Let me start with this - Matthew Pearl is flat out an amazing author. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of his work. I was hooked with "The Dante Club" anLet me start with this - Matthew Pearl is flat out an amazing author. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of his work. I was hooked with "The Dante Club" and have followed his career joyously over the years with "The Poe Shadow" and "The Last Dickens". So it was with great anticipation that I checked out his website recently to see what he was working on next - and to my delight, "The Technologists" is almost ready to be published. Woohoo! I pre-ordered it instantly.
More to my immediate delight, I discovered Pearl was not bringing his latest novel to market cold but rather had written several smaller companion pieces with which to whet our collective appetite for the book's arrival by introducing concepts, characters, settings and time period. What a treat! On his website, available for immediate download are a couple of PDF short stories and a link to the Kindle version of "The Professor's Assassin" a novella (or long short story.)
It's a downright clever strategy to be sure and I jumped in with energy and passion. I devoured the two short stories, "Close Ranks" and "Tech Forever" ravenously. Containing characters involved in prequel stories to "The Technologists", they each greatly stoked the fire for more! So I Kindled that fire with "The Professor's Assassin" as well. I was not to be disappointed.
"The Professor's Assassin" is a fictionalized (though not sensationalized) account of real events - which is somewhat a Pearl trademark. He is renowned for taking historic and literary characters and forging beautifully written tales of mystery around their lives. While not non-fiction, they have each been based so carefully on detailed research that a certain reality and gravity accompany every word! In this case, he fictionalizes a real-life murder of a professor at the University of Virginia.
In the course of Pearl's version of the tale, we are introduced to professor William Barton Rogers who will play a role in "The Technologists" as the founder of MIT. In "The Professor's Assassin", Rogers takes a lead role in the investigation of a colleague's assassination by a student radical. Like all of Matthew Pearl's work, "The Professor's Assassin" is a mesmerizing read. No one writing today - in this writer's opinion - writes with such an assured mastery of intellect, literary perspective and sheer creative plotting. The characterizations are rich and varied, the subplotting wise and studied, and the setting and time period imbued with such linguistic accuracy and nuance that we as faithful readers are rewarded upon every page. There is plenty of drama to hold us and the suspense chills us even as we discover along with Rogers the true nature of the crime.
That Pearl can create a universe that is uniquely his own from the shards of our own history is a treasure to behold. I am absolutely thrilled to read his every word and eagerly look forward to more of the same with "The Technologists."
Growing up, my great-grandmother Irene would regale us with stories of the history of our family. Among the historic treasures she told us - was thatGrowing up, my great-grandmother Irene would regale us with stories of the history of our family. Among the historic treasures she told us - was that genealogically speaking, we were related not only to several Revolutionary War heroes, but also to the guy who hid the charter in the Charter Oak. More exciting to us was a connection made to the illustrious Louisa May Alcott. As a youth, armed with that knowledge I forced myself to read the decidedly girly Little Women, which I thought was okay, but just so. I see why it deserves its place in literature, but it lacked a certain personal connection to me
Little Men, however, was much more in line with all my sentiments. Ostensibly it is the tale of Jo March now grown up and married with children. Based to a large degree on her own life, Little Men was a beautifully written - though episodic - look at life in Plumfield. Jo March and her husband taught a group of young boys - and a few girls - in her home where they boarded.
The beauty of the book is the obvious love that Jo had for her boys - all of them. And each brought a different - though not stereotypically so - dynamic to Plumfield. There was constantly someone with whom I as a young male reader could identify. The sensitive musician side of me reveled in Nat. The nature-lover was drawn to Dan. The mischievous side leaned ever so slightly to naughty Tommy.
The stories are bucolic but not Pollyanna-ish. There is a peace and calm and a constant reinforcement of academics and morality that is welcomed without being cloying. Although it is indeed a childrens book, it is written in a way that does not talk down. Alcott was unabashedly a rebel in her life and her writing has always reflected that intelligent and unique outlook.
It is perhaps too bad that Alcott got stuck with the stigma of being classified as a childrens author. In recent years some of her adult writing has come out - and it is quite beautifully rendered. Writing under the pseudonym AM Barnard, her writing in "A Modern Mephisopheles" demonstrates where her secret interest and passion would have gone.
