gets married, he's off having an affair. His latest wife has an affair of her own, and of course he seems to want her back to himself, but it never happens. And... we don't care.
Beard has all but given up actually doing any hard work once he's received the Nobel Prize, and ... again we don't care. It's a wonder he was ever successful enough to actually have received the Nobel, based on what we see of him in the book.
Bits and pieces of the book were interesting, if not completely transparent. The section of the book when he was exploring the Arctic was interesting, though I'm still not sure what it had to do with any other section of the novel.
I waited and waited for the section as described in the tag lines on Goodreads and the dustjacket: "Here is a chance for him to extricate himself from his marital problems, reinvigorate his career, and very possibly save the world from environmental disaster. Can a man who has made a mess of his life clean up the messes of humanity?" Do I need to answer the question that's posted?
This was a colossal waste of time. I waited for something to happen. Anything. The few things that did happen came as no surprise.
I hope this isn't McEwan at his best, it sure doesn't make me eager to read any of his other works....more
This book seemed new to me again, it had been so long since I last read it.
Zelazny most definitely has a distinctive "style," though I'm hard-pressedThis book seemed new to me again, it had been so long since I last read it.
Zelazny most definitely has a distinctive "style," though I'm hard-pressed to define just what that is. In part, his descriptions are short, and concise. He uses dry wit to get some points across. his characters are always fallible -- even the infallible ones.
Here, "Conrad" has a history that goes back further than anyone can really trace. He has the strength that others can only imagine, and he is very subtle about all of this. He is assigned to guide and protect a Vegan who wants to visit the historical sites of Earth. A friend/acquaintance of Conrad's, Hasan, is assigned to assasinate the Vegan to protect Earth's interests. Conrad also wants to protect Eearth's interests, and believes that the Vegan must be protected to do so.
This sounds rather simplistic, and the truth is, Zelazny weaves a tale full of sub-plots better than most. He also isn't afraid to dump you into a story without giving you and history, letting the reader discover the history by reading what's current. It's masterful!
I highly recommend this book, and nearly all books by Roger Zelazny....more
A modern fable; an allegorical tale; a journey -- an odyssey -- that willThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25 of 5
A modern fable; an allegorical tale; a journey -- an odyssey -- that will bring to mind shades of other popular coming-of-age novels, such as The Catcher in the Rye, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, The Odyssey, and The Book Thief. Benditt's world is both an imaginary one, and one that is all too real and recognizable to the reader. It is my town. It is your town. It is the world we live in.
With the opening sentence ("The man of Small Island is dreaming of a wolf.") we can predict that we are about to begin a dangerous journey. Our protagonist, who is generally referred to only as The Boatmaker, is a 'man of Small Island' -- a place with no other name, but clearly an allegory for the safe haven of home ... a place where a man is safe from the ravages of the larger world. But the fact that he is a boat-maker already suggests his eagerness and desire to explore the world beyond his Small Island.
What the Boatmaker discovers during his odyssey outside of Small Island is women, religion, politics, greed, and racial hatred. Life on Small Island seems so much better, so much safer, but the Boatmaker also learns that it is impossible to un-learn what he has experienced. That you can never truly go back.
Not knowing what to expect, it took me a bit to get in to the book. The lack of proper names, but instead the use of Boatmaker as pronoun, threw me off for a while. As I got a sense of the nature of the book, I went back to start it again, reading it as an allegorical tale, with each unique moment being a learning step along his way.
With so many new books being published all the time, it is rare for me to re-read a book, but this one is definitely going on my re-read list! I think that there's more here than I caught the first time around.
Looking for a good book? Digging in to The Boatmaker by John Benditt is worthwhile, and the story will stick with you long after you put the book down. I received this book in electronic form from the publisher, through Edelweiss, for an honest review. ...more
Ever since I did some research on Norse mythology for a project I wrote manThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5
Ever since I did some research on Norse mythology for a project I wrote many years ago, I have been fascinated by the Scandinavian legends and mythology and history (it happens that this is my genealogical background, as well). And while there have been adventure stories based on the Norse gods, I am not aware of much literature that looks at the history in a fiction format. But now there is Bruce MacBain's 'Odd Tangle-Hair Saga' and it is brilliant.
Odin's Child is the first book in MacBain's saga and I will admit that while it caught my attention (and hence my request for a review copy), I was a little less than anxious to delve in to a re-telling of a Norse god story, because the Edda's by Snorri Sturluson are awfully good and don't really need a re-telling. After all, what else would this be, being called Odin's Child?
But this is NOT a retelling of the stories of the Viking gods. This is a well-researched historical fiction story of a young man, Odd, who is experiencing the transition of the worship of the old Norse gods to the new Christian god. He is a wanderer, a Viking, who experiences battles and imprisonment, friendships, expected and unusual, and the loss of friends. He is a story-teller, in the grand tradition, but he is also a fighter and ship's captain. He is a leader who is faithful to his followers.
