If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in th
If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!
I feel like this book is a story everyone thinks they know but don't really. Everyone remembers "Dorian Gray gets a painting that ages and decays while he stays young" and rightly so, it is a really fascinating idea to explore and can easily stick with a person. But what the book is really about is Dorian Gray being a self absorbed jerk and his friend Lord Henry spouting off absurdly shallow philosophies that sound insightful but are really just contrarian for contrariness sake or to get a rise out of his stuffy fellow Englishmen. There is a kernel of a good idea in the book (the aforementioned and eponymous Picture) but it actually takes up a small part of the story.
First off I like the idea the gets this story going. To have our sins and corruption to be cast upon an inanimate object can open a lot of interesting doors. For instance: what sort of actions would constitute sins for this particular canvas? We know by the end of the story (sorry, no spoiler tags here, the book is over a century old) he has murdered and ruined the reputation of many people, gotten one friend hooked on drugs, drove another to suicide, and generally seems to be only interested in himself. Consequently the picture is nearly unrecognizable at the the end for all the depravity that has been poured into it.
But just what qualifies as depravity? While we can certainly agree on the whole murder=wrong thing, Gray's other sins a more vague. Probably some pre-marital sex, some homosexual relations, and plenty of substance abuse. But these strike me as somewhat subjective. In today's day in age I don't think any the three aforementioned activities are particularly problematic so long as they were all consensual. Obviously back then they were all terrible things that no proper, civilized Englishman would do and their contribution to the picture's decay speaks either to the prevailing morales of the time or a particular theological perspective. Would a modern Dorian Gray get dinged for those activities as well? Or is the picture merely a reflection of the transgressions against prevailing social mores? Is there some objective timeless code that Dorian is breaking or is it merely a silently agreed upon social one? We never do find out the answer to this because Wilde cares more about dinner parties than moral philosophy.
While we are led to believe these actions led to the picture's decay Wilde shows us very little of the picture itself. It makes few appearances after its secret is discovered by Gray so we do don't see its gradual corruption. I think it would have been a much more interesting story if Gray tracked and responded to the changes in the picture. If he used it as a moral compass and adjusted his life in such a way as to prevent the picture from decaying. In fact, he nearly does this:
The portrait that Basil Hallward had painted of him would be a guide to him through life, would be to him what holiness is to some, and conscience to others, and the fear of God to us all. There were opiates for remorse, drugs that could lull the moral sense to sleep. But here was a visible symbol of the degradation of sin. Here was an ever-present sign of the ruin men brought upon their souls.
But then he is all "LOL, no. I'll just corrupt my soul because it is super fun. Who cares about the afterlife anyway. Let the good times roll!"
the picture could have offered some interesting moral dimensions and questions to explore: what is the picture's moral parameters? From whence did this power come from? What is the extent of its power. Now granted Wilde wrote this before the speculative fiction genre was ever invented and he was more about social commentary then fantasy, but the brilliance of the concept just begged for a better treatment of the picture than was received in the book.
I also enjoyed Wilde's examination of what would today would call Lookism.
His great wealth was a certain element of security. Society, civilised society at least, is never very ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating.
Many people simply didn't believe Gray was morally corrupt because he remained young and beautiful. As if people truly did manifest their sins physically. Of course such a belief makes it easy to dehumanize others and wash our hands of responsibility towards them. Much easier to go strictly by appearance and leave it at that. And this isn't just a Victorian problem. As my link to Lookism shows the treatment of people based on physical appearance is still very much present in our society and can have significant impacts on such things has job hiring and jury verdicts. (For a fantastic exploration of this idea with a sci-fi flavor check out Ted Chiang's short story Liking What You See: A Documentary which can be found in Stories of Your Life and Others). Wilde merely took this human failing and pushed it to the extreme, showing how shallow and disastrously wrong such a perspective is.
But this book also had a ton of (at least to modern sensibilities and priorities) filler. One chapter about Gray reading a book, too much of Lord Henry's empty (not to mention sexist, classist, and self-absorbed) philosophy ("Besides, women were better suited to bear sorrow than men. They lived on their emotions. They only thought of their emotions. When they took lovers, it was merely to have someone with whom they could have scenes. Lord Henry had told him that, and Lord Henry knew what women were. Why should he trouble about Sibyl Vane? She was nothing to him now.") and lots of social commentary which I am sure was biting and insightful at the time but is just lost on a modern audience. There wasn't enough of the picture and too much Dorian Gray (and, paradoxically, not enough pre-corruption Dorian Gray to appreciate how much how corruption changed him).
Which isn't to say Wilde can't offer up some really great turns of phrase:
“You must certainly send it next year to the Grosvenor. The Academy is too large and too vulgar. Whenever I have gone there, there have been either so many people that I have not been able to see the pictures, which was dreadful, or so many pictures that I have not been able to see the people, which was worse. The Grosvenor is really the only place.”
With an evening coat and a white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stockbroker, can gain a reputation for being civilised.
“Poor Lady Brandon! You are hard on her, Harry!”
“My dear fellow, she tried to found a salon, and only succeeded in opening a restaurant. How could I admire her?"
