Intense yet gentle. This is apparently a standalone sequel (do those even exist?) to the third book in a trilogy that I haven't read yet, but there ar...moreIntense yet gentle. This is apparently a standalone sequel (do those even exist?) to the third book in a trilogy that I haven't read yet, but there are many similarities between this and Murakami's so-called magnum opus The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. That is, this book features all of the great elements in Wind-Up: mysterious hotels, not-so-coincidental encounters, and a mystery of human souls. Wind-Up is way more complex, but ultimately Dance Dance Dance is more satisfying. The nameless protagonist is typical Murakami, a passive, sensitive-but-cold thirty-something bachelor/sexplorer who becomes wrapped up in a series of bizarre otherworldly events. His decisions are often arbitrary and based on some kind of weird intuition that just threw me after a while. I wanted to hit him over the head many times. The supporting characters, while well-drawn, are equally frustrating and at times very annoying. Sometimes I suspect his protagonists actually go insane from being so deadbeat that they begin to create people and interactions and connections that don't exist (oh, and it was rather redundant to be told that things were connected when they clearly, clearly were). The plot was rather thin. I wanted more introspection, analysis, and history from the unnamed narrator. That's one area in which Wind-Up bests this book. Murakami has a gift for many things, not least of which is instilling horror in the reader (or maybe just me) at the prospect of becoming like his protagonists.
Despite my qualms, I really enjoyed this book, particularly the ending. It wasn't the Wind-Up cop-out I was expecting. As in his other books, the details are abundant, humdrum but very interesting, and the dialogue isn't speech I would ever expect to hear anywhere, but somehow it sounds believable in the context.
I haven't read a really amazing book by this man yet, but I'm positive he has the talent and imagination to turn out something groundbreaking someday. Perhaps he already has. I'm already itching to read more Murakami, so I suppose I'll find out soon.(less)
I wasn't expecting to like this book at all, but wow. Murakami has an amazing imagination. I don't think I fully understand this book, which is why it...moreI wasn't expecting to like this book at all, but wow. Murakami has an amazing imagination. I don't think I fully understand this book, which is why it seems a tad incomplete to me, but this is a lot more readable, enjoyable, satisfying, etc. than The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Kafka sort of irritated me. I mean, he's fifteen, he's horny, I get it, but do we really need to read about every single erection and wet dream (or perhaps not "dream") he has? Well, that might be necessary to an extent, what with his Oedipal tendencies and all. There is an excessive amount of day-to-day detail in this book. I think Murakami spent nearly a quarter of the book describing his characters' food and clothing choices. I liked the third person half much better-- Mr. Nakata is cool and adorable, and Mr. Hoshino is funny. But all the characters are interesting in some way, even (and especially) Kafka.(less)
When I began this book I thought it would be right up my alley. It's big, sort of, complex, sort of, very funny, and terribly well-written. Well-writt...moreWhen I began this book I thought it would be right up my alley. It's big, sort of, complex, sort of, very funny, and terribly well-written. Well-written in this case is an understatement. Martin Amis is a master of the English language. He also loves hearing himself talk. Just like that pissant Gwyn Barry he narrates his own biography in his head, I'm sure. He overwrites like hell; this book could have easily dropped one or two hundred pages. Every single one of those pages has many witty, incisive, majestic turns of phrase, which just goes to show that you can have -- and give -- too much of a good thing.
I especially disliked the America section. Maybe because it was in the later middle of the book and I couldn't see any significant character development. Maybe because it was boring (boring for Amis that is). Maybe because I automatically roll my eyes when British people try to write about America or Americans in any way. But I would be willing to disregard this period of gloom if it were not for two things.
1. Horrible characters. Richard is at first comical and sympathetic, but Amis harps way too much on what a complete and total loser he is. It even gets to the point where he explicitly states that the sun, the world, and the universe hate this guy. I mean seriously. Liked the inclusion of astronomy throughout, but after four hundred and seventy pages the fact that Richard Tull sucks at life kind of speaks for itself. Also hated Gwyn aka douchebag. He exemplifies everything I despise in writers and in human beings. Also disliked Scozzy, the wannabe gangbanger, and all his wannabe gangbanger friends. They read like caricatures Amis scrawled into half-life by feeling around in the dark with a blindfold over his eyes and his hands tied behind his back. Other characters, none of them memorable, are stupid, whiny, annoying, wallpaper, or all the above. Made me feel homicidal. I imagine if I tried to read The Corrections now I might actually get through it. I've certainly developed the stamina.
