There are very few books I would recommend to absolutely anyone -- but this is one of them. In some ways, it's very short -- just a sentence or shortThere are very few books I would recommend to absolutely anyone -- but this is one of them. In some ways, it's very short -- just a sentence or short paragraph per page -- but every single page and the accompanying picture is a whole story, a whole biography all in itself. Sometimes fun, sometime silly, often heartbreaking... it's just an absolutely beautiful book. Stanton has a great eye for photos, and he keeps the balance of emotion steady, never too overwhelming. It's very easy to see why every review on Goodreads is a positive one.
Definitely worth your time, and then pass it to a friend.
(p.s. The Facebook page that this is based on posted pictures and stories from Asia and the Middle East this summer, and recently did a refugee series. What a powerful project!)...more
(edited to add spoiler-ific theories to the bottom)
I finished this book nearly two hours ago, and yet there's no way I can stop reading about it. As I(edited to add spoiler-ific theories to the bottom)
I finished this book nearly two hours ago, and yet there's no way I can stop reading about it. As I scoured the internet looking for clues and analyses, I skimmed through it again, searching for relevant pieces I'd forgotten. I re-examined the dust jacket (including with a mirror); I checked all the front-papers, and studied the map and character tree. Why haven't more people read this yet? My theories and I, we're waiting.
This kind of single-mindedness after finishing a novel is a delightfully rare occurrence for me -- which is fitting, since this is a delightfully rare book. The primary thread is a dystopian story, paired with a "novel of manners" and a collection of related epistolary artifacts. The artifacts, from maps and telegrams to family trees and drawings, are great fun, and Dodson ensured that they were critical, intriguing, and not disruptive -- just right.
The story weaves between different narrators of varying reliability, and the puzzles and mysteries transform into the critical pieces of the narrative. The clever construction is a masterful way to redirect and confuse; it was the most appealing part of the story to me, though I can see it not holding the same interest for everyone. While the dystopia seems familiar at first, it quickly becomes something unique, with the conventional plot patterns abandoned. The historical fiction sections are even more fun, an unexpected treat that livens and provides additional depth to the story. And then there's that letter...
While I would have appreciated more dimensions given to a few of the characters (maybe this deficiency is a hard requirement for dystopian stories?), this book got me in its grips so well that I didn't feel it was worth docking a full star. This isn't at the top of my 5-star range, but it will stick with me for a long time to come. Highly recommended, especially to those who enjoyed Night Film, epistolary novels, or the experimental side of literary.
p.s. If you don't feel mind-bended enough afterwards, just ask me and I can tell you a few things you may have missed (I originally did, and so did many reviewers) and then you'll be fully crunched.
WARNING – theories ahead, these are spoilers! (view spoiler)[ – First off, the letter that Zadock was meant to deliver is the one he wrote himself. This was the biggest shock to me, and took me until a while after I finished the entire book before I realized it. (this was when I started rereading a bunch of things)
– Next, I realized we don't actually have a canonical narrative. The narrative of Zeke and Eliza is actually from the book "The City-State". That's why it says "The City-State" in the margins of the page! (this one I discovered online)
– Either story could actually have taken place in either time! The technology of 2143 is very, very similar to the technology of 1843... because it was written before 1843!
– In some sense, the time periods the stories are set in are interchangeable. The pieces of 1843 Chicago that we see could have really taken place in 2143 Chicago, since we never see Chicago in the 2143 storyline. The reverse is also true; the City-State could really be a "fabled city" in 1843 that is ruined through the actions of the rebellion and wars.
– There are a small number of clues that indicate knowledge of post-1843 events and technology. These are, exclusively, (1) the space elevator and (2) the reference in Eliza's dad's notes to the Civic War that was coming. This seems to tell us that either Elswyth's mom really can see the future, or the 2143 narrative was written in that year. (Let me know if you come across others -- it might be a significant clue)
– There's talk of a "temporal loop" in some reviews. I suppose this somehow would mean that the 2143 version of Texas is returned to 1843, or Zadock is transported to 2143. But there are still two letters! And it does not help us answer anything, that's for sure.
