This is pretty much a grammar and style book for computer programming. I bought the original version, which is about 20 years old and uses older langu...moreThis is pretty much a grammar and style book for computer programming. I bought the original version, which is about 20 years old and uses older languages such as C, Pascal, Fortran, Basic, and Ada, but the fundamental ideas of simplifying nested loops, separating complicated routines into smaller ones, etc. are still relevant. McConnell writes very clearly, as you'd expect in a book that's all about writing (code) clearly. Code Complete is great until it gets boring. The sleep-inducing chapters on software project management near the end confirmed that I'm not terribly interested in the practical aspects of programming.(less)
Delany is totally fascinating. His hallucinogenic style, his obsession with orgies, his anti-transitions, which make you think you must have gotten kn...moreDelany is totally fascinating. His hallucinogenic style, his obsession with orgies, his anti-transitions, which make you think you must have gotten knocked out for at least a few seconds...fascinating. But I think it's difficult to say how good he really is. Yes, he expresses such deep ideas in such beautiful language, but what does this mean? Do I like him because he is actually legitimately good or because his writing makes me feel all fuzzy inside, like the world finally makes sense? It doesn't matter. What I mean to say is that Delany is an intensely personal taste for me. The Einstein Intersection has many missing variables, and at least twenty missing pages, but I loved it all the same. It was also pretty uncanny to read about multisexed/androgynous aliens after researching every single genetic disorder of sexual development, as if I were merely reading the psychedelic continuation of those Wikipedia articles.(less)
I watched Hitchcock's film adaptation several months before and enjoyed it. In retrospect, the only things the movie and the book really have in commo...moreI watched Hitchcock's film adaptation several months before and enjoyed it. In retrospect, the only things the movie and the book really have in common are the names of the characters and the idea of the double murder. Even though the movie is derived from the book, the stories are immensely different and I wouldn't even call them companion works. They are both works of art, but where the movie is happy, clean, and action-packed, the novel is anything but.
That said, I love Patricia Highsmith's writing. The Talented Mr. Ripley is one of my favorite books, and it's easy to consider the three central characters of that novel as more fully developed versions of those in Strangers on a Train, which preceded it by five years. Highsmith writes much better about psychopaths than she does about innocent people. I'm certain of that, because the protagonist of this book, Guy Haines, is quite flat for the first half of the book, whereas Charles Bruno, the psycho who stalks Haines, coercing him to follow up with his half of the double murder, comes right off the page. I hate Bruno-- how could anyone not hate him?-- but his influence over Guy is frighteningly believable. The Guy-Bruno relationship is as incredible as it is awful and disturbing. The back cover of the edition I have promises an "insidious merging of personalities." The merging is deftly done and one major aspect of the plot that is not present in the movie.
Guy's portrayal took me out of the story more than a few times. In the movie, he's a tennis player; in the book, he's an architect. I don't think he's really a tennis kind of guy, but he's certainly not an architect, either. This probably won't bother most people. It's just that Highsmith gives us few specifics about Guy, and the little she gives us seems artificial. It's interesting that his career blossoms even as his soul deteriorates, but this is told rather than shown to the reader. He's supposedly brilliant, which means he must have some passion for his work. Yet his thoughts feel inhumanly one-sided. We're told he has commissions, and toward the end we learn he designs modernistic buildings, but not once throughout the entire book do his thoughts ever tend toward the artistic. Highsmith presents Guy's work to us in bland, stereotypical words; she doesn't even give us bland, stereotypical images. Also, he is apparently Southern, but there is nothing to distinguish him from the New York-born Bruno. The only character who really adheres to his region, Owen Markman, is more of a caricature than a human being.
Guy Haines could have been anything and it would have made little difference to the story. Perhaps that is the point: he could have been anyone. The one upside to Guy's one-track mind is the claustrophobic, psychological complexity that the movie lacked and which I think is the primary reason anyone should give this book a chance.(less)
Pretty clever and exciting story. I didn't expect to like it as the first chapter didn't engage me and I had no idea what Agatha Christie's work is li...morePretty clever and exciting story. I didn't expect to like it as the first chapter didn't engage me and I had no idea what Agatha Christie's work is like, but once it gets going it is difficult to put down. Actually, I didn't put it down at all. One day I'll get around to reading more of her books. I hear The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has an amazing ending.(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)
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'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)
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)
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)
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)
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)