Um...you guys? Three stars? I feel really weird doing this. Three stars is "liked it." Yet, my years of Goodreadsing have made me think three-star boo...moreUm...you guys? Three stars? I feel really weird doing this. Three stars is "liked it." Yet, my years of Goodreadsing have made me think three-star books are "not that great." But that's not what it says, of course. It says "liked it." But I feel weird giving my boy William Styron "only" three stars. To be fair, I would say this is 3.4 to 3.6 stars, maybe. Am I just feeling pressure because I have loved Styron's writing SO VERY much previously? Does having seen the movie make a really big difference in how good one thinks this book is? I don't think it's these things. It got really rambly at points, and different from his Set This House on Fire rambling. This whole book is a really weird combination of the longing-to-be-voraciously-deflowered narrator's sexual fever dreams and the profound question of the Holocaust's revelation of total human evil and, as much as I appreciate my boy Styron, I'm not entirely sure that this audacity works. At all.
ADDENDUM: The previous paragraph was an immediately-upon-finishing it off-the-top-of-my-head quick one-paragraph review. My favorite thing to do after spilling a few thoughts of my own is go check out the five-star and one-star reviews here on Goodreads. This time around, I am immediately struck by how many reviewers describe this book as THREE storylines (Stingo, Nathan, and Sophie) as opposed to two (what I thought: young Stingo's New York sex/longing and Sophie's Holocaust past). Too weird. Nathan was so not a plot, in my mind, just a thread of madness that went along with both Stingo and Sophie. What this tells me is, well, what I already knew: I apparently didn't get the same things out of this book that others did. (less)
I mean, you know -- she's Holly Golightly. She's a bundle of fun, with the requisite mysterious/dark side to keep it all interesting. Bonus points to...moreI mean, you know -- she's Holly Golightly. She's a bundle of fun, with the requisite mysterious/dark side to keep it all interesting. Bonus points to Truman for all the whimsical bisexuality/drinking and MEGABONUS points for Holly liking cats and not wanting to keep things in cages. In fact, I could bump this up from three to four stars just for the awesome cat and the no-cages thing! It does merit the four, though, when you consider the poetic layers of symbolism, like cages < apartments with locked doors so you use the fire escape < running away from small towns to big cities < having to flee the country because of someone > in a cage. And stuff.
But. (You knew there was a but coming.) I appreciate word choice and sentence construction as much as the next reader-writer, but I don't find myself blown away by Tru's short stories like Norman Mailer and everyone apparently were. This book includes three stories in addition to Breakfast at Tiffany's. Well-crafted? Sure. Characterization efficiently accomplished and details nicely rendered? Check and check. But when you read A Christmas Memory after also having read Other Voices, Other Rooms, you can be forgiven for starting to think the ol' Capotester is just writing the same life story (his) again and again. Not that there aren't plenty of writers doing that! But I'm just saying that while In Cold Blood is a masterpiece, these stories are maybe less masterpiecey. But they're good!
So, we're all agreed that Salman Rushdie writes weird books, right? Why isn't the word about this more out there? You grow up (er, uh, I do anyway) kn...moreSo, we're all agreed that Salman Rushdie writes weird books, right? Why isn't the word about this more out there? You grow up (er, uh, I do anyway) knowing all about him and that some evil psycho 'leaders' wanted to officially kill him for "insulting" (perhaps) their religion/prophet/whatever but you have this image of him as just so literary, which, I mean, he is...I mean, really, the cultural allusions sneak by you in this book and I'm sure there are many I didn't catch, and that's not even to mention all the history woven throughout...but you just really hear a lot more about the fatwa than about the fact that his literary output is straight-up wacky.
Certainly, straight-up wacky is to be appreciated. But it's like, I think the cult of Salman Rushdie maybe needs a new marketing director. No?