“She behaves as if she was beautiful. Most American women do. It is the secret of their charm.”
But well crafted witticism will only get a book so far (plays, on the other hand, can stay afloat on nothing by witticisms and still be a damn good experience as Wilde's plays have demonstrated to me. Seriously, The Importance of Being Earnest is fantastic!). Overall I found this book poorly balanced and too concerned with period concerns at the expense of universal themes and plot. Not a bad experience, but frustrating with all the possibilities the story opened but never pursued....more
This is probably THE Classic Noir story. It has it all: femme fatales, mobsters, violence, hidden agendas, and a down on his luck gumshoe stuck in theThis is probably THE Classic Noir story. It has it all: femme fatales, mobsters, violence, hidden agendas, and a down on his luck gumshoe stuck in the middle. It really does capture most of the qualities we have come to associate with the genre and it is pretty slickly written too, with all the silly similes and turns of phrase you would expect from the genre:
The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings.
People who spend their money for second-hand sex jags are as nervous as dowagers who can't find the rest room.
"You're broke, eh?"
"I been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate."
The meat of the story was also pretty interesting and the path Chandler takes the reader down to get the conclusion was engaging, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. We get to see many aspects of LA's sordid underbelly with plenty of bullets flying about during its course. Standard noir stuff, but the details are what made it interesting, with an underground smut ring, a missing husband, and a scandal riddled wealthy family all thrown into the heady mix.
Of course it is also a product of its time. Most of the women are emotionally unstable and the level of gay bashing would very much not fly in this day in age (as well it shouldn't). While the former plays into the story, the latter is just unnecessary and really show the books age.
All in all an enjoyable read if only for its historical significance on the genre. The movie is also worth checking out if only for the glory that is Bacall and Bogart. the movie had a much more optimistic ending than the book (a bit of a betrayal of the spirit of the book in my opinion) but generally goes a good job adapting the material....more
So a confession first: I find Superman utterly boring as a character. He is absurdly powerful, is good to a fault (he is often described as a "big bluSo a confession first: I find Superman utterly boring as a character. He is absurdly powerful, is good to a fault (he is often described as a "big blue boy scout"), and generally hasn't done anything to ever capture my attention. As the author put it:
Superman is every handsome, athletic, trust-fund kid who roars his convertible into the high school parking lot as the sweater around his neck flutters in the breeze. Why has a schmuck like that endured for 75 years?"
But he is, indisputably, a part of the American fabric having been fighting for truth, justice, and the American way for 75 years. Even people who don't read comics know who Superman is, where he comes from, what his weaknesses are, and who his main squeeze is. He is, at the very least, a fascinating piece of American culture.
It is with this mindset that I delved into this comprehensive history of the character. The fact that it was written by Glen Weldon of NPR (who also wrote an excellent book about Batman called The Caped Crusade) just added to my anticipation.
So Superman. You know, this guy:
Or maybe this guy:
Perhaps this guy:
Or even this guy(s):
Yes, much like his fellow DC caped do-gooder Batman, Superman has been through A LOT of changes over his existence:
Yet the world around him was about to expand and enrich itself as an unprecedented pace. The Last Son of Krypton would suddenly find himself the harried patriarch of an extended, obstreperous family, all clad in tight long johns. New loves would entice him, new enemies would dedicate themselves to his utter destruction,.
And where once there were no monkeys, now there would be monkeys. In abundance.
Yes, you read that right, monkeys (pet sidekicks were a thing for a while in superhero comics. Weird, I know).
Much like Batman (who debuted a year after the first appearance of Superman), Superman was an amalgamation of different, existing characters in the comics (see also: under the sun, there is nothing new). He initially fought gangsters and swindlers and crooks for the sake of the little guy, the working man, the average Joe. He was very much a New Deal Democrat, pursuing social justice along with legal justice. But with the advent of the 50's and the strict comics code Superman changed, transforming into an Eisenhower Republican, an exemplar of stability, proper decorum, and due deference to authorities. Superman would go through many such changes over his existence (including ::shudder:: a mullet). It was quite fascinating to see how the prevailing culture would impact how writers and drawers portrayed and changed Superman and Weldon does an excellent job guiding the reader through the changes in time.
Another fascinating theme of Superman is just who is he. Is he Superman who assumes the role of Clark Kent as a disguise? Is he Clark Kent with Superman as an alter ego? Is he just Clark from Smallville who assumes both roles because that is what is needed to be a superman among mere men? The answer is...Yes. He has been all of those depending on the writer. I think it is interesting trying to come to grips with the fundamental question of identity of such a character and there are valid interpretations of all of the above. In addition to that there is a constant push and pull within Superman/Clark between his Kryptonian-ness and his Humanity. Much as immigrants to America struggle with how much of their old culture they will continue to identify with and much much will they assimilate. Superman is the ultimate immigrant and the struggle he faces has been faced by countless people across time.
But this book covered more than the comics, it also covered Superman's many other media manifestations. From radio, to theatre shorts, to full blown movies and TV shows Superman has been beamed into our head holes from multiple sources. And, like the comics, it isn't one cohesive character. Different writers and actors had their own take on the character, some of it from the comics some of it new that bled into the comic's continuity. Each just as much a legitimate Superman as the last, but each with its own take on the character as constrained by the medium he was being represented in (not shockingly 1950's special effects didn't do much to convincingly show a man flying).