In any event, Little Men is highly recommended. Clear the mind of expectations and just enjoy it for the lovely romp that it is. ...more
I picked up Amsterdam by Ian McEwan for a couple of reasons: one - I enjoyed the film version of Atonement, and two - I am currently writing a book thI picked up Amsterdam by Ian McEwan for a couple of reasons: one - I enjoyed the film version of Atonement, and two - I am currently writing a book that takes place in Amsterdam and wanted to read other literary offerings that used Amsterdam as a setting (I have also picked up Until I Find You by John Irving, The Fall by Albert Camus and Lust for Life by Irving Stone). As a source for my book, it fell a tad short - to say the least. Amsterdam, despite the title, didn't appear at all until the final pages of the book. In a way perhaps all that happened before was leading to Amsterdam, but it certainly didn't serve as a character or motivating factor in characterization to me.
What it was to me was a very good about four characters in transitional times in their lives. It begins at the funeral of Molly Lane and we follow the lives of four of the men in her lives as they deal with her death and their own mortality. The men - a composer on the verge of his greatest achievement, an editor trying to find a way to draw attention to his newspaper, a foreign minister with secrets to hide and Molly's husband - are all convincingly rendered and real. Their personalities were well defined and it is obvious that McEwan has a great knack for delineating character through his brief chapters and snippets of scenes.
It also is doggedly, unabashedly slow moving. Particularly at first. As a novel, it is far from a rip-roaring read, but it does occupy the mind adequately to draw us along to where we believe it is going.
Like much of modern literature - my own included - there are scant few positive characterizations throughout the book. We don't really like any of the four men all that much and therefore are not all that invested in their success or pained at their failures.
Where McEwan shines is in the nuance of social interaction. When the hypocrisy of the editor publishing scandalous photos is noted, it shines a harsh light of realization upon us all. We who claim to be tolerant of others and their life-choices and then recoil when - for bald political reasons - we turn against those who exemplify what we purportedly espouse. How many times have we heard someone decry the substance abuse of a young George Bush while rationalizing that of Bill Clinton, or the other way around? Brilliantly done in Amsterdam.
The other area where Amsterdam shines for me is in the revelation of the creative process. As Clive, the composer works on his masterpiece, we are allowed a glimpse inside the creative mind of genius. In an elegant passage, McEwan shares that process with a steady nuanced hand. Perhaps, Amsterdam is not his masterpiece of genius, but it is obvious that he can see it from there.
The ending of Amsterdam picks up speed and weaves a wondrously surreal beautfiully, hallucinating look at the end moments for a couple of characters. That it is rendered with such grace is a revelation of its own. Those two scenes - some reviewers have called them a twist or shocking - show such a mastery of form that they are worth every bit of what we have seen before.
This is not a great book. But it is a darned good one. It hints at what the author is capable of and fulfills it just enough to make me want to read more. And that is just enough.
There are times in this waking life where you encounter for the first time a voice that is so unique, so beyond the norm that it shakes you to the verThere are times in this waking life where you encounter for the first time a voice that is so unique, so beyond the norm that it shakes you to the very core of your existence. In "The Cushion Effect", author Sam Kirshaw unveils just such a voice. With a subtly incremental, strangely ingratiating tour de force of sheer literary brilliance, ,Kirshaw has published a debut novel that is the literary equivalent of Orson Welles' directorial debut with "Citizen Kane". That is brazen talk to be sure. But talk worthy of the work at hand.
Unwilling to talk down even momentarily to her readers, Kirshaw instead pulls her audience up to her rarified air. With a breathtaking multicultural vocabulary and an insistence on a measured, deliberate pacing, the narrative at first moves slowly and with a preponderance of detail and description. It is to Kirshaw's credit that she does not relent from this sometimes challenging path. In less skilled hands, the sheer density of the prose would be oppressive; in "The Cushion Effect" however the details become electrifying, enervating, and ultimately strangely moving. The steady muscular descriptive prowess of Kirshaw draws us in. Line by glorious line she demonstrates an artisan's ear for a clever turn of phrase that rivals Noel Coward's for pure wit and lyricism. The plot is crisp. The theme assured. The characters well-defined. But it is the prosaic literary style that sets Kirshaw's apart from her contemporaries.
