I found myself wondering, as I read the introduction to this modern retelling of Homer's "Iliad", if anything useful or worthy could be gleaned by rea...moreI found myself wondering, as I read the introduction to this modern retelling of Homer's "Iliad", if anything useful or worthy could be gleaned by reading this book. What on earth is the point of taking one of the world's greatest stories and retelling it in a different style than the one in which it was written? As it turns out, not much.
The attempt at making the "Iliad" more accessible to modern readers is a worthy one, but Baricco is unable to pull it off. He strips the story down, eliminates whole passages, deletes all appearances of the gods, and at times even adds his own words (in italics of course) to the narrative, leaving this book with none of the beauty or cadence and few of the insights and themes found in the original.
At times the writing made me cringe and more than once made me want to compare it to the original (translated) passage. Although I didn't refer to the original while reading, I will now to give an idea of how ridiculous this book really is.
Here's a scene from Book One - a quote from Achilles - as the original was translated by Alexander Pope:
"...when bleeding Greece again Shall call Achilles, she shall call in vain. When, flush'd with slaughter, Hector comes to spread The purpled shore with mountains of the dead, Then shall thou mourn the affront thy madness gave, Forced to deplore when impotent to save: Then rage in bitterness of soul to know This act has made the bravest Greek thy foe."
And here's how Baricco tells it:
"The day will come when the Achaeans, all of them, will long for me. When they are dropping under Hector's assaults they will long for me. And you will suffer for them, but will be able to do nothing. You will only remember the day that you insulted the best of the Achaeans and go mad with rage and remorse."
Now I'm certainly no scholar, but the first passage seems superior to me. If Pope's translation is believed to be a true one (and I have no idea if that's the case), one could argue that Baricco actually changes the meaning of Achilles' words in this passage!
Do yourself a favor and read a more traditional translation of this epic poem. I certainly want to after reading Baricco's version.
Everyman" is the second Philip Roth book I've read and, unfortunately, it confirmed my dislike of America's most decorated author. The first book of h...moreEveryman" is the second Philip Roth book I've read and, unfortunately, it confirmed my dislike of America's most decorated author. The first book of his that I read was 2004's "The Plot Against America," an alternate history of WWII-era America which features an anti-semitic Charles Lindbergh as president of the United States. With my interest in history, it was a book that I should have found interesting but didn't. So I when I saw the short "Everyman" at the library I decided to give Roth another try.
He swung and missed.
Perhaps it's the subject matter that led to my dislike of this book. After all, it's the story of an unnamed man in his 70's with medical problems. I'm half a century younger than the story's protagonist so why should this book be interesting to me? To be completely honest, there were a few bits which kept my attention but it wasn't because of the descriptions of his medical problems. It was the reminiscences of his life which, luckily, make up most of the book that kept me reading to the last page. Roth details a few key points in the character's life: his three marriages, his mistresses, the two sons who don't like him and the daughter who does, all of which were enough to keep my interest. And yes, I understand that "everyman" refers to all of us (as the 16th century play does) but it just wasn't enough for me to grasp onto and enjoy as much as I would have liked.
I read one other Kate Atkinson novel, One Good Turn, back in 2007 after it appeared on the New York Times' "100 Notable Books" list. I thought it was...moreI read one other Kate Atkinson novel, One Good Turn, back in 2007 after it appeared on the New York Times' "100 Notable Books" list. I thought it was a fantastic book and I have been meaning for years to read another by Atkinson. Case Histories actually precedes One Good Turn by a number of years and is the first of three books about the same private investigator, though it is not nearly as good.
Case Histories revolves around the disappearance or murder of three unrelated people over a span of 24 years. Each of the first three chapters tells the beginning of a case, but none of them are resolved for the reader until the closing pages of the book. In between, we find out about the effects of each case on those who were left behind: the families of the victims. Though I liked the way this novel is structured, the stories did not grab me as much as I had hoped. The characters felt superficial and I wasn't in any rush to complete the book to find out what happened to them or the victims. The way Atkinson tells the story is interesting but the story itself left much to be desired. In the end, this is a subpar mystery novel which fell far short of what I was expecting.(less)
Max Tivoli begins life as a young man in an old man's body and his confessions tell what it is like to grow younger as he grows older. In other words,...moreMax Tivoli begins life as a young man in an old man's body and his confessions tell what it is like to grow younger as he grows older. In other words, he gradually gets smaller, regressing from a man of 60-something to a young boy. It's an interesting way to frame a story, much less a love story, which is what this book is.
Max meets the love of his life, Alice, when he is about 16 but looks like an old man. This rather perverted situation ends with Alice and her mother moving away after Max declares his love. Later, he is lucky enough to find Alice again, and this time their ages are roughly the same. They get married but, despite the fact that he grows younger, she leaves him for another man, but not before getting pregnant with their child. Max then tries to reconnect with his family, finally catching up to them again when he is around 12 years old and that's the only bit of plot I will reveal here.