This book also delved into comics culture. Specifically the development of the idea of continuity, the transition from the old guard of writers to a newer generation that grew up reading the character, and the growth (for better or for worse) of fanboy/girlism (fanpersonism?). It is quite interesting to see how the change in generations altered how readers viewed comics. Transitioning from something pre-teens would read for a dime and then throw away to adults who would have a conniption if there was some problem in the continuity (and then complain about it on the Internet) is quite stark. In light of these developments Weldon explains why DC made the decisions it did regarding the Superman character and his many comics (yes, there wasn't just one Superman comic, there were a bunch all running at the same time under different writers and artists).
This was a great book that even non-Superman fans (like myself) can enjoy.
But there were some shortcomings. The most glaring one (but not really Weldon's fault) was the lack of comic images. Yes, a history book about a comic character and not a picture to be found. This is, after all, the unauthorized biography of the character. Weldon does use some very descriptive prose to get his points across but man, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
The other major one (in my opinion) was he sometimes got bogged down in minutia. I don't think the book was necessarily enhanced by reviewing every major comic plot arc, especially by the end. I would have preferred Weldon to pontificate about the larger trends that Superman was exposed to instead of learning about some less than well received set of Superman stories.
But, in the grand scheme of things, this do not do much to reduce the quality of the book and the story Weldon is telling.
But that still leaves the question: why has a schmuck like Superman survived 75 years?
Throughout all his many, many, MANY transformations Superman has remained true to some basic, bedrock principles that define him much more than the cape, or the giant S, or the red underwear he wears outside of his pants: he puts the needs of others over those of himself and he never gives up.
This the reason he is the moral center of the DC universe. He is a moral rock of Gibraltar, the one constant in a turbulent and dangerous world. Through all his zany adventures and costume changes (thanks 1990's -_-) and deaths he always strives to fulfill these principles. As boring as he is, I think if we all strive to be more like Superman* the world would be a much better place. That is why he has persisted and become as American as apple pie. That is why now, more than ever, he is an ideal to strive for, a light to push back against the darkness we find in the world not by punching it, but by lending a helping to any who need it.
*This is in no way intended to condone jumping off high buildings with a towel for a cape. That is dangerous and it WILL kill/maim you....more
Very little is written about The First Indochina War, the post-WWII (1946-1954) conflict involving French and French allied forces against native commVery little is written about The First Indochina War, the post-WWII (1946-1954) conflict involving French and French allied forces against native communist insurgencies. It is often overshadowed by the American Vietnam War, the Korean War, and contemporaneous events in Europe. But make no mistake, it was a long, savage, and destructive conflict that foreshadowed much of the American Vietnam experience.
The Quiet American takes place during this often overlooked conflict and is told from the perspective of Thomas Fowler, a middle age English correspondent who has been in Vietnam for several years when the events of the book take place. It tells the story of his experience with a naive and eager American, Alden Pyle (the eponymous Quiet American).
The two could not me more dissimilar. Where Fowler is old and world weary Pyle is young and ambitious; where Fowler is jaded by what he has seen, Pyle is full of optimistic energy by what he has read in books; where Fowler sees how things are, Pyle sees how things could be; where Fowler is disillusioned with religion and -isms Pyle is pious and a True Believer in Democracy and Freedom. They see the same world but perceive it in radically different ways.
In some circumstances this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Heck, the TV show The Odd Couple was premised on this sort of mismatch. But this isn't 1970's New York, it is early 1950's Vietnam, and there's a worldwide crusade against communism to be fought. On top of that Pyle falls for Fowler's (much, much younger) Vietnamese girlfriend (his ever suffering wife lives in England) and vows, in an absurdly civil manner, to win her and take her for his wife.
Oh, and Pyle is totally an American intelligent Agent dispatched to persecute said anti-Communist crusade.
So while on the surface this is a story of two men and a woman in a nation at war, it serves as a much larger observation about the state of world affairs. Post-WWII was a time of change. Europe was on the decline, having exhausted itself with war and attempting to maintain crumbling colonial empires. America was on the rise, bolstered by an absurd optimism that their way was THE way forward for human progress and freedom. Fowler and Pyle represent these two powers.
Fowler, like Europe, has been in country much longer than Pyle. He understands how Vietnamese culture works, what drives them, and what they are struggling with. But he lacks the energy or motivation to really get involved in the conflict. He has a fondness for the people of Vietnam, but knows that their priorities and motivations are unique to themselves and not universalized. He has few future prospects and merely strives for comfort through his aging years.
Pyle, on the other hand, is young, full of energy and direction. However he is woefully misinformed about the country. What knowledge he does have comes from an academic writing about the country after spending a very short time there. His mind is full of high ideas of what the Vietnamese people need and how to achieve it. He doesn't bother to actually ask the people what they want, merely assuming it is the same thing that Americans want (freedom and liberty). Heck, he doesn't even speak the language of the people he is trying to save (and if that is emblematic of an intervening American, I don't know what is).