This is the third Rushdie I've read (I know, apparently many people read this one first, not me) and after The Satanic Verses I don't know why I'm still surprised at the wacky, but there we are. This particular book I enjoyed overall. I'm in a place (literally and figuratively) right now where I'm contemplating India and when I'm going to spend time there and how much, so this was a good time to read Midnight's Children. I don't mind the tangents and digressions(they're downright David Foster Wallace-esque...again, are the literary equivalents of market researchers tapping into these crosscurrents?) What I minded was the last 100-ish pages when he's like, "Now I must tell you the last thing. Oh, but I just can't! OK, steel yourself. No, let's have another thought." I am not actually paraphrasing. Well, I mean, I'm paraphrasing, but I'm not giving my interpretation. This is actually said by the narrator -- that he wants to tell us the final event, that he's building to a climax, that he despairs of ever reaching it, and so on. It's all very ironic and self-aware and a bit Cloud Atlasy and it also went on about sixty pages more than I needed it to, personally. Enough with the pickles! On with it, boy!
This book's perspective is also really, really male. Just putting that out there. I mean, the narrator even tells us about how all the women in his life have conspired to ruin him, and despite the whole Jamila thing (ew!) he goes beyond Madonna/whore (what with the feisty bike-riding tomboy and the prime minister of India being included)but it's just sooo male. (This is a neutral statement, by the way, that something is male.)
As fun and fanciful, while simultaneously deep and ponderous, while also literary and historical, and yet funny and poignant, as this book manages to be, it just didn't MOVE me, really, as I think it seems to have moved others.
To sum up, then: Weird. Internationally aware. Wallace/Franzen fans might like it. Possibly dangerous since some of the "history" is later revealed to have been misreported...or was it, really? Mostly engaging. A few too many bodily fluids for me to even consider giving it five stars.
Interesting. Maybe 4.4 stars. I love me some E.M., that I do. He drops these incredibly crafted phrases and sentences into the middle of a page and bl...moreInteresting. Maybe 4.4 stars. I love me some E.M., that I do. He drops these incredibly crafted phrases and sentences into the middle of a page and blows your mind. This happens repeatedly throughout the book, of course. It was great to read an E.M. novel again; it's been six years (!) since I read A Passage to India. (That freaks me out...) I've heard of Howards End my whole life and really didn't ever quite know what it was about. It's much less about plot than about thought and relations and character and life. Also, totally not about a guy named Howard. (less)
Hmmm...sophomore slump? This book is nowhere near as good as Styron's stunning debut novel, Lie Down in Darkness*, but it was interesting in a few way...moreHmmm...sophomore slump? This book is nowhere near as good as Styron's stunning debut novel, Lie Down in Darkness*, but it was interesting in a few ways. First of all, it's about writers and drunkenness and being artistically blocked and expatriate escapism, and if one is into those sorts of things (ahem) then one may find oneself folding down multiple page corners, or, if one is forced to get the book via digital e-library because one is in China and can't find a hard copy, highlighting multiple passages in one's kindle-for-PC, not that one is proud of having had to do it this way. Also, the book is essentially a free Italian lesson, and some of us (ahem) are very into that kind of thing as well. I was even about to recommend the book solely on that basis as a way to learn a bit of Italian with zero language-class effort, but then I got to the in-defense-of-the-orgy scene and was suddenly unsure about recommending the book to anyone, for fear of what they might think I was preaching to them about.
Anyway, the book is full of paragraphs that are clearly Styron revealing his rants/deep dark secrets/recollections/theories, and while I am totally OK with that, I would think he could have made at least a little more effort to actually make said rants/deep dark secrets/recollections/theories function as a novel. As it is, it bears more similarity to, say, Daniel Quinn's Ishmael: it offers loads of great ideas to think about but you have to stop and remind yourself every so often that a man is talking to a gorilla. In the last half of Set This House on Fire, pages and pages and pages go by and you suddenly remember this is supposedly one guy talking to his friend about an experience they shared years earlier, but the other guy hasn't said anything for, like, an hour. I mean, I have really interesting friends, too, but still: a conversation does involve two people.
And yet I am in no way turned off and I know I will read more Styron, even though this was weird and some ways less of a novel and more of a manifesto.