This book relies on our attachment to the narrator, Odd Tangle-Hair, and fortunately MacBain has created a young man who is completely engaging while being appropriately modest and favored with fortune (he is, after all, Odin's child). We really do want him to succeed, given his treacherous beginnings, and like Einar and Stig and Glum, we'll follow and support him.
Due to the number of books I read and review, I set reading goals for myself -- number of pages and/or chapters -- and I regularly exceed my goals with Odin's Child because I kept wanting to read just a little more each time. That's always a mark of a good book for me.
If I were to make one complaint, it is that we do seem to move from one 'incident' to another, always putting Odd on edge and having to deal with something crucial. This is definitely in line with the Edda's and mythology story-telling, but in this context, I wouldn't have minded just a few more peeks at what a 'typical' day might have been like for Odd and his Viking friends. (And while I really like the beautiful cover as seen above, can anyone explain to me why the moon on the cover is dark on the side that faces the sun?)
I truly enjoyed this entire book, but I can say that I was most definitely hooked in the scene when Odd befriended Glum. You will have to read this book to understand who and what Glum is, and why this scene was so special.
I highly recommend this book. I can not wait for the next volume in the saga.
Looking for a good book? You've found one if you've picked up Odin's Child by Bruce MacBain. This is a must read.
I received an ARC of this book from the publicist in exchange for an honest review. ...more
An American novel...definitely. Great? No so much so.
The writing of this is typical 1970's humor. Think M*A*S*H (yes, I know the book was published inAn American novel...definitely. Great? No so much so.
The writing of this is typical 1970's humor. Think M*A*S*H (yes, I know the book was published in '68, but the movie was released in '70, which helped popularize the book series) or the works of Kurt Vonnegut. It's a sort of intelligentsia humor. Sophisticated. Dry. Not a laugh-out-loud type of humor. And for me, this didn't work.
I have to be up-front. I'm not a huge baseball fan. I enjoy it a little bit more, now as I'm older and can look for some of the strategy, but I still find it a slow and mostly dull game. So...to have a book, full of dry humor around the sport of baseball, probably is not a good choice for me.
In large part, though, I had trouble visualizing anyone from this book. The characters were never real for, and without them being real, or characters that I could picture, I didn't really care anything for them. And for that I blame the author.
This is my second Philip Roth novel, and so far, I'm not particularly impressed....more
This is my first book by Pulitzer Prize Winning author Elizabeth Strout, buThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 5.0 of 5
This is my first book by Pulitzer Prize Winning author Elizabeth Strout, but I hope it's not my last because this writing is beautiful.
Everything about this book is simple, except for the emotional impact it can have on the reader.
Writer Lucy Barton is in the hospital for a simple surgery, but her recovery is taking longer than expected. Lucy's mother comes to sit with her, to be there at her side. This strikes Lucy as a bit odd because she's never really felt the maternal love from her mother before, but the fact that she is there speaks silent volumes. She has come because Lucy's husband called her, despite the fact that her husband and mother don't get along.
The book takes place in the hospital room, with Lucy in the hospital bed, and also in the past, as Lucy reveals her up-bringing, her desires, and the path she took to becoming a writer But underneath it all, Lucy seems to be wanting some acknowledgement from her mother that she is loved, something that her mother can't seem to say, and/or doesn't understand that this is what Lucy is looking for. But the mother's very presence, even if she was called by the husband, speaks volumes, yet Lucy has to open her eyes to see it.
In part, because Lucy is a writer and we follow her path to this career, the book feels so incredibly like a memoir. But perhaps it's more than the fact that Lucy is a writer. It is also ... primarily ... because Strout is able to make this story feel so real. The characters connect to each moment, and are able to share that moment so clearly, that this doesn't feel made up. And when you get lost in a story, feeling that every inch of it is true, you know you're in the hands of a master story-teller. It feels true, because it is true, even if the characters are fiction.
This book is bound to be short-listed for many awards and you can do yourself a favor and read it right away.
Looking for a good book? My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout, is a beautiful, poignant, touching story that you should read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
One of the jobs of the chief gardener at Rockefeller Center is picking outThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.0 of 5
One of the jobs of the chief gardener at Rockefeller Center is picking out the massive Christmas tree to have in the plaza for display to the public. It's all just part of the job and most of his work takes places well before the Christmas season so it doesn't bolster his appreciation for the holiday spirit. The gardener finds his perfect tree on the grounds of a convent. When he approaches the Mother Superior to make his request for the tree, he is told that he will have to take it up with Sister Anthony - a nun (formerly an orphaned girl by the name of Anna) who has a special relationship with the flora on the grounds and has taken to referring to the Norway Spruce in question as "Tree." It takes a bit of convincing and explaining but the gardener gets more than he bargained for.