Between them is Phuong, Fowler's girlfriend. He is by no means in love with her (he even doubts if he can love again), but is both fond of her and fears growing old alone. He provides material comfort for her and she provides companionship for him. It may not be a storybook relationship, but it seems to work for them, for the time being.
Pyle, on the other hand, is instantly smitten with her and vows marry her (lack of a common language aside). He puts her on a pedestal and ignores her qualities that would detract form this ideal version of her he has (like that she once worked in a "Dancing Hall'). He expects her to emigrate to America with him, join the local women's clubs, and generally behave like an American wife. Fowler warns him that Phoung does not conceptualize marriage and love the same way he does, that she wants support and comfort and that Pyle is projecting his own American ideals onto her.
It is pretty messy all around and neither man seems to treat Phuong as the person she is. In fact, given the limited viewpoint of this story (Fowler's) we don't even get to see Phoung as a total person. We know she has a life away from both men, but Fowler seems only interested in how she can make him feel better and Pyle sees only an idealized Phoung that doesn't exist. Once again we can see parallels between European and American views of third world countries during this time period.
What is interesting, however, is that for all the potential conflict between Pyle and Fowler, they actually remain on good (or at least amicable) terms with each other. Pyle is too courteous to truly get angry at Fowler and Fowler is somehow enchanted by Pyle's extreme innocence and Fowler tries to protect it to the degree he can.
That was my first instinct - to protect him. It never occurred to me that there was greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection, when we would be much wiser to guard ourselves against it; innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.
Of course naiveté is no excuse for the Pyle's plans for Vietnam are ("I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.") and Fowler is finally forced from his aloofness to make a choice about what Pyle is doing. It is by no means an easy decision and the entire books sets up a very fascinating moral dilemma for Fowler.
I greatly enjoyed this read. It had challenging characters, prescient themes (this was published in 1955), and a very accessible writing style. It got a little slow in the middle but is a great, if quick, read about an often overlooked time and place. Even someone with no knowledge of Vietnam or international politics can still appreciate this story for its very human element.
(On a side note: This book was made into a movie twice. The first remake later in the 1950's completely altered the story, making Pyle out to be an innocent American caught in Fowler's evil machinations because he romanced Phoung (played by an Italian actress, because Hollywood). Sufficed to say, Greene was very unhappy with how his anti-war story was completely bastardized and turned into a "propaganda film for America")...more
Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out
Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.
Thus begins the fascinating story of Janie Crawford, an african-american woman in the late 19th/early 20th century Florida. It is an American classic and I can see why. Hurston does an exquisite job portraying the southern black culture Janie lives in. And Hurston should know, she grew up during the same time and in the same area as Janie.
This world, as I am sure you can imagine, isn't the best for black women. Even within the African-American community women were a second class citizens. Her grandmother, who raised her, feared for her security and right marries her off to a much older farmer when Janie was just 16. It was for the kindest of reasons but robs Janie of her autonomy. This will be a pretty persistent theme throughout the book: the lack of autonomy for Janie.
After an engaging discussion with my book club we determined she really only made two decisions in the book: once when she chooses to abandon her first husband and once when she chooses to pursue a relationship with Tea Cake after her second husband dies. Throughout the rest of the time she is under the thumb of her husbands or follows their leads. Her second husband is particularly controlling of what Janie does because he sees himself as a man of importance in the town:
"Why, Janie! You wouldn't be seen at uh draggin'-out, wouldja? Wid any and everybody in uh passle pushin' and shovin' wid they no-manners selves? Naw, naw!"
"You would be dere wid me, wouldn't yuh?"
"Dat's right, but Ah'm uh man even if Ah is de Mayor. But de mayor's wife is somethin' different again."
(And did I mention it is in Southern vernacular? Because it is)
She lived her life with Jody keeping her self in check to meet his expectations:
She found that she had a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about. Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never find them. Se was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them...But she mostly lived between her hat and her heels, with her emotional disturbances like shade patterns in the woods - come and gone with the sun.
I think what this story was about, at its core, was the place of an African-American women in the world. Keep in mind America was roughly 50 years removed from slavery. There were still folks who remembered when African-Americans were property and Jim Crow was still the law of the land. But there was also a growing black middle class and independent working class. The community was in flux and the rules of yesterday no longer seemed to apply, even if they cast a long shadow of the times.
"...Ah done lived Grandma's way, and Ah means tuh live mine"
"What do you means by dat, Janie?"
"She was borned in slavery times when folks, dat is black folks, didn't sit down anytime dey felt lak it. So sittin' on porches lak de white madam looked lak uh mighty fine thing tuh her. Dat's whut she wanted for me - don't keer whut it cost. Git up on uh high chain and sit dere. She didn't have time tuh think whut tuh do after you got up on de stool uh do nothin' De object was tuh git dere. So Ah got up on de high stool lak she told me, but Pheoby, Ah done nearly languished tuh death up dere. Ah felt like de world wuz cryin' extry and Ah ain't read de common news yet."
The story of Janie's life is the story of a woman trying to find a life worth living where she can be fulfilled and self actualized. It is a story rife with set backs and personal revelations and it is a story that I think is still relevant to this day.
