**spoiler alert** Edward Bloom is dying and his son William would like a real moment with his dad before he dies. They weren’t particularly close grow**spoiler alert** Edward Bloom is dying and his son William would like a real moment with his dad before he dies. They weren’t particularly close growing up, although Edward did the usual dad activities with William and felt an obligation to teach his son values.
Like many sons, William doesn’t really know his father. He knows these tall tales and jokes. Williams wants a one moment with the real man versus the legend or myth. His dad is dying, so time is running out. William rehearses his final conversation with dad several times.
William narrates the book by recounting the tall tales that his father told him. Growing up Edward wants to be great, a big fish. These tall tales depict Edward as special, but they also illustrate the virtues that Edward wants to teach William: perseverance, ambition, personality, optimism, strength, intelligence, and imagination.
Edward was born under special circumstances. He tames a giant. She saves a woman from a snake. He goes swimming deep under the water with a catfish. He sees a magical girl in the river early on and again, when he is a sailor thrown from a ship, a girl underwater guides him to safety; it’s a mythic writing convention … a goddess watching over him.
And like Hercules, Edward has his Three Labors. He worked as a veterinarian’s assistant, as a sales clerk and once saved a little girl from a mean dog.
The book is whimsical, but it was a little sad too. For me, I saw a good man who had dreams and eventually became weary of the world when he stopped having his adventures and maybe started having regrets. Nostalgia for a time gone by, forgotten.
When he tried to leave his hometown of Ashland, he faced resistance. People try to talk him into staying, like others who had given up their dreams.
“You get used to it. That’s what this place is all about, Edward. Getting used to things.”
“It’s not what I want,” he said.
“That too,” he said. “You get used to that too.”
The book is funny too. When he sets out to see the world, he gets beat up bad. That wasn’t funny, but he ended up at a store, bloodied and battered. But before asking for help, he just starts cleaning up the place. The storeowners appreciate his hard work. He has worked himself to distraction, the people hold him as he is about to pass out, when Edward says, “Advertise.”
He invents the concept of buy-one-get-one and the store becomes successful.
Near the end of the book, Edward buys a town and visits regularly staying with a different resident. I didn't quite get this part, except that he was feeling nostalgic. But that's when he met and fell in love with Jenny Hill; she was his true love. He's older, she's younger and they love each other. He sees her when he can; he's a traveling salesman, but he eventually stops and the swamp swallows up her house.
Some of the reviews I read make it sounds like she was a girlfriend who he met, fell in love with, then left, when he met, fell in love with Miss Sandra Kay Templeton. But he met Sandy in college.
I guess I didn’t understand that part. Was Jenny his first love or his affair?
Dad never did stop telling jokes. He didn’t give William that moment of realness; maybe he felt that keeping William at an arm’s length would keep William from being disappointed with the real man versus the myth. How completely can we ever know someone?
The author said, “The story is less about the truth of what happened than how each of us understands what’s true, if anything is, and what’s important for us to believe.”
The book finishes with the son taking the dad to the river where he dies. Or swims away, depending on your point of view. ...more
I loved this book, its characters, locations, themes and humor.
“It opens like a movie; you can almost hear the swelling soundtrack, promising a goodI loved this book, its characters, locations, themes and humor.
“It opens like a movie; you can almost hear the swelling soundtrack, promising a good old-fashioned, escapist story, even as it is imbued with a knowing — and often hilarious — satirical edge.” – The New York Times
A lot of reviewers focus on the social satire of Hollywood, but I focus on Pasquale, a man who is trying to turn his seaside, nearly deserted, Italian village into a resort. He has dreams of building a tennis court into the cliffs above his place, Hotel Adequate View. One day a beautiful, young American actress arrives. She smiles at him and he falls in love, and “would remain in love for the rest of his life — not so much with the woman, whom he didn’t even know, but with the moment.”
The story unfolds with a load of interesting, funny, flawed characters. The actress is Dee Moray, who has left the set of Cleopatra. She’s sick and Pasquale takes care of her, shows her his village. The unfolding continues, zooming into modern Hollywood and a formerly successful, but now over-the-hill producer and his assistant and an aspiring screenwriter. Turns out that the over-the-hill producer was the publicist on Cleopatra and he sent Dee off the set to see a doctor.
I’m not going to sit here and rewrite the whole story, but just like Back to the Future Pasquale from 1962 shows up in modern times to find Michael Deane, the producer/publicist. I should say that Pasquale is 40 years older … there is no time traveling.
And Richard Burton makes a hilarious guest appearance. And not everything is as it appears.
The plot and story structure is very inventive.
The New York Times describes the author, Jess Walter, “a ridiculously talented writer” and NPR called the book, “a literary miracle” and Esquire named it “The Book of the Year.” Walter spent 15 years on the book. He was a journalist and did a lot of research on each section of the book that brought special, truthful details. He started with Italy and 1962 and learned that the notorious film, Cleopatra, ‘the most expensive film ever made,’ was shot, in part, in Rome.
