1) The humor is mildly funny at best, offensively lazy at worst. It's fine to write bawdy humor; it's also fine to write a b...moreI didn't finish this book.
1) The humor is mildly funny at best, offensively lazy at worst. It's fine to write bawdy humor; it's also fine to write a book in English that takes place in France, and have all the dialogue sound completely unrelated to how those conversations would go in French. But Sacre Bleu's frenetic overuse of the word "bonking" did both these things in such a tone-deaf, uncreative manner that I couldn't look past it.
2) The story makes no sense. I am willing to concede that it might start making sense at some point past where I stopped reading, but friends, it took me a long time to stop reading. The supernatural conceit is all circular and weird and also breaks the laws of conservation of matter and energy, and there's nothing intuitively resonant or emotionally true about it to make up for those flaws.
3) The entire premise of the novel [spoilers ahead for the middle part of the book] is that all the female models in great paintings were not real women; they were the bodies inhabited by an immortal succubus-type spirit. Sometimes she invented the bodies from whole cloth and sometimes she just took over real women's bodies, but the upshot is, all those models who played a role in the history of Western art? All the women who stood and waited, who pretended for hours to be doing something spontaneous, who arched eyebrows at artists they were sleeping with, who smiled elusively at artists they'd never sleep with, who did the job and then forgot about it, or who gazed steadily forward to make eye contact with immortality? Yup, those women never did those things, it was an evil sex spirit the whole time. Sorry, ladies.
I had an ARC, so I didn't see the production of the final book, which is apparently very pretty. But I doubt it would have changed my mind about the story.(less)
I'm in the middle of this and it's fantastic. Vivid and informative and funny. And what do you know--I logged onto GoodReads to enter this, and found...moreI'm in the middle of this and it's fantastic. Vivid and informative and funny. And what do you know--I logged onto GoodReads to enter this, and found it was by the author of An Education. Funny little world, this is.(less)
What do you know, the library came through with this one after all.
John Green is a smart guy and a talented wordsmith, and I think this is a better bo...moreWhat do you know, the library came through with this one after all.
John Green is a smart guy and a talented wordsmith, and I think this is a better book than Looking for Alaska, although this book, more than that one, seemed to take place in a universe next door to ours, where everyone talks like a poet and unlikely things keep happening. Green is also more preoccupied with questions of mortality, and how to live with the knowledge of mortality, than any other writer I've read in the last couple years. It's weird to find that in YA more than in adult lit--not that there aren't people dying in the adult books I read (sorry, Anne Boleyn!), but that the fact of death is not meditated upon at such length or with such probing, insistent urgency.
It made me think; it didn't make me cry (I'm a tough sell that way); it actually made me giggle a little bit (at the witty parts, I mean, not in a sadistic way). I didn't find myself believing in either Hazel or Augustus, but I still cared about them, and however improbable I found their speeches, the language in them was beautiful and solidly crafted, something I never want to undervalue.
I read this quite quickly, but I'm afraid I didn't get much from it. Comparisons to Jane Austen and Susannah Clarke got my hopes up way too high. This...moreI read this quite quickly, but I'm afraid I didn't get much from it. Comparisons to Jane Austen and Susannah Clarke got my hopes up way too high. This is basically a Regency romance with magic (or "glamour") thrown in; the magic, while a pleasing component of the book aesthetically, adds very little to the world-building or plot, and the romance is sketched out in very general terms--we tend to be informed that people are in love with arbitrary other people, rather than getting to observe how they perceive or react to one another. The characters are predictable and the language is repetitive (having once invented a term for a thing, the author goes on to repeat that term half a dozen times in the span of a couple paragraphs). Oh well, it was still fun.(less)
I came to this book because I read a review of it, and when that happens I am almost never able to write my own review of the same book after reading...moreI came to this book because I read a review of it, and when that happens I am almost never able to write my own review of the same book after reading it. But I'm very glad I read this. It's chilly and precise and fascinating, and the particular way it extends and withholds sympathy is fairly rare in my experience.(less)
(I'm refraining from rating this, not zero-rating it. I don't have strong feelings about how many stars it deserves.)
I have been hearing a lot about...more(I'm refraining from rating this, not zero-rating it. I don't have strong feelings about how many stars it deserves.)