Now, as you can see from some of the above quotes, Hurston was not hesitant about having the people of Florida speak like they actually do down there. I will admit it took me a while to actually get into the flow of the book and I think that inhibited my ability to fully appreciate the story. It was also an interesting contrast with the prose portions of the book which evoked some rather stirring imagery:
Janie dozed off to sleep but she woke up in time to see the sun sending up spies ahead of him to mark out the road through the dark. He peeped up over the door sill of the world and made a little foolishness with red. But pretty soon, he laid all that aside and went about his business dressed all in white."
All in all this was a gorgeous, well written story that has lots of nooks of crannies for inquisitive minds to explore and discuss....more
Ah, Jurassic Park, a keystone moment in movie history where dinosaurs were brought to the silver screen in such an indelible way. I don't think it wou
Ah, Jurassic Park, a keystone moment in movie history where dinosaurs were brought to the silver screen in such an indelible way. I don't think it would be inaccurate to say the movie franchise (especially with the most recent entry of Jurassic World) has significantly overshadowed the book. Heck, I only just got to reading it now, 23 years after the movie was released. Having recently seen the movie, I was struck by the differences between the novel and the movie. Some changes were welcomed, others lost some of the book's depth in the translation.
First off most of the characters are portrayed a bit differently in the movie from the book. In the book John Hammond is not the lovable grandfatherly figure Richard Attenborough portrayed in the movie. Book Hammond was rather narcissistic and self-absorbed. Where as the Movie Hammond experienced some humility by the end, it seemed like Book Hammond had a restraining order out against that emotion. Nothing could possibly go wrong with his brilliant idea, the government was an unnecessary impediment on human progress, and when things do go wrong they are the fault of his (highly trained specialist) underlings and their lack of vision. He is a nice enough man if you are agreeable with him, but if you cross him he will treat you rather poorly. All in all a less sympathetic (though a bit more believeable) of a character.
Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler are not romantically involved in the book and there is in fact a large age difference between them. This pleased me because it allowed the characters to shine without having to devote time to a romantic plot-line or undercurrent. They are both very capable and knowledgeable in the book and easy to root for. While separated for most of the book they are very calm and collected under pressure and maintain an effective mentor-student relationship. They were great in the movie, but I think I liked them more in the book.
Jeff Goldblum is Ian Malcolm, nuff said.
John Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson from the movie and Park Operator), Henry Wu (chief scientist), and Robert Muldoon (big game hunter and park warden) are explored in much more depth than in the movie and provide some fascinating insights into the events as they unfold.
Arnold comes from en engineering and theme park operations background. As such he views the park through his own experiences, knowing that things will go wrong and how to best deal with them. He isn't caught up in the grand vision of Hammond and treats the park problems as things that will occur as a matter of course and that can be fixed.
Wu, the brilliant scientist behind the miracle of resurrected dinosaurs, views things through a highly scientific lens. He is much more interested in the process and methodology that went into creating them than the end product. He isn't married to the notion of bring back dinos as they were, but instead pushes to explore how they could be using the techniques he has developed. He clashes with Hammond on this topic, wanting to expand science while Hammond is more than content with just cranking out existing dinos and not meddling with their appearance.
Muldoon is a former big game hunter turned conservationist. He has hunted plenty of dangerous game and has no rosy eyed vision on what dinos are: they are big, smart, dangerous creatures that should be treated with respect of rocket launchers, depending on what the situation calls for. He knows what needs to be done when things (inevitably) go wrong and provides a very pragmatic view of the park and its inhabitants.
All in all, the secondary characters provide a wide and nuanced view of the experiment Hammond is trying to pull off. This really gave the book a very nice bit of depth beyond "Amusement Park Tries to Kill its Guests." Where as the movie was very much about surviving dino related deaths, the book took time to explore different views on the park and serve as a cautionary tale about pushing the boundaries of science too quickly. Malcolm seems to be the avatar of this view, noting "Story of our species, everyone knows its coming, but not so soon."
Crichton also adds in some moments of levity so it isn't all scientific doom and gloom/raptor attacks:
"I don't see him [juvenile T-Rex] at the moment." "Maybe he's down hunting the apostasaurs." "He would if he could, believe me. Sometimes he stands by the lagoon and stares at the animals, and wiggles those little forearms in frustration."
But this was by no means a flawless book. I thought Crichton got a little too hung up on technical details and spelled some things out a but to specifically when a general comment would have sufficed. This was especially true as we are shown the computer interface that must be used to save the day at the end. Speaking of the end, I felt the book end was rather sloppy. Instead of ending like the movie with the survivors flying away, Crichton decided that Grant et. al. needed to do a a head count of all the raptors to insure that none escaped to the mainland. While possible important, it really threw the flow off of the narrative.
All in all, though, this book was quite riveting. Up until the end it had a great pace, fascinating characters, and a great plot. If you liked the movie, you'll love the book....more
Murder at the Vicarage, aka: Miss Marple: Origins, is the first Miss Marple mystery by the indomitable Agatha Christie. Interestingly enough, this wasMurder at the Vicarage, aka: Miss Marple: Origins, is the first Miss Marple mystery by the indomitable Agatha Christie. Interestingly enough, this was written from the point of view of the eponymous Vicar and Miss Marple herself appears in only a minority of the book. Like any Miss Marple murder, this takes place in a small English village with a seething under current of gossip, hidden affairs, love, hate, envy, classicism (so much classicism), and a police force who simply cannot solve the murder without the help of a gossip mongering old woman.