– What's up with that map? The 1843 map of Texas shows much of Louisiana underwater, which seems like a post-apocalyptic thing to have happen.
– At the end of the story, it's like the author threw everything in a ball and deliberately prevented us from getting any type of conclusion. We don't have any idea what happens to any of our protagonists. We don't know what year it really is. We know the letter is useless, regardless of whether or not it is the same letter or not. We don't know what, if anything, is real.
– Perhaps that's part of the genius here... what's the use of an epistolary novel, a novel comprised of documents, if those documents may or may not have any connection to reality. Do those documents exist outside of the two main storylines? Are they included in the The City-State, which is a fictional work referenced as being complete in The Sisters Gray, even though they include things that Eliza will not discover until later in that book? It's quite a tangle.
– When it comes down to it, if you treat both narratives as existing in the same fictional universe, you just have a character from one novel discovering another novel by a contemporary author. Both novels could have just been written with the knowledge of the other novel. But this cheapens everything and I'd prefer not to think about it.
Let me know if you come across anything that seems to contradict any of the theories/thoughts I've listed above. I feel like I'm missing some central strand that makes sense of all of this – it's happened before – but I can't find anything online that would point me in that direction. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Most people know I'm a big fan of movie music; I was so excited about it that I founded an orchestra in college just so I could keep playing it. So, iMost people know I'm a big fan of movie music; I was so excited about it that I founded an orchestra in college just so I could keep playing it. So, it is natural that I got way too excited when I found this book – unbelievably, I've never read a book about movie music. John Williams is one of my favorite composers, so this was a perfect fit of a book!
The book starts out with a broad history of film music in general, starting from the silent era. I listened to several of the scores discussed in the book, and I have a lot more I'm planning to listen to – I've never really appreciated the great movie music of the 30s and 40s before, and there's tons of great material. For someone who doesn't have a lot of experience in film music criticism, this book gets pretty technical, and I learned many of the more technical terms and processes. Also enjoyable was the author's detailed tear-downs of several of Williams' scores compared with their movie.
Unfortunately, there were some definite flaws – the book originated as a dissertation, and then was translated from Italian; the writing ended up stilted and overly structured. Also, I didn't especially agree with the last chapter, where the author claims that no film composers have picked up Williams' mantel of neoclassical film music... I would argue that's just untrue. There are lots of great modern film composers, and even if not many of them reach Williams' prominence, he's not the only composer doing a fantastic job. Klaus Badelt (Pirates of the Caribbean), Harry Gregson-Williams (Chronicles of Narnia), and even the much-maligned Hans Zimmer (Gladiator) have all written amazing scores in the last ten years. Not to mention the claim Howard Shore doesn't fit that category... sigh. It seemed like an unfortunate end to an otherwise rewarding book.
This was a fun read that inspired me to listen to a lot of new music, and was a completely new genre for me. Recommended for film music aficionados!...more
This is a book all about body image. Even where it's not -- where it is about consumerism, cults, bad tv, twins -- it all boils down to body image. HoThis is a book all about body image. Even where it's not -- where it is about consumerism, cults, bad tv, twins -- it all boils down to body image. How do we percieve ourselves, how do others see us, how do we think others see us. And, through that, it's terrifying, essentially a psychological thriller... about body image.
I'm lucky to have never had anything beyond typical body concerns -- I don't love my body, but I'm pretty sure I'll still have that Dr. Pepper tomorrow -- but the book is written so intensely that I feel like Kleeman knows the world of body-image disorders far too well. She's sharing some pieces of that in this novel, and her terrific writing has such an intense focus on bodies and food that I felt a distressed connection with the protagonist. What are you doing. Why aren't you eating. Where are you going.
This focus on bodies and the self is heightened by hyper-selective worldbuilding. This, further, emphasizes a recent trend I've seen in other works: the extremely passive protagonist. Like in Gold, Fame, Citrus and Mr. Robot, the protagonist, often as not, just lets things happen; that is, they refuse to apply critical reasoning or let us understand the avenues taken to result in a given (non-)decision. It's both engaging and incredibly frustrating, and I wish I knew enough to pinpoint if this is a trend, or just selective sampling. I mean, Gregor Samsa did the same when he became a bug, a hundred years ago.