I have been hearing a lot about John Green lately, and there's a long wait at the library for The Fault in Our Stars, so I read this one instead. In the process I realized I haven't read this kind of book for a very long time. When I pick up a YA book, or any work of fiction that's short, recent, and not conspicuously literary, that tends to mean that I'm looking for something light, and while this book isn't hard going, it's not light reading either. I kept having moments where I would say "oh, I have a minute to read now" and then switching it to "or maybe I'll just look for something fun on the Internet, because the book I'm reading right now is sad."
Maybe this is a better explanation of how I felt about this book: Some years ago, I was embarking on an internship, and as part of our training, a guy was brought in to teach us in his wisdom regarding our new line of work. When we were getting started, he had us all go around the room and try to say "what made us tick"; then he gave us all a bunch of sugary junk food. I had the distinct impression he was trying to be an Cool, Important Older Person for us. My reaction (though I kept it to myself) was "but I already have my mentors."
I don't mean that John Green is trying to be Cool, just that this book is the sort that aims to be important--indeed, that is important to a lot of people--and that I already have my formative young-adult novels. That's not to diminish the neat things this book does with famous people's last words, and uncertainty, and tragedy, and humor. I like most of those things. I just felt like I was looking in on someone else's ritual, more than I felt like the book was connected to me.(less)
Evelyn Waugh is, of course, one of the masters of wit of an early-twentieth-century sort, a kind of wit that may or may not actually make you laugh bu...moreEvelyn Waugh is, of course, one of the masters of wit of an early-twentieth-century sort, a kind of wit that may or may not actually make you laugh but will almost certainly make you sad. Everyone in this book is cynical, naïve, or both, and I am sorry to say that things do not generally end well, although there is apparently a tidy profit to be made in carving up old houses into flats.
I have often heard, somewhat anecdotally, that Waugh resisted the cultural changes of his time, but in Handful of Dust there doesn't seem to be any conviction that the past was better. The Big House in this novel is an ugly redbrick renovation that nobody likes but its owner, with rooms fancifully named after Arthurian characters; if there's a ghost of an actual former social order in all this, it's very hard to discern. It is funny, though, in that sad awful way (and sometimes in more direct and laughable ways as well). I picked it off a bookshelf in an attempt to come out of a January slump when I hadn't been reading nearly enough, and I could have done much worse.(less)
I know all of you have been waiting with bated breath for me to let you know whether The Remains of the Day is any good, since the Booker win and the...moreI know all of you have been waiting with bated breath for me to let you know whether The Remains of the Day is any good, since the Booker win and the Merchant-Ivory film are not nearly evidence enough. I have good news: it is a masterpiece.
Specifically, it's a masterpiece of unreliable narration, which is a concept I've sometimes found rather tricky. It can be so hard to see around an unreliable narrator, after all, because what other source of information have you got?
In this case, the unreliable narrator is a butler named Stephens, taking a drive in the English countryside sometime in the fifties. He thinks he is writing a travelogue accompanied by some thoughts about what makes a great butler. Very nearly the entire plot of the novel happens in brief episodes, narrated out of sequence, and offered as examples in Stephens' meditations on, for example, what sort of bantering is expected between servants and employers nowadays. But it's quite clear when you put the pieces together that this story is a tragedy, and that Stephens feels it as such even if he won't say so. He isn't as stoic as he thinks he is, either: he shows emotion, it's just up to other people to point that out.
Ishiguro has also provided what you could call an unreliable audience. Stephens thinks he is talking to someone like himself, someone who shares his interests and his social status and a similar stock of experiences to his own. He never quite acknowledges that there is no such audience, because he is a member of a species on the brink of extinction.
This all really is as sad as it sounds, but I mustn't neglect to mention that this book is also quite funny. No, really! There are episodes in here that would have come across as straight-up nineteen-thirties high-society comedy, if only they were narrated by one of the upper-class set. There are times when Stephens is so excruciatingly bad at saying what he means that you can only blink in amazement or laugh in disbelief.
And through all that comedy-tragedy-unreliability, there's a rather steady through-line about the question of what human beings ought to be doing with their time--and if they have chosen wrongly, what else they could possibly have done.