Miss Marple herself, while a very sharp mind, is little different from most of the old women in the village, always poking her nose into others affairs and gossiping with the best of them. Apart from the fact that she is often right and much more insightful about human nature, she really is the sort of person you would not want to live next to because not a single secret of yours would stay that way for long.
The mystery itself was quite fascinating. The victim was pretty much loathed by everyone in town so there was no shortage of suspects. Like a real town there were many of currents of human events already swirling around before the murder happened. What was connected with the murder and what was happenstance were tricky for our heros to sort out. In fact this book was just as much about the people of the town and their relationships as it was about the murder itself, as they were all so closely tied together.
Christie does an excellent job painting a picture of this town and the characters in it as well as them murder itself in both a very accessible, but very nuanced manner. It was easy to get sucked into the story and all its many twists and turns (of which there were many). My only real complaint about the book was the Vicar character. He was much too uptight for my liking and stole screen time from other, more interesting characters, especially Miss Marple.
Still, the story was very compelling and the details of the crime itself rather inventive. If you enjoy mysteries this is an absolute must read of the genre....more
I wouldn't be surprised if Lysistrata was the first sex comedy (that's a genre, right?). Sex (or lack there of ) drives the plot and innuendos abound:I wouldn't be surprised if Lysistrata was the first sex comedy (that's a genre, right?). Sex (or lack there of ) drives the plot and innuendos abound:
Lysistrata: But I tell you, here's a far more weighty object. Calonice: What is it all about, dear Lysistrata, that you've called the women hither in a troop? What kind of object is it? Lysistrata: A tremendous one! Calonice: And long? Lysistrata: Indeed, it may be very lengthy. Calonice: Then why aren't they here? Lysistrata: No Man's connected with it; if that was the case, they'd soon come fluttering along. No, no. It concerns an object I've felt over and turned this way and that for sleepless nights. Calonice: I must be fine to stand such long attention.
On its surface this play is about the women of Greece withholding sex from the men to force them to make peace during the destructive Peloponnesian War. In truth I am pretty sure Aristophanes just wanted an excuse to make as many sexual innuendos and gender stereotypes as possibly.
Lysistrata: We must refrain from every depth of love... Why do you turn your backs? Where are you going? Why do you bite your lips and shake your heads? Why are your faces blanched? Why do you weep? Will you or won't you [join me in the sex strike]... Myrrhine: No I won't. Let the war proceed.
Cinesias: Don't go, please don't go, Myrrhine [his wife and a sex striker]. At least hear our child... don't you feel pity for the child? He's not been fed or washed now for six days. Myrrhine: I certainly pity him with so heartless a father... ... Cinesias: You love me! Then dear girl, let me also love you. Myrrhine: You must be joking. The boy's looking on. Cinesias: Here, Manes, take the child home! ... There, he's gone. There's nothing in the way now.
The women fret about their homes going to ruin while they are away. One even tries to fake a pregnancy:
Lysistrata: What nonsense is this? Woman: I'll drop any minute Lysistrata: Yesterday you weren't with child. Woman: But I am today. O let me find a midwife Lysistrata. O Quickly! Lysistrata: Now what story is this you tell? What is this hard lump here? Woman: It's a male child. Lysistrata: By Aphrodite, it isn't. Your belly's hollow, and it has the feel of metal... Well, I soon can see. You hussy, it's Athene's scared helm, and you said you were with child.
Some, however, are pretty damn good at messing with the mind's of their men:
Myrrhine: But how can I break my oath? Cinesias: Leave that to me, I'll take all the risk Myrrhine: Well, I'll make you comfortable Cinesias: Don't worry. I'd as soon lie on the grass Myrrhine: No, by Apollo, in spite of all your faults I won't have you lying on the nasty earth... Rest here on the bench, while I arrange my clothes. O what a nuisance, I must find some cushions first. Cinesias: Why some cushions? Please don't get them! Myrrhine: What? Plain, hard wood? Never, by Artemis! That would be too vulgar Cinesias: Open your arms! Myrrhine:...Here the cushions are. Lie down while I - O dear! but what a shame, you need more pillows. Cinesias: I don't want them dear. Myrrhine: But I do... Why, you've no blanket. Cinesias: It's not the silly blanket's warmth but yours I want. Myrrhine: Never mind. You'll soon have both. I'll come right back... Would you like me to perfume you? Cinesias: By Apollo, no! Myrrhine: By Aphrodite, I'll do it anyway!
etc etc etc
(Sufficed to say, the oath was not broken, though I think the poor man's will was)
Aristophanes also takes plenty of opportunities to insert sexual innuendo because he can:
[after peace has been agreed upon] Athenians: I want to strip at once and plow my land. Spartans: And mine I want to fertilize at once.