I think there will be a lot of people turned off from the book, so I can't make broad recommendations. Beyond the intensity, the book features beautiful, thematic writing (check out the eating-related metaphors!) and some shocking turns. Digest with caution....more
This novel was an unexpected delight, easily one of my favorites of 2015.
Oreo, while somewhat modernist and experimental in format, is at its heart aThis novel was an unexpected delight, easily one of my favorites of 2015.
Oreo, while somewhat modernist and experimental in format, is at its heart a story about a girl on a quest: finding her father. Along for the ride, we are introduced to her extended family, friends, and neighbors, and the richness and vitality in those relationships drives the story. The depicted African-American and Jewish cultural elements were harder for me to follow -- being neither -- but they added authenticity to the characters, clearly based on Ross' experiences.
I was drawn to the story by the humor and comparisons to Pynchon -- both true! -- but it really was the wordcraft that got me hooked. The intelligence, inventiveness and playful nature of writing are well beyond any long-form work I can remember. You'll want to read each sentence twice, sometimes with dictionary in hand, to catch the layers of additional meanings. (I wish I could include similarly clever turns of phrases in my review, but their clunkiness would do a disservice to the brilliance of Ross' wordplay)
Pardon one more ebullient paragraph: I have to mention how this book could very nearly pass for being written today, as it contains such a progressive stance on the lives of the characters and the world they inhabit. I often forget how long ago it was written, given that the novel's characters seem prescient in their views and behaviors, acting in ways that were undoubtedly a shock for the readers of the 70s. This is our gain, though, as it stands the test of time so well!
The fact that this book was so ignored for so long is terrible, and it seems almost entirely because Fran Ross was an African-American woman. But, as the copy I read demonstrates, that ignorance is no longer excusable -- Oreo has been reprinted in paperback and is available as an ebook, ready for the world to finally discover. Go to it....more
I picked up an anthology with the first four books of the series in it, and decided to stop after one. While it was fun to sit in the world of ArthurI picked up an anthology with the first four books of the series in it, and decided to stop after one. While it was fun to sit in the world of Arthur and company, and was a great childrens' story, it was kind of 'meh' for me. I found the constant references to contemporary issues (communism, etc) quite odd -- not off-putting, but hard to accept. Enjoyed the use of humor and the straightforward ways the story was told.
This would probably be excellent for an elementary school reader, but I think I'm ready to move on....more
Described as one of the great Czechoslovakian novels of the Cold War era, this layered novel tells the story of main character Danny in a great numberDescribed as one of the great Czechoslovakian novels of the Cold War era, this layered novel tells the story of main character Danny in a great number of parallel time frames, mostly flipping between WWII-era flashbacks and the 1970s main story. It's dense but rewarding, and it provides a window into Czechoslovakian history that I was quite ignorant toward.
The novel has a lot of literary elements — about once a chapter, I felt I was missing an important reference or name — but there are times when its comedy shined through as well (it claims to be a comic novel.) There were definitely shades of Gravity's Rainbow in here, with an ungainly cast of characters and rapid-fire movement between plots, but it was more focused than Pynchon gets.
Not a book I would bring to the beach, it was ponderous in parts and mostly geared toward a demographic I do not belong to (that is, the Czech emigrant community). Consider if you're a Pynchon fan, but I would stop short of a full recommendation.
One great note: I picked this up novel while working on the Lacuna project this year, and saved it (based on the title alone) right before we attacked it with a drill press, to be added to the structure of the installation. Amazingly, one of the main plot lines of the novel involves drill presses, which I found a fitting coincidence....more
Essential and meaningful dystopian fiction about a warped, fundamentalist theocracy having taken over the United States. Certainly ahead of its time wEssential and meaningful dystopian fiction about a warped, fundamentalist theocracy having taken over the United States. Certainly ahead of its time when published, it remains pertinent today. I was captivated by the writing style, attention to detail, and atmospheric style that Atwood uses in the work, and am an instant fan. (off to read the rest of her novels, all sitting on Jessica's desk!) Recommended to everyone.