The inventiveness, somewhat akin to Cloud Atlas, for me comes as the book shifts narrative tone and structure. You get a chapter from Michael Deane’s memoir, a screenwriter’s movie treatment “Eating Human Flesh,” the story of the Donner Party; song lyrics from Dee Moray’s son and more.
One guest of the hotel is a war veteran who visits every year to write his novel. Except once he finished the opening chapter, he never added anything. He never wrote more. He just drank and chased women. Chapter four of Beautiful Ruins is Alvis Bender’s unfinished novel.
The book is funny and touching; it’s about fate and dead-ends; being yourself and being let down and finding your way. I couldn’t wait to get back to it. I will be reading his other books.
“If writing has taught me anything, it’s taught me … everything,” said Walter. “It started out as the thing I wanted to do. It’s been the way I look at the world, the way I process grief, the way I celebrate, the way I marvel at beauty. I can’t think of a thing that I haven’t learned from writing.” ...more
Every day I get an email from a service called, “Bookbub,” which lists special deals on digital books. Early on I would find a really good book, evenEvery day I get an email from a service called, “Bookbub,” which lists special deals on digital books. Early on I would find a really good book, even books on my book wish list, so I bought a bunch. However, I’m a big supporter of actually books that I buy from independent booksellers and from the biannual book sales from the Pikes Peak Library District. So I made a rule that I’d only buy digital books at $1.99.
I found that Bookbub helped me stock up on non-fiction books on my list, like “Quiet,” “The Black Count,” “Wild,” Henrietta Lacks,” and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” … all great books, acclaimed and award-winning.
There are a lot of books, historically speaking. And only so many hours in a day, so I don’t want to read bad books. I do my research of must-read, best of lists, book reviews and so on. When I get to a bookstore or library sale, I can spot a great book from my wish list and research. But sometimes ‘great’ books aren’t great to me. All-time classics or modern classics can be award-winning, but over the years I’ve learned that the critics tend to honor books that ‘break the mold’ and discuss difficult subject matter. And sometime the acclaimed non-fiction books are written stiffly by super smart academics.
Bookbub has helped me to find new favorite books. Every once in a while a cover will catch my eye. Maybe it’s the title or the design or the tiny description, which might make me look deeper. And I’ll take a chance on a new title. Doesn’t happen often.
Last year a couple books became new favorites, “The Art Forger” and “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.” So when a new book hit my email and the description said, “If you liked Harold Fry, you’ll like this book.”
You don’t need to hit me over the head.
I liked Harold Fry and I did like “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin. Here’s how much … I read the first 200 pages on my iPad on a flight from Colorado Springs to Los Angeles, like a hot knife through butter. I liked the characters, the setting and the story. And I liked the writing. It was simply and clearly written. After suffering through two books that were not simply and clearly written, “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” was a breath of fresh air.
The story focuses on reading, writing, books and stories, and the world of storytelling, book selling and a memorable scene involving an author’s reading. Many, maybe all of the main characters, are initially unwanted or misunderstood, and through a series of unlikely events, the evolve and find their place in the world.
From the Washington Post: “Gabrielle Zevin has done something old-fashioned and fairly rare these days. She has written an entertaining novel, modest in its scope, engaging and funny without being cloying or sentimental. On top of that, it is marvelously optimistic about the future of books and bookstores and the people who love both.” ...more
Author Virginia Woolf grew up in a privileged literary family and status in society. That was cool until her parents died when she was young. Then thiAuthor Virginia Woolf grew up in a privileged literary family and status in society. That was cool until her parents died when she was young. Then things started to unravel. She had a nervous breakdown. She got married, but was actually a lesbian, so that wasn’t all that great for her. She was worried about another nervous breakdown or going insane, so she decided to be proactive. She filled her coat’s pockets with rocks and walked into a river and drowned herself in 1941.
She wrote To the Lighthouse in 1927. I read the book in 2016. Didn’t care for it. The editors at Spark Notes suggest that I found it difficult because I’m not “versed in the traditions of modernist fiction.”
I readily admit that I don’t catch most literary references or metaphors, if that’s what modernist fiction means. This novel was hailed for its experimental nature. Nothing happens. Everything is a stream-of-consciousness, jumping from character-to-character. No action, little dialogue. From what I understand, the artist in the book was based on the author herself.
I shouldn’t say nothing happens. In the first half of the book a family is vacationing at their summer home near a lighthouse. The book opens with a son asking if they can visit the lighthouse; Dad says no. That’s part one.
Part two is like one of those four-week semesters at a private liberal arts school, where rich kids go to Hawaii to “study” the history of surfing. The house is empty. Some characters died in a war or of natural causes.
In the third and final part, Dad takes a couple of his kids to the lighthouse.
People smarter than me say, “Woolf offers some of her most penetrating explorations of the workings of the human consciousness as it perceives and analyzes, feels and interacts.”