Men's chorus: We must take a stand and keep to it, for if we yield the smallest bit to their importunity then nowhere from their inroads will be left to us immunity...And if they mount, the Knights they'll rob of a job, for everyone knows how talented they all are in the saddle, having long practiced how to straddle...
In spite of all the sex and joking, the play does have a few good messages:
Lysistrata: You [men] wrack hellenic cities, bloody Hellas with deaths of her own sons, while yonder clangs the gathering menace of barbarians.
Lysistrata: It should not prejudice my voice that I'm not born a man, if I say something advantageous to the present situation. For I'm taxed too, and as a toll provide men for the nation while, miserable greybeards... contribute nothing of any importance whatever to our needs.
But mostly this was a play about sex and sex jokes that were shockingly modern in their convention (might have just been the translation). This was a quick and enjoyable read, just remember this was meant to be a bit of an absurdist satire so don't take the actions and decisions of the characters very seriously. ...more
So this short little book is a collection of stories by Truman Capote, the flagship and most famous being Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Breakfast at Tiffany'So this short little book is a collection of stories by Truman Capote, the flagship and most famous being Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Breakfast at Tiffany's: I honestly had no idea what this was actually about. The extent of my exposure to this was the image of Audrey Hepburn:
And an incredible racist Asian caricature portrayed by Mickey Rooney:
Thankfully the book did not have a terribly racist caricature (which makes me wonder why the movie had one) and was in fact rather engaging. Told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, we get caught up in the whirlwind that is Holly Golightly. Characters are sharp, relationships feel, and the plot was surprisingly engaging. Certainly worth checking out, it is a short, quick read that I finished on a plane ride.
House of Flowers: A short little story about a Caribbean prostitute that finds what she thinks is true love with a mountain boy. Great prose but a rather meandering and uninteresting story.
A Diamond Guitar: A somewhat bittersweet take about friendship and betrayal in a southern work prison.
A Christmas Memory: Another bittersweet tale about the love between a young boy and his mental diminished much older aunt. They have a very touching and loving relationship and this story centers around a Christmas tradition of making fruitcakes.
All in all a mixed bag, I enjoyed Breakfast at Tiffany's a lot but felt the other stories just didn't resonate with me. Capote is clearly a very talented writer, just not my cup of tea. ...more
Texts from Jane Eyre takes a nice poke at some of literature's greatest characters and works, re-imagining them in a world with texting. Ortberg doesTexts from Jane Eyre takes a nice poke at some of literature's greatest characters and works, re-imagining them in a world with texting. Ortberg does a lovely and loving job magnifying the flaws of great literary characters through this medium. Here are some of my favorites:
Medea: anyhow so to SHOW YOU how soft my feelings are I got you guys a wedding present!!!... Glauce [Jason's new bride]: oh! you must mean the box that came on Thursday Medea: yessssss I TOTALLY MEAN THAT Glauce: it's a dress Medea: It's a wedding dress Glauce: thank you I mean, I already have a wedding dress picked out but this is very sweet Medea: do you know what you should do though you should put it on you should put it on your skin and wear it for just a minute (be sure to put it on your skin) :-):-):-)
Medea: I sent you guys something Glauce: I don't think we have anything Medea: look outside Glauce: it's another box Medea: THE BOX IS FROM ME (are you surprised) Glauce: a little bit how did you know where we live Medea: i mean how does anyone know anything right you should open the box right now Glauce: it's a cake Medea: for your wedding! so just go ahead and eat some right now to make sure that it's normal and good for the wedding and tell me if you like it!! Glauce: Medea Medea: are you eating it how does it taste Glauce: Medea I'm not eating this cake Medea: oh sorry can you not eat processed flour i should have asked do you have allergies Glauce: Medea I'm not going to try on the dress or eat this cake Medea: why not??? Glauce: you know why they're both full of poison Medea: whaaaat Glauce: the cake is black and the icing ate through the box Medea: how would poison even get in there Glauce: the dress caught on fire that's how much poison was on it Medea: well i'm going to i'm going to have a very stern talk with that seamstress ill get you another present to make up for it Glauce: please don't
Rudyard Kipling: I'm bored Let's shoot something Friend: okay What Rudyard Kipling: i don't care a tiger or a Boer Friend: what was that last one? Rudyard Kipling: I mean a bear Friend: oh OK Rudyard Kipling: haha must have been a weird typo it's illegal to hunt men but exhilarating Friend: what? Rudyard Kipling:I said it was illegal and also execrable execrable was the second word I said
Enjolras: where are you? Marius: I am so there this barricade is going to be an absolute HAPPENING you guys don't start without me I am on my way in like five minutes Enjolras: Marius I'm concerned that you don't really understand the reason for our movement MArius: oh my god what do you mean Enjolras: I sometimes question your commitment to the cause Marius: how could you possibly even question that Enjolras: I don't know Marius maybe it's because you have missed every one of our clashes with the police because you were still studying for the bar Marius: to bring down the system from within! Enjolras: Marius your father is a baron He's an actual baron Marius: well only a Napoleonic baron Enjolras: That's still a baron Marius: well when you say it like that
Jake: Brett Brett did you get that picture I sent you Brett: I did, yeah Jake: the picture of my penis I mean Brett: yes Jake: Brett guess how much of my penis I still have left you know after my accident after my penis accident Brett: I don't really want to play this game, Jake Jake: come on, guess Brett: I don't have unlimited texting these messages are kind of expensive for me Jake: I'll give you a hint it's definitely SOME
Holmes: this is quite a puzzle, Watson Watson: damned right, Holmes hell of a puzzle what I want to know is how did the vicar know the archbishop's Pekingese had developed an immunity to snake bites? Holmes: there's only one thing we're missing only one thing we need that will help us solve this case Watson: we need to question Lady Emily again Holmes: no, Watson Watson: oh it's not ... Holmes: COCAINE, WATSON Watson: ah Holmes: we're going to need loads of cocaine SCADS of it
As you can see no cow is sacred and there is more than a little truth in these portrayals (especially Marius, man do I loathe that guy).