So, there: add that all up, and it turns out that The Remains of the Day is a good book. I'm glad we finally put that question to rest.(less)
When there are a handful of books I've been highly anticipating, I probably shouldn't read them one right after the other. I quite enjoyed this, but T...moreWhen there are a handful of books I've been highly anticipating, I probably shouldn't read them one right after the other. I quite enjoyed this, but The Hare With Amber Eyes was a very tough act to follow. For that matter, Strayed's essays set a high bar too--"The Love of My Life" is right up there with Jo Ann Beard's "Fourth State of Matter" in my personal pantheon of astonishing personal essays. So it's not entirely fair, but I felt a little let down when this turned out to be a good book rather than a life-changing one. Nevertheless, it's smart, deeply felt, and well-executed, and I won't hesitate to recommend it, though I'm more likely to do so to people who like the genre--it's not going to win over the memoir-averse (I'm frankly not sure what will).(less)
Granted, this is the only picture book published in 2011 that I have read, but I'm certain that it's also the best one. Between my mother and me, sayi...moreGranted, this is the only picture book published in 2011 that I have read, but I'm certain that it's also the best one. Between my mother and me, saying "I want my hat back" has become shorthand for "I am confused and don't know what to do next and am probably taking things too seriously." Not that anybody says that in the book. It's just in the bear's eyes.(less)
Good on text, extraordinary on pictures. Really, this book is beautiful. I'd rather like to own a copy, but since it's $40 I'll probably just keep che...moreGood on text, extraordinary on pictures. Really, this book is beautiful. I'd rather like to own a copy, but since it's $40 I'll probably just keep checking it out of various libraries.(less)
Most artists are trying to say something about the human condition. John Hodgman just happens to be the only one who does it by putting you through se...moreMost artists are trying to say something about the human condition. John Hodgman just happens to be the only one who does it by putting you through seven hundred names of the ancient and unspeakable ones and then telling a story about the Headless Body of the Nug-Shohab that is somehow terribly sad.
That's the thing that I really love about Hodgman's work. I come for the humor but I stay for the secret chocolatey center of sincerity. I saw him on stage last night (which is what reminded me I hadn't posted a review of this book) and there were a lot of funny jokes, but honestly my favorite part was when he took forever telling some stories about going back to visit the campus of Yale. He's an innovative storyteller who knows when to stop innovating and just say some simple true thing.
This book may or may not merit five stars on some mythical objective scale, but the entirety of Hodgman's trilogy, taken in concert with the Daily Show spots and the computer ads and the live shows--this whole oeuvre is one of my favorite things to come out of pop culture since I've been aware pop culture existed. I'm sad that Ragnarok has brought us to the end of this particular arc, but I can't wait to see what he does next.(less)
I wish I could love this book, because I am very interested indeed in the topic of animals and architecture, but someone needs to alert the author tha...moreI wish I could love this book, because I am very interested indeed in the topic of animals and architecture, but someone needs to alert the author that when you give a book a title like this, it means you need to discuss the two topics in connection with one another, and not just wander back and forth from the animal topic to the architecture topic. Here is a sample of the text:
Today the cat has returned to a position of popularity. The sacred element is not as obvious as in Egyptian times, but there does exist quite a flourishing trade in the management of cemeteries for cats, dogs and other favourite pets. On occasions dead cats have also been discovered buried within the construction of old buildings in Europe. Stuffed, and often prepared with a rat in their mouths, they were sealed under the floorboards or in the lofts to act as ornamental scarecrows. An analogous situation occurred recently when a cat discovered small microphones hidden under the floorboards of the Netherlands Embassy in Moscow. The cat had been excited by electronic waves activating the microphones and thus revealed their presence.
Whether the information picked up by these microphones had been of any use is not known, but 4000 years ago the Egyptians considered that all knowledge was divine, and consequently all animals, from bulls to dung beetles, were considered worthy of worship to a greater or lesser degree.
The whole book is like this, wandering inscrutably from past to present to recent past to ancient history again, only discussing architecture perhaps eight percent of the time, and frequently going off the rails entirely to talk about hidden microphones in Moscow. Is there another book out there, anywhere, about animals and architecture? If so, I'll take that one please.(less)