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked the top 100 books of the century and listed To the Lighthouse at 15. So while I didn’t enjoy it, you might. Supposed to be good. ...more
Considered the best spy novel of all-time, featuring Cold War espionage, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” shows what similarly amoral lengths bothConsidered the best spy novel of all-time, featuring Cold War espionage, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” shows what similarly amoral lengths both sides will go in the name of national security. Time magazine named the book in its top 100 novels list, saying it is “a sad, sympathetic portrait of a man who has lived by lies and subterfuge for so long, he’s forgotten how to tell the truth.”
I liked the economy of the writing. Classic. I felt pulled into an era of paranoia and hopelessness....more
One of the greatest stories of all-time, in my opinion, is the story of Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated crew of the Endurance. Shackleton was an eOne of the greatest stories of all-time, in my opinion, is the story of Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated crew of the Endurance. Shackleton was an early 20th Century polar explorer, but is probably better known today for his leadership abilities in unthinkable circumstances.
Multiple films, documentaries and books were produced at the 100th anniversary of the Endurance adventure.
The ship was crushed in the shifting ice pack in the Antarctic. The crew of 28 set up camp on the ice, and then they relocated via lifeboats to a desolate island of ice and snow, Elephant Island. Shackleton and a few men attempt to go for help by sailing to a whaling station on South Georgia Island 800 miles away. Despite sailing through ridiculous conditions of hurricane force winds, gigantic waves, minimal food and no navigation but the stars, they make it to the island. But shit, they’re on the wrong side of the island and they have to scale snow-capped mountains, which they do with no map in 36 hours. Shackleton then finds a ship that will assist in a rescue of his men stranded on ice island, but it takes four attempts due to the ice. But they finally get there and save everyone. The whole thing took about three years, 1914-1917.
Those years became known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
Shackleton was certainly a hero, but he was also unsuccessful in his major exploration attempts.
“The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen” by Stephen Bown tells the life story of a guy who got the job done ... Roald Amundsen, the greatest polar explorer of all-time ... first to the South Pole, first to the North Pole, who successfully navigated the Northwest and Northeast Passage.
Shackleton’s bad luck was epic and really incomparable, but bad luck was fairly routine in polar exploration. There was a good chance that you were going to suffer and suffer for a long time and suffer to the brink of death. But there were nations lining up to explore the globe and achieve great feats.
Roald was inspired as a young man to do big things. He saw how well received fellow countryman Fridtjof Nansen when Nansen returned to Norway after crossing Greenland. Roald thought, “That’s what I want to do.” He slept with his windows open in the winter. He got the training that he needed to work on a ship and later to captain a ship and an expedition. He was laser-focused and learned from those who went before him and put those lessons into practice.
He went on several expeditions to very cold places; most of them took years.
The most riveting section of The Last Viking centered on the race to the South Pole. I was aware of the basic details of the story from a leadership class I took. In the class, Amundsen is portrayed as the sensible strategist and the hands-on leader and was compared favorably to the British expedition in every way. So it appears that history may be coming around at long last for Amundsen.
In 2011, the world celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Amundsen’s feat. Everyone on the crew kept journals and everyone lived, so there are a lot of great details, but those journals were written in Norwegian and it wasn’t until the anniversary that this treasure trove was finally translated and made available in English. In Roald’s official books of his exploits, he downplayed the difficulties of the missions.
The author did a good job of researching the man and the times. Amundsen is a flawed man, but what he accomplished is indisputable. He had financial problems. He had public disputes with business partners. He had affairs with married women.
The British Royal Geographical Society held sway in much of the scientific community and when their boy ended up taking an eternal ice nap, for whatever reason, they discredited Amundsen. Not disputing the feat, but his motivations and tactics. They depicted him as being relentlessly ambitious, which I think is comical, and that he wasn’t motivated by pure scientific goals, which is also funny. That was a guise that these explorers used to get funding. The larger goal was to get to the Pole. Amundsen had the best plan and he executed.
America did not care about that scientific stuff. Amundsen toured the U.S. over and over, telling his stories over and over. The New York Times wrote over 400 stories on Amundsen.
But because of his often poor financials, later in life, he had to cede total control of his expeditions. The pilot of the airship, the Norge, that flew to the North Pole was Italian named Nobile. He was a military man and he was under orders from Mussolini to go get some glory for Italy. That story was unbelievable and almost funny too. Getting to the North Pole turned out to be the easy part, the exit flight over uncharted territory was fraught with dangers.
My grandfather was born in Trondheim, Norway. In 1906 at the age of 17, Andreas Haave boarded a ship for America, all alone, speaking no English. I was going to like Roald Amundsen and The Last Viking no matter what, but I like the book and it sparked a larger interest in me to learn more about my Norwegian roots and my new interest in the heroes of that age … the polar explorers, the aviators … that spirit.
One of my favorite parts about the book was Roald’s relationship with Nansen, his inspiration who became his mentor. In fact, Amundsen borrowed Nansen’s famous ship for the South Pole expedition. The ship was named Fram, which is Norwegian for ‘forward.’ I like that. I like that a lot.
Fram is on display in its own museum in Oslo. I’m going to have to visit. ...more