2. That ending. About as much as I expected, which wasn't much considering the previous plot points. Amis really drops the ball here. If he'd developed the ending, The Information would be a solid four stars. No doubt about that. It is the only part of the book that could have used more writing, as it does contain a glimmer of potential. However, unrealized potential, especially at the end of a story, frustrates and infuriates me.
Amis plots well for someone who is clearly a prose artist and not a storyteller. The subplots flow together in an engaging and logical manner, and many of the scenes are really good. It's a highly entertaining book about writers, which is perhaps a feat in itself, but it lacks the dramatic tension necessary to make envy, or a mid-life crisis, or whatever it is that afflicts Richard, meaningful or even relatable beyond the page.(less)
A collection of hits and misses. Many of them--- including Miss Temptation, EPICAC, and, of course, Harrison Bergeron--- are dizzying, wonderful piece...moreA collection of hits and misses. Many of them--- including Miss Temptation, EPICAC, and, of course, Harrison Bergeron--- are dizzying, wonderful pieces that showcase Vonnegut's talent as a thinker in ways that his most famous novels do not. But there are also boring ones. There are doctrinaire ones. Vonnegut is honest with us here: he shows that he, like every other writer and every other human being, is not consistently brilliant.(less)
After reading this I feel like I've overdosed on wit. The writing is extremely clever down to every line, and maybe that's why people are bonkers abou...moreAfter reading this I feel like I've overdosed on wit. The writing is extremely clever down to every line, and maybe that's why people are bonkers about the Hitchhiker books, but for me, the continuous droll/cutesy observations about everything got stale pretty quickly. These books aren't bad--they're smart and well-written and most likely meant to be "funny" in that quiet, smirking way. It just seemed to me that Douglas Adams was telling the same jokes over and over again.
The plot is thin. Very thin. It starts off well enough: just as the city is about to demolish the house of our hapless protagonist Arthur Dent to make way for a bypass, the Vogons demolish the entire planet Earth to make way for *hyperspace* bypass. The characters jump ship just in time. They travel through time and space, get stuck in prehistoric Earth, eat at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, get saved by "improbability" more than is probable, learn how to fly, save the universe a few times, watch cricket games, and so on and so forth. Fun stuff, right? Right. Except most of it's totally boring, because the characters seem bored (and because of that cloying cleverness). It wouldn't be an issue if the characters were just flat. I've read and loved many books with flat characters. But here, we spend so much time with these people, and they don't seem to care about anything or have any reactions whatsoever. They might as well be sealed up inside of a box. It's just not believable. Arthur got a little more likable in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, because he finally acquired a motive (not a terribly interesting motive, but a motive nevertheless). Or perhaps it's because this book isn't as concerned with being clever/zany as the others. I did enjoy the part in which we discover the meaning of Arthur's beautiful glass fishbowl.
I don't recommend any of these books or the snooze-fest short story at the end. At least, I don't recommend reading all of them in one gulp (even if your "gulp" takes several months of slogging through, as mine did). Play with yesterday's Douglas Adams Doodle instead: http://www.google.com/doodles/douglas...(less)
I LOVED the movie for this. It's unpleasant and a bit paradoxical but brilliant. I'd been meaning to read the book for a while as I normally enjoy rea...moreI LOVED the movie for this. It's unpleasant and a bit paradoxical but brilliant. I'd been meaning to read the book for a while as I normally enjoy reading books after watching the movies based on them. But beyond themes and characters, the novel has very little in common with the movie. All four of the narrators (five, including the weird few pages told in a stilted third person) sound the same regardless of the gaps of time and gender. In real-time, the descendants of Borden and Angier don't appear to be reading the diaries-- that is, the revelations in the diaries don't logically connect to the descendants' actions. The whole book is quite messy. Understandably, the central idea is complex (ingenious, hence the 3 stars), but the movie treats it as a neat, compact, beautifully executed magic trick. Christopher Priest dilutes the rivalry and hidden obsessions to trivial matters, which in turn made the story itself seem very trivial.
That said, this book is still a page-turner. The wordiness slows the pace, but the mystery is maintained until the very end.(less)
I have been wanting to read Slapstick since forever because of the clown on the cover. Sadly (for me) this book is not about clowns.
I love Vonnegut. I...moreI have been wanting to read Slapstick since forever because of the clown on the cover. Sadly (for me) this book is not about clowns.