I was not familiar with this story before reading this reissue, but I've come to understand that it's a bit of a modern classic. It definitely has many of the things one looks for in a feel-good holiday story. Our main characters come to learn something about themselves and their place in the world and how they can have a positive impact on others.
It is interesting to note that the book starts out with the Rockefeller Center gardener speaking to the reader, and it is his story that we follow, but if you read the Goodreads description of the book, it is about a little girl named Anna who becomes Sister Anthony and who has a special bond with nature and one particular Tree.
The book is barely more than 100 pages and yet it is indeed about both the Rockefeller gardener and the orphan girl Anna/Sister Anthony. This is one of the few times that you will see me write this ... this book needs to be just a little bit longer.
I felt just a little bit short-changed on the story bout Anna/Anthony. I was drawn into the story by the writing and because I was curious to see how we would get to the end (we see the very end of the story at the beginning of the book, so I know from the outset that this is about the journey to get there) and while it is definitely a sweet, nearly touching story, it could have gone just a little deeper to have a fuller impact.
This newest edition has sweet illustrations by Jill Weber.
I can understand why this has become a popular story to read during the Christmas holiday season. It is brief and hits all the right notes. It is worth making it a tradition to read this story each year.
Looking for a good book? The Christmas Tree is a touching holiday tale by Julie Salamon and is might just have you making a new holiday tradition to read this novella each Christmas.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Although it took me a while to get into this novel, I rather enjoyed it, for the most part.
I never really had any sense that this was Isaac Newton, otAlthough it took me a while to get into this novel, I rather enjoyed it, for the most part.
I never really had any sense that this was Isaac Newton, other than the fact that other characters would refer to him as such, and occassionally make reference to one of his scientific theories. He was, however, an interesting "detective" for a crime novel. He seemed to be quite masterful at observation and with a pretty good sense of human character (despite being pretty terrible at social discourse), and often tries to instruct his assistant in being a better observer. Mr. Ellis, is his strength and protector.
As with any good mystery, there are "red herrings" and extra bits of knowledge that aren't necessary for solving the crime. What I enjoyed most about the book, though, was the historical aspect of the workings of the British mint and Newton's role there. What I would have liked to seen a bit more of would be a sense of this being Issac Newton rather than a wiley detective. What I didn't care for was the relationship between Ellis and Newton's niece (Miss Barton) which had no real bearing on any other aspect of the book (other than to add a couple of steamy sex sequences).
I enjoyed the read, but not necessarily enough to seek out other books by Kerr (but I wouldn't discount one if I saw one that piqued my interest)....more
I have greatly enjoyed the works of Paul Watkins that I've come upon, and looked forward to reaching back and checking out this, his first novel -- thI have greatly enjoyed the works of Paul Watkins that I've come upon, and looked forward to reaching back and checking out this, his first novel -- the novel which brought him some acclaim.
Fortunately this was not my first venture into the works of Paul Watkins or I likely never would have read more.
In the previous books of Paul Watkins that I've come across, his protagonists are all of the same ilk, rather dry, melancholic sorts, but they've all had goals ... something to strive for or something to discover. Sebastian Westland here seems lost. In all aspects of his life, he is lost. But more than that, he doesn't even seem to mind being lost. I was tempted to think that he was searching for a way to stay alive, but I don't know that this would be true.
With a character who is lost and doesn't care, and a setting and character background that is so incredibly foreign, what then is there to hold the reader to the story?
My recommendation is to pass on this and try one of Watkins' other books....more
I am at such a loss for words for this novella. I've started this review fouhis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 5.0 of 5
I am at such a loss for words for this novella. I've started this review four times and nothing seems quite right. Fredrik Backman's writing is so touching, so beautiful, so powerful in its simplicity that trying to write about it just doesn't feel right.
On the one hand, this is a very simple, quick read piece. I read this in about half an hour. On the other hand, there is so much depth and beauty in these very few pages that it will stay with the reader for a long time to come.
In this story an old man recognizes that the aging process is beginning to take a toll on him. He tries desperately to hang on to memories through his beloved grandson, Noah. At the same time he tries to prepare Noah (and himself) for the inevitable.
Noah and his grandfather are cut from the same cloth and the love between them is clear. Noah's father, Ted, however, is a very different sort of man. Just as Ted's father never had time to spend with him, so he is too busy working to spend the quality time with Noah. It's a cycle that is all too clear to some of us. As a man in my mid-fifties, with three children in various stages of striking out on their own, I am looking at and thinking about mortality which can be frightening, but Backman, who is also thinking about mortality, shows that it's not something to fear ... it's very natural. He also reminds us that there is much that an older person is still capable of accomplishing.
The onset of dementia or Alzheimer is something many families face and Backman looks at it here from the perspective of the individual facing the disorder/disease.
Fredric Backman is a writer whose work I will purchase and read any time I see a new work out. His works transform me. They make me reflect and they make me feel good.
Looking for a good book? Fredrik Backman's And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer is a short but deep and warm story that you should read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more