Ostensibly the story of three women and their relationships, "The Cushion Effect" brilliantly uses the intersecting and intertwining stories of three marriages in turmoil to tell a tale that truly has little to do with marriages in turmoil. It is so much more about the women themselves and their relationships with each other that truly matters. Catherine is marginalized, Leanne is indecisive while Naomi quite literally takes life by the cojones.
The tale of the three women's love and support for each other will undoubtedly be classified by some as 'chick lit', but that does this unique work of art a harsh injustice. It is so much more than any narrow-limiting category. It is a transcendent work writ with a steady, assured hand. "The Cushion Effect"is a stunning introduction to a breathtaking new writer whose work we will no doubt marvel at for decades to come. We are witnessing the future of literature already walking among us. And we are all the better for it.
I can not recommend this book too highly. It is sheer brilliance. ...more
Thornton Burgess books are guilty pleasures to be sure. I was a somewhat sickly child growing up - missing over a third of my first grade year due toThornton Burgess books are guilty pleasures to be sure. I was a somewhat sickly child growing up - missing over a third of my first grade year due to bad ear infections. Like so many bedridden kids before me, I learned a love for reading and writing during those convalescent days. And much of my appreciation therein can be attributed directly to the works of Thornton Burgess. I remember with great fondness my father bringing me an armful of Burgess books from the corner library. They might have been ones I read before - but I didn't care a whit - they were great friends to me.
I know that Rose Kennedy was famously dismissive of future President John Kennedy's love for the Burgess books as a child and referred to them in the most condescending of terms. These are not works of great erudition to be sure. But neither do they aspire to be. They are simple homespun tales showing the anthropomorphosed interactions of the natural world. Old Man Coyote does indeed try to eat Peter Rabbit, Sammy Jay does indeed squawk and steal glittery objects. But yes, they do wear clothes and speak. It is perhaps inevitable that we try to put the animal world in a human context - why even the beloved Jane Goodall does that with her studies of the Chimpanzee in Gombe, Tanzania. Harrison Cady's drawings in the original reinforcing this humanizing by placing the animals in country-style overalls that give the characters a sort of folksy-ness that Burgess aspired to.
"The Adventures of Jimmy Skunk" is one of my most favorite of the Green Forest series of books by Burgess. Ostensibly it is two simple stories tied together in one fast paced book. The first story concerns the misfortunes of Reddy Fox who is blamed for waking a blissfully sleeping Jimmy Skunk (though Peter Rabbit is responsible) and the second concern Unc' Billy Possum and Jimmy trying to get an easy meal of eggs in Farmer Brown's henhouse.
Like many of the series, "The Adventures of Jimmy Skunk" is a cautionary tale. The morality of the stories is reinforced through the consequences of actions and some not so subtle, though quaintly apropos epigraphs:
"Tis little things that often seem Scarce woth a passing thought. Which in the end may prove that they With big results are fraught."
But it is the fun of the language that made me return to the stories again and again. Even now I get giddy at the prospect of new releases from Dover Thrift Editions to complete my collection. For one thing - how many kids books use the word 'fraught'? How lovely! Just great simple storylines written with an elegance and flow that draws one in effectively. Beautiful, beautiful books. ...more
Admittedly I find reading material in odd places. I always kind of knew about T.S. Eliot from peripheral reading. But never really got into him untilAdmittedly I find reading material in odd places. I always kind of knew about T.S. Eliot from peripheral reading. But never really got into him until I was reading The Groucho Letters by Groucho Marx. One of the letter sequences was from and to Eliot. When Grouchos insisted on calling the poet Tom, my aversion to my assumed stuffiness of Eliot's work simply withered away. Not with a whimper either.
When Andrew Lloyd Webber later turned some of Eliot's poetry into Cats, I almost went the other way, but restrained myself.
Somewhere in between I picked up The Waste Land. Although it is a little dense for my poetry taste - I nonetheless devoured it. Like many works of poesy, it is better read aloud. Even unto oneself. Set aside in the five sections, I loved the voicing that Eliot wove throughout the text. It felt not so much as poetry, as almost a jazz rendering - which would play into my love of Ginsberg and the Beats.