I love Vonnegut. I always will. His language is extremely palatable. So palatable, in fact, that I often forget that it actually serves a purpose. This story in particular is written like notes for a memoir, but by the end the fragments form a cohesive plot. He's so down-to-earth and unpretentious -- going so far as to say in the prologue of this book that his profession is "disagreeable" and that he "hates writing" -- and yet so terrifically zany and profound.
Vonnegut gave this book a D. Now, it's definitely not that. He couldn't have written a D novel if he tried. I suppose what he might have meant is that Slapstick didn't move his writing forward. It's a lot of fun, but it isn't memorable. Sixteen years before, Cat's Cradle introduced the karass. This book waters down that brilliant concept into "artificial extended families" based on government-issued middle names. A bit too ridiculous for me. The guy behind those names and behind this memoir, Dr./President Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, has a marvelous history with his twin sister Eliza that gets a bit less marvelous when it becomes a bit more incestuous.
Vonnegut, of course, is perfectly aware of this. He says that it is about "desolate cities and spiritual cannibalism and incest and loneliness and lovelessness and death and so on." I get that, but I also get that he could have done much more. This is one case in which his standard point of view (low-intensity author insertion) should have been altered to make way for the wide reach of his ideas. To be fair, it was altered at the very end, but by that time it read like a cop-out rather than a full conclusion.(less)
This story sucked. The Painted Veil is about stupid, annoying characters who make stupid, annoying decisions from which they never recover. The main c...moreThis story sucked. The Painted Veil is about stupid, annoying characters who make stupid, annoying decisions from which they never recover. The main character, vapid Kitty Fane, is pretty much Scarlett O'Hara without the passion, charisma, and everything else that makes a character interesting, if not necessarily likeable. Let's just say Kitty has some gumption calling her husband "boring." Also, my copy has a movie scene on the cover, so the entire time I was imagining Ed Norton as Walter. That made the situation even sadder and more pathetic--as in, really, Kitty? You're whining about being married to Ed NORTON? Um, okay. (It is true that Walter is no great ball of charm of anything. Despite his intelligence, he gets a significant demerit for marrying Kitty in the first place. Still, he's probably the second or third best character after all the nuns and the customs officer and...oh wait.) I laughed when Walter told Kitty (not verbatim), "I knew you were vulgar and second rate and the biggest airhead on this side of the Atlantic, but I loved you anyway because I'm an idiot." The majority of the story takes place in Hong Kong and China, and I really wish it didn't, because the ultra-"alien" setting gives Kitty the added appeal of being a gigantic racist. She hates on Chinese ORPHANS (says, repeatedly, that they look inhuman and hideous, even going so far to refer to one disfigured little girl as an "it") and can't believe that Colonel Yü*, with his "flat yellow face," can cry for her husband while her own "beautiful" face remains as dry as the Sahara.
Basically, Of Human Bondage this is NOT.
But still, three stars, solely because of Somerset Maugham's beautiful writing. He writes so well that I found this wretched story impossible to put down, literally. I read this in one sitting. Short chapters and fine, elegant, unpretentious sentences. I do believe he got lazy in parts, because he repeats descriptions ("beautiful" x10000 for Kitty, "beautiful hands" for at least two different characters, "not expansive" for Walter, and more).
*Maugham's umlaut, not mine. Chinese names don't have umlauts or any other kind of accents, as far as I've seen.(less)
I'm going to be engulfed in flames for saying this, but David Sedaris isn't that funny. Judging from this book, anyway. His writing is decent, and he...moreI'm going to be engulfed in flames for saying this, but David Sedaris isn't that funny. Judging from this book, anyway. His writing is decent, and he occasionally tosses in a clever observation or turn of phrase, but on the whole he's nothing special.
He's best when talks about people who are naturally funny because they're complete wackos, like the gross, trashy babysitter in "The Understudy" and the neighbor from hell in "That's Amore." I did enjoy those.
The other essays consist of lifeless navel-gazing about the life of some rich guy who lives in France who loves this other guy, a lot. Sedaris has a gazillion essays revolving around his partner Hugh: Hugh's mother, how fast Hugh walks, the skeleton he bought for Hugh, how faithful he and Hugh are to each other to the extent that Hugh aka "Sir Lance-a-Lot" removed a boil from his back, his relationship with Hugh in general, etc. ad nauseum. I'm not even counting all the essays in which Hugh played a part but wasn't the center of attention. Yeah, I get that he loves him. I get that he's a huge part of Sedaris' life, and Sedaris only writes about his life. But as a reader who doesn't know or care about Hugh in any way, I found him to be a poorly developed, totally boring character. It's as if Sedaris needed to fill up some pages and just pulled out hugh_memory_1, hugh_memory_2, etc., without filtering them to see if they actually said anything new. In other words, he took the easy way out.