*Lie Down in Darkness was my top pick in my original A-to-Z literary blog project: Styron, letter S, was my favorite out of the 26 new-to-me authors I read in that round, and along with 12 others he advanced to the next round, my A-to-Z top half authors, in which I read one more book from each of the 13 authors whose books I liked best the first time around. (less)
This book really didn't do it for me. Nor do I think it is really "a novel of obsession." It's more like a novel of jabber. The title "When Nietzsche...moreThis book really didn't do it for me. Nor do I think it is really "a novel of obsession." It's more like a novel of jabber. The title "When Nietzsche Wept" has appealed to me since I first heard it years ago, even before I knew much about Nietzsche. It just sounds like it would be an awesome book, no? No. Yalom's style is so pedantic - and I mean that in the unimaginative sense, despite what everyone things about the imagination that theoretically went into this novel about "What if Breuer and Nietzsche had met?" The dialogue was pretty terrible. And there were accidental/awkward point-of-view shifts within a page of each other that started to drive me crazy. Plus, this book is just weird. I would compare it to the film Across the Universe, especially the totally forced "Dear Prudence" part. However, I know there are some Beatles fans who liked that movie, and for all I know there are Nietzsche devotees who would love this book, but I think it would just be insulting to their intelligence. It moves quickly, though! Because it's not as deep and literary as I so thought it was going to be. (less)
Loved it. I absolutely love Salman Rushdie's brain. (I mean, I obviously already knew he's pretty cool for surviving a fatwa, but I REALLY like how he...moreLoved it. I absolutely love Salman Rushdie's brain. (I mean, I obviously already knew he's pretty cool for surviving a fatwa, but I REALLY like how he thinks, here.) I almost want this to be required reading for everyone in the post-9/11 world, but so many people just wouldn't get it. He really leaves no stone unturned in examining revenge and he makes Kashmir seem like the coolest place ever. And I *love* the ways he describes/pokes appreciative fun at L.A. This book is about pretty much the entire world and how it is full of fighters ready to keep on justifying their fighting and killing...and my god, the microcosms through which he examines these things...! (less)
Here's a quote from one of the many criticism excerpts printed in this edition: "It has no particular shape and no recognizable plot; themes are casua...moreHere's a quote from one of the many criticism excerpts printed in this edition: "It has no particular shape and no recognizable plot; themes are casually taken up, and then as casually dropped, and there seems no reason why they should have been taken up unless they were to be kept up. Everything that happens is an extraordinarily long time about it, and sometimes it takes a very long time for nothing at all to happen." The Manchester Guardian review goes on to say that these flaws don't in fact swamp the virtues of the book. But for me, they at least bog it down a bit.
I really haven't much to say beyond: 1. It's funny that D.H. himself said anyone can write one novel because it's just about the writer's self, but after several novels you're really a writer, when in fact this THIRD novel of his is his not-at-all-veiled memoir. 2. The characters, essentially, suck. Except for Annie, who's on, like, twenty pages. 3. Miriam should probably have punched Paul in the face instead of Dawes doing so. 4. HELL no, this is not ANYthing like War and Peace, but thank you for asking (and yes, some critic did suggest that. Oh god, no. Not in scope, or story, or depth, or anything!) 5. I liked Lady Chatterley's Lover better. (less)
I can't really think of another book like this and I'm not sure who else will want to read it, but RPW was an awesome poet/writer/thinker who saw how...moreI can't really think of another book like this and I'm not sure who else will want to read it, but RPW was an awesome poet/writer/thinker who saw how messed up politics/people are, despite holding out hope for humanity (like I fancy myself! ha!) This book proves all of that. His imaginings of what Thomas Jefferson would say (sounds like a $25,000 Pyramid category) plus what his kin, the murdered slave, and other surrounding characters would say, are interesting, but the most interesting bits are when a cut-to-the-bone line of poetry sums up humanity or evil or something else like that in a few brilliant words. Despite being a tale in verse, this reads pretty quickly, but don't go so fast that you miss the subtleties! (less)