Some of the phrasing within is richly elegant. With nods to German, French and even Sanskrit in the text it is a mad concoction of sounds flowing at once. It feels to me oddly Shakespearean - almost like an opening monologue of one of the Bard's tragedies - and perhaps that is on purpose. Supposedly an early version was written in iambic pentameter. And of course, Eliot himself makes reference with O O O O that Shakespearean Rag!
Even at this late date and with all the Monarch Notes and Cliff Notes I can handle - I'm still not quite sure I have a real good handle on what the heck this thing means - something to do with the Fisher King and the Grail and life and death and all that, I suppose. But that does not detract from what it is! And that is darned powerful.
I guess it goes to show that you don't have to be a great academic literista to have a gut appreciation for a work of art. Just ears with which to hear.
Everything I know about about literary criticism was learned in an amazing class on American Lit I took at the University of Colorado back in the 80s.Everything I know about about literary criticism was learned in an amazing class on American Lit I took at the University of Colorado back in the 80s. The class itself was not so stunning. The teacher - if you can call him that - was an unenthusiastic resident assistant, and most of my classmates were bored beyond belief. They gorged themselves on Cliff Notes and Monarch Notes and tried to find the sycophantic path that the teacher was seeking from his bleary-eyed sheep.
The subject matter was standard American Lit stuff... and a large portion of it was Hawthorne. I had never really encountered his writing before, but I instantly loved it. What I loved more were the discussions lead by a rebellious class mate of mine named Amy Redford - daughter of Robert and now a brilliant filmmaker herself (The Guitar) - who passionately dissected the themes, and styles, and sheer technical writing with the most incredible display of literary acumen I have ever witnessed.
With my input from one side of the room and Amy's even more insightful commentary on the other - we unleashed a cataclysm of insight upon the great American authors - particularly Hawthorne. The teacher and our classmates knew not what hit them. For all of our deconstruction/reconstruction of the texts, the great Hawthorne's work not only survived but thrived within our oh-so-opinionated young minds.
Story by story we constantly uplifted the brilliance of the writer - and absolutely devoured his work: May Pole, Goodman Brown, the Minister's Black Veil - and particularly Rappaccini's Daughter among others. These discussions enabled the works to come alive to me and continue to do so to this day.
Regardless of our jaded contemporary ear for language, Hawthorne remains absolutely relevant and this is one of his greatest collections. For anyone who enjoys a good story - for any one who enjoys thrilling writing - this is a MUST READ. Hemingway, Twain, Steinbeck, Faulkner - sure - great American authors - but HAWTHORNE! Something a cut above.
And I have Amy Redford to thank for opening my eyes to that. ...more
My grandfather had a beautifully bound copy of this work on his little bookshelf behind glass. When I was young he suggested I might not be 'ready' foMy grandfather had a beautifully bound copy of this work on his little bookshelf behind glass. When I was young he suggested I might not be 'ready' for it. Because of that, it took on a sort of forbidden air for me. When at last I mustered courage to take it from its hallowed ground and read it.
He was right. But not as I had imagined. There was nothing remotely adult about it, or controversial in this day and age, nor conspiracy laden... it was at its core - a simple philosophical cum biological work of sheer genius.
Essentially "Life of a Bee" is a study of the social aspects of the hive. Borrowing liberally from other sources Maeterlinck weaves a masterful narrative around the cycles of life that exist in the natural world. Like most of his work, there is an underlying deep feeling of philosophical symbolism and harmony.
For me, however, it was not the biology or the philosophy that moved me - it was the lyricism of the writing. It felt like a certain type of poetry that resonated within my soul. Something in the pacing and phrasing that was amazingly moving. That it was a translation always clouded my perception as to whether the genius was truly Maeterlinck or Alfred Sutro. Perhaps it does not matter. In any case, the resultant work is one of the most exceptional books I have yet encountered. If my own writing in "The Missionary and the Brute" attains even a hint of that elegantly mystical lyricism, I will be exceedingly satisfied.
Of all the thousands of books I have read in my life, this is surely in the top five of all. It's simply that good! ...more