A personal note: In an earlier status update, I compared this to California... but now I realize that the comparison was primarily driven by the woman-led narration and focus throughout the book. I haven't read many books featuring a woman's perspective that goes beyond just the plot, and it's something I need to do more of. (recommendations welcome!)...more
This book felt a lot like Neal Stephenson trying to channel Thomas Pynchon. Maybe it's because the last two Pynchon books I've read had the same settiThis book felt a lot like Neal Stephenson trying to channel Thomas Pynchon. Maybe it's because the last two Pynchon books I've read had the same settings as the storylines in this book, but the joint characteristics of overshared micro-details, serendipitous run-ins with major historical figures, and poorly-calibrated tangents were strong. Unfortunately, I don't think Stephenson got close to Pynchon's level of writing.
There were definitely some things I enjoyed, including a significant dose of cryptography and cryptographical history. Additionally, Stephenson's uncanny ability to predict the future is showcased at length, as he basically explains the purpose and value of Bitcoin through his characters. Of course, this was written nine years before Bitcoin was a thing, and there's even a (somewhat flippant) theory on Twitter that Stephenson is Satoshi Nakamoto himself. There's also a fun obfuscated Perl program, and a few nuggets about grep and the like. Not to mention Stephenson bringing in another person who would be much more famous now than then: Bruce Schneier provides an appendix on a cryptographic theory used in the book, five years before his blog started and even before he coined the term "Security Theater."
While I've enjoyed a lot of Stephenson's work in the past, it just felt gratuitously over-wrought here; most of the book I was just counting down until it was done. The book could have been cut by 50% and retained its storyline and cryptographical detail. There was also a little more bizarre stereotyping and uncomfortable pigeonholing than I would have liked – the few and poorly-written female characters were especially grating. I would hope that a similar book written now would strive to be a little more aware of those issues.
In general, I can't really recommend this to anyone; if you're looking for great Neal Stephenson, choose Diamond Age; if you're looking for a book on cryptography in fiction... I'll let you know if I find one. ...more
Easy and engaging read about a difficult time period. Not the most comprehensive or unemotional guide to the earthquake, but one based in personal aneEasy and engaging read about a difficult time period. Not the most comprehensive or unemotional guide to the earthquake, but one based in personal anecdotes and stories, with many quotes directly from survivors interviewed by the authors. It's a very human history book, and that makes it very different from your average history.
I'm typically not a huge fan of history books that are so story-based, preferring to see a very organized, big-picture view, but I was captivated by this one. The stories captured my interest and I got through it very quickly.
An interesting note about the book is that, since it was written in 1971, the "next big one" he cautions us about has actually come and gone, with the 1989 quake. Sure, we're (always) due for another one, but I think living through that earthquake taught SF even more about what was and wasn't working, and the hysteria filling the book is probably not as justified as it was when it was written. ...more
"Time travel novel." Sounds cheap, right? Some genre hack writing a dime novel that fuses a shoddy theory with poor characterization and thoughtless p"Time travel novel." Sounds cheap, right? Some genre hack writing a dime novel that fuses a shoddy theory with poor characterization and thoughtless prose. I wasn't sure what to expect from Stephen King – yes, I knew it wouldn't be that – but you never really know what you're going to get from the outside of the package.
I have to admit: I was never someone who cared much about JFK and his assassination. I passed up a chance to visit the Sixth Floor Museum in college because of the $16 entrance fee. Happily, this didn't seem to matter in my consumption of the story; ambivalence or not, I was quickly engrossed. You could say I've now visited that museum, all for the price of a used hardback.
Complex and beautifully realized, 11/22/63 surpassed any expectations I might have had. It was classic King, blending genres while introducing strong characters into carefully crafted locations and eras. It's clear that a tremendous amount of research was performed; it's detailed in the back of the book, but in summary: it made a difference. Despite a few minor gripes, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and the five stars are deserved.
11/22/63 is a great showpiece for King's versatility across genre boundaries, and his characters and setting exemplify a storyteller at the top of his game. Highly recommended, especially to those with their own memories of that day... I was lucky, and borrowed my mother's....more