I will say that, even though I am somewhat well read, there were many references that went right over my head. Overall though, this was a brisk and entertaining read. I would certainly checkout a sequel if one was written and if you are familiar with the classics you will also enjoy the heck out of this book....more
So I've had this book since forever. I remember really enjoying it as a child and it still holds its old charm for me as an adult.
For those not in theSo I've had this book since forever. I remember really enjoying it as a child and it still holds its old charm for me as an adult.
For those not in the know, this is a wump (or more specifically, several wumps):
They are likely the reason I find Capybaras awesome. For those ignorant of these fair beasts, here is a picture of one:
Here is a picture of a family of them:
And here is one with a caiman:
OK, maybe I am just using this review as an excuse to post Capybara pictures, but the resemblance is striking.
Anyway, since this site is called GoodReads and not GoodLargeRodents, suppose I should talk about the book.
It is a very straight forward environmental parable about the perils of resource exploitation and non-sustainable economic growth wrapped up in a Manichean conflict between nature and industry with our poor wumps stuck in between.
The villains of this morality play are the aptly named "Pollutians", refuges from a previous planet they spoiled. Having learned nothing from their previous lifestyle they continue their non-sustainable way of life, driving the poor wumps underground. The Pollutians use up the planet's resources, foul its environment, and generally make a mess of things. However, instead enacting policies and changes to their way of life, the Pollutians instead send out scouts to find a new planet. The Pollutians leave when they find such a planet, letting the wumps reclaim their broken planet. Since this is a children's book it naturally turns out alright as nature finds a way to overcome the Pollutians damage and the wumps return to their idyllic lifestyle.
On the surface this is a good lesson to teach children: respect the environment and don't pollute. I certainly would want these values instilled in the next generation. However, the wumps in this book are very passive. They cannot and do not resist the Pollutians, fleeing to underground caverns. If the Pollutians never left they would still be down there, living out their dark and meager existence. A better lesson for children is to be proactive in dealing with problems and not hide underground waiting for the solution to happen on its own.
Further, the ending also teaches a level of passivity. The Wump World is able to naturally repair the damage caused by the Pollutians. But this is not always the case in the real world. Environments have been permanently damaged by pollution and resource exploitation. Waiting around for nature to fix it or for the industries that damaged the environment to leave the planet are not reasonable responses to real world problems. Extractive industries won't pick up and leave the planet, they will pick up and move to a different part of the planet. Without environmental protections we could very well end up like the Pollutians of Wump World, but without the benefit of interstellar travel.
So by all means read this book to your children, but be sure to stress the importance of a being proactive in solving problems.
OK, that is kind of a bummer to end on. How about more Capybara pictures!!!!!
My parents got me this book as a birthday gift during the height of my fascination with WWII history (late middle school through high school). I had hMy parents got me this book as a birthday gift during the height of my fascination with WWII history (late middle school through high school). I had heard about references to this book and how it predicted a lot of the events that would transpire during the actual Pacific War between America and Japan. While I enjoyed reading this a lot, I think the author got just as much right (surprise attack on the US Fleet, kamikaze attacks, etc.) about the conflict as he got wrong such as:
-Aircraft carriers would only be useful for scouting purposes and not be a decisive instrument of war. -Japan would cripple the Panama canal to prevent the flow of material from the Atlantic to the Pacific. -Japan would launch the war in order to forestall domestic social unrest (namely communist influence among industrial workers). -Americans of Japanese ancestry would rise up in Hawaii to disrupt the American war effort. -Poisonous gas would be used in combat.
Of course I can't blame Bywater for being wrong, the man wasn't psychic.
He was very good writer who crafted a very believable conflict between the U.S. and Japan. He had a very good eye for technical details of military equipment as well as military strategy. The story primarily concerns itself with the disposition of military forces and material with little in terms of characters or character development. It isn't a book in a conventional manner, more like a series of newspaper dispatches from an omniscient reporter detailing the developments of the conflict (which makes sense since Bywater was a Naval correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph).
All in all I really enjoyed this bit of speculative military fiction and would recommend it for any WWII buff. It was different enough from the actual Pacific War that the developments and battles felt fresh. My only quibble was that (at least in my version) the beginning over every chapter had a quick synopsis of what would happen in that chapter. So much for literary tension!...more