Then there are (rare) times when he tries way too hard. Like the essay in which he tells his parents he's going to major in patricide. His mother huffs at this, so he considers a double-major in matricide. I cringed because the dialogue was so unbelievable and ridiculous. He embellishes his essays? Surprise, surprise.
Oh yes. He's racist (surprise, surprise here also, considering how his sister Amy "autographs" books). Everyone is, and it almost always shows in people's writing, but it's somewhat forgivable in fiction because you can pretend it's the character and not the author who's racist. Here, there's no mistaking who finds it necessary to make casual ignorant comments about people from races different from the author's own. What can I say? Character development really isn't Sedaris' strong point.
Bottom line: good style, boring content. Not exactly the fun-filled joyride I expected.
Disclaimer: I don't read much nonfiction, and I tend to dislike this sort of "slice-of-my-real-life" writing. (That's what diaries are for, hello!) Also, I have an odd sense of humor that many people have mistaken for no sense of humor at all. Stuff I find laugh-out-loud hilarious: bad horror movies like "Evil Dead II," the "Et tu, Brute?" moment in Julius Caesar, Lil Wayne's videos, etc. So it's entirely possible that David Sedaris is indeed a brilliant humorist, and I just don't get him.(less)
Collection of extremely depressing stories. Adam Haslett writes well in terms of emotional expression and word choice, but most of these stories lack...moreCollection of extremely depressing stories. Adam Haslett writes well in terms of emotional expression and word choice, but most of these stories lack (1) a compelling plot, (2) compelling characters, and (3) a proper ending. By "proper ending" I don't mean happily ever after, but a resolution drawn naturally from the prior events that distinguish a story from just a nicely-written scene. (Admittedly biased against slice-of-life; it's never been my cup of tea.)
"Notes to My Biographer" and "Devotion" are the best of the lot. I read these two first, back in college. "Notes" in particular is very good: it doesn't have much in the way of plot and cuts off at the end, but features an intense and pretty comic first-person voice.
Haslett ties in knowledge of psychiatry, especially bipolar disorder, and AIDS. His psychiatric stories feel modern, while the AIDS stories ("Devotion" and "Reunion") suggest the secrecy and shame surrounding the disease in the 1980s. I haven't read any other stories about the history of AIDS, so this aspect seemed fresh to me.
Coincidentally, I read this right after reading The Corrections. Haslett studied under Franzen at Swarthmore. There's a resemblance, but only slightly. I'd say Haslett has a long way to go. His writing screams MFA, and he could definitely use some new sources of inspiration.(less)
I've never been able to sort out my feelings about this book. On one hand, I think James Joyce and his double-entendre sentences are brilliant. Althou...moreI've never been able to sort out my feelings about this book. On one hand, I think James Joyce and his double-entendre sentences are brilliant. Although the beginning is mystifying (at least it was for me, until we analyzed it in class), most of the scenes read fairly easily. With the exception of a few rough patches here and there, Joyce is hardly ever boring. Maybe it's a stream-of-consciousness thing-- it doesn't always make sense, but it keeps you awake. Also, when some authority figure is hammering into your head the uniqueness and greatness and ultimate literary significance of every single word in a book, it starts to settle in.
And yet I hate this book. I hate it because when I read it, I strongly identified with Stephen Dedalus. No, I don't mean identify. I mean...I felt I was him. I believed this book was about me, had I been born male and Irish and seventy years before. I was raised Roman Catholic (okay, so that's different from Irish Catholic-- but it's not that much of a stretch). I, too, won writing prizes in high school and thought I knew everything because I had read a lot and was headed for a major, world-famous university in the fall. I, too, had an epiphany that I would be an artist of some sort (but when I was eleven). We also have the same name (pretty much). And...there's more, but I would rather not mention it here. Let's just say you'll have to trust me on this one.
Normally I enjoy seeing myself in characters; I've felt similar, although much weaker, connections with Sydney Carton, Gene Forrester, and the narrator in Rebecca. But Stephen Dedalus is altogether too much, and all the more so because he's so cruel/indifferent/obsessive/pompous. I've disliked a lot of characters, but I've never hated any of them the way I hate Stephen. True, my identification with him has nothing to do with James Joyce's ideas or ability, and I don't think most people hate Stephen that much, but Portrait seemed to highlight the worst in his character-- and in mine as well. It was jarring, really, to discover my own faults through such an honest and unforgiving picture of "the artist as a young man."(less)