Weird. But, in the end kind of cool in its philosophical and trippy way. I'm pretty sure that if I recommended this to many people I know they would a...moreWeird. But, in the end kind of cool in its philosophical and trippy way. I'm pretty sure that if I recommended this to many people I know they would a.)not finish it b.)roll their eyes at me. There are a few people out there for whom it is perfect, though! (less)
I'm surprised this book isn't more famous than it is. I suppose In Cold Blood's fame tends to eclipse that of all of his other works, and I also start...moreI'm surprised this book isn't more famous than it is. I suppose In Cold Blood's fame tends to eclipse that of all of his other works, and I also started reading Capote with ICB. But I am glad I read this next, and I plan to read more of his stuff. He was just such a good writer!!! The next time I insult Twilight (there will always be a next time) and someone starts defending "it's so addictive such a good story we don't all have the same taste just because Stephenie blah blah blah" I am going to throw this book at them and insist they reckon with what it means to actually be a good writer. A writerly writer. A compelling story that moves with ease, yet has some of the lushest descriptions of places and people and the thoughts and fears in all of our heads. This book makes you ache for its characters. It's haunting and wonderful. And I totally see where he and Harper Lee would have lots to talk about. (less)
Seriously, E.M.Forster is a genius. Every word he says is so well done. I am pleased to say that his non-fiction analysis of fiction is as pleasing to...moreSeriously, E.M.Forster is a genius. Every word he says is so well done. I am pleased to say that his non-fiction analysis of fiction is as pleasing to read as his fiction. He is a five-star man. (less)
Meh...this dragged for me a little bit in the middle to three-fourths-ish part, and occasionally at other parts. Then again, it was packed with lots o...moreMeh...this dragged for me a little bit in the middle to three-fourths-ish part, and occasionally at other parts. Then again, it was packed with lots of interesting observations about various Greeks, Persians, Indians, etc. from a few centuries B.C., so I wouldn't call it dull, it just could have used a more aggressive editor, at times. Said editor could have dealt with some of the awkward repetition. I was absolutely floored by Vidal's book Julian, but this one, though similar in its imagining of historical figures and its snark about empire/religion/modern conceptions of history, did not amaze me as much. Being in China, I was excited to get to the Cathay part and read the snark there. But overall, this story just did not ever really seem to get going; it seemed more like Vidal just weaving together everything he knew or wanted to say and stringing it together with Cyrus Spitama. (less)
Julian is stunning and awesome. Perhaps I am just being a snob when I am sometimes surprised that I have never even heard of a book and then it turns...moreJulian is stunning and awesome. Perhaps I am just being a snob when I am sometimes surprised that I have never even heard of a book and then it turns out to be amazing and I want everyone to read it. I shouldn't be, though, since often when the masses like something it is less than spectacular.
Not usually a fan of historical fiction, I was drawn to this because I had decided to finally read Gore Vidal and I liked the idea of the plot: a Roman emperor attempting to squelch the wacky upstart religion of Christianity before it thoroughly took hold. I now plan to read more Gore. He plunges you into this world much like Umberto Eco in The Name of the Rose, perhaps even better. Despite the fact that I and many others born in the 20th century are unfamiliar with much of Greek and Roman history, the book is not at all off-putting, and you learn all about the goings on in the politics of the empire without ever being confused or feeling like you are having to learn history in order to read your book. You also learn who's the crazy cult magician, who means well, and who is just the empire drunk. It's good stuff.
Stirring, funny, philosophical, and a compelling drama as well, this novel is not to be missed.
Maybe this will end up being a 3-star-er. Right now it's 2.5 and I'm rolling my eyes at Updike, especially when he gets going about trees and flowers...moreMaybe this will end up being a 3-star-er. Right now it's 2.5 and I'm rolling my eyes at Updike, especially when he gets going about trees and flowers and crescents of woods on the hillside with the maple rhododendron wafting through the green tinted summer air of leaves and blades at the edge of the pavement while the pale clouds hang in the sky above the bright treetops where expanses of honey soaked blossoms lilt through buzzing nature that takes the sweaty hand filling it with a coolness in bright flowers and trees of woods....GOD JUST STOP IT. (less)