I will say however, that this story struck me as being the confessions of a selfish, pathetic man. Max is only ever concerned about himself and his great love of Alice. I found it sad that he caused so much pain to Alice and the others around him in the pursuit of his own personal happiness. (less)
"The Gift of Valor" tells the true story of US Marine Corporal Jason Dunham who was mortally wounded in Iraq after trying to muffle a grenade explosio...more"The Gift of Valor" tells the true story of US Marine Corporal Jason Dunham who was mortally wounded in Iraq after trying to muffle a grenade explosion with his helmet. Author Michael Phillips has chosen to focus almost exclusively on Jason himself. There are no political aspects to this story and Phillips never passes judgement on the validity of the war itself. It's simply a very straightforward retelling of what happened to Dunham.
The writing style is very much like a newspaper article because Phillips is a writer for the Wall Street Journal. In fact, the newspaper published a series of stories about Corporal Dunham that have basically been expanded to fill this book. That may sound like a criticism but I never felt at any point that Phillips was trying to fill space. In fact, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the ongoing war in Iraq. In my opinion, we here at home [knew] precious little about what actually [went] on over there on a daily basis. (less)
This is the first time I've read a detailed account of Grant's last days and it's only made me respect the guy even more. Perry writes simply but know...moreThis is the first time I've read a detailed account of Grant's last days and it's only made me respect the guy even more. Perry writes simply but knows how to tell the story without getting too academic.(less)
"Undaunted Courage", by Stephen Ambrose details the journey of Lewis and Clark across the American frontier. I read this book at the perfect time beca...more"Undaunted Courage", by Stephen Ambrose details the journey of Lewis and Clark across the American frontier. I read this book at the perfect time because the 200th anniversary is this year and I recently traveled across much of the same ground that Lewis and Clark did. Ambrose, if a bit un-academic at some points, is a fantastic writer and he relates the tale of the journey of the Corps of Discovery in riveting fashion. I never understood all the fuss about the anniversary of the expedition but Ambrose brings the topic alive. Someone really ought to make a feature film about this expedition and base it on this book (the Imax film "Great Journey West", highly recommended, is as close as you can get for now).
Drawing heavily on the journals of the expedition, Ambrose goes into fascinating detail about the character of Merriweather Lewis, picturing him as a highly motivated and skilled explorer, naturalist and ethnographer. I had virtually no knowledge of Lewis before I read this book but I now see him as one of the most fascinating characters of American history. He and the others set out into the unknown, documented almost everything they saw, and lived to tell about it. The expedition made huge leaps forward in science, relations with the natives and geography. It's not hard to see how Lewis and Clark's journey changed America forever by expanding her borders and making the unknown of the frontier accessible to settlers.
I have newfound respect for all the men, woman and baby who took part in the expedition. They were perhaps the last true explorers, at least until humans land on Mars. Thanks to Ambrose, I now understand why the 200th anniversary is such a big deal. Whether you're travelling over the same ground or not, this book is a fascinating story worth reading.(less)
Although I once worked with Jim, the ranger who wrote this book, his writing style is a bit too conversational for my tastes. It feels like every sent...moreAlthough I once worked with Jim, the ranger who wrote this book, his writing style is a bit too conversational for my tastes. It feels like every sentence is being delivered with a chuckle and it gets annoying after a while.(less)
Noted historian James McPherson's "For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War" is a fairly academic study of... why men fought in the civ...moreNoted historian James McPherson's "For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War" is a fairly academic study of... why men fought in the civil war, obviously. It reads a bit like a college thesis with the main points split up amongst the dozen chapters. This is not meant to be a criticism, however, because McPherson has certainly done his homework. He writes in the preface that he took a one year sabbatical from his teaching position at Princeton and read primary documents from over 1,000 soldiers. He also goes into great detail in the preface about why those documents are a fairly representative sample of the three million soldiers who fought in the war, making the book interesting from a historiographical standpoint as well.
Of course the meat of the book lies in the quotes from the soldiers themselves. McPherson uses them to explain the soldiers' motivation on three different levels: intial motivation (why they enlisted), sustaining motivation (why they stayed in the army) and combat motivation (what gave them courage under fire). He also at times makes appropriate use of scientific studies of soldiers which were done in later American wars to explain highs and lows in morale and courage under fire. Basically, this book is well worth reading for those who want a deeper look into the psyche of the typical Civil War soldier but don't mind that it can be a bit dry and academic at times.
As a sidenote, this book was published in 1997 and, in light of the current war against terror, I found one soldier's words (quoted on page 145) very interesting because of their similarity to President Bush's rhetoric after 9/11: "Every cursed mother's son of them that does not support the war by word and deed ought to be hung or sent to the south where they belong. There is no middle ground. Every man who is not for us is against us."(less)
This book was not very good. It was written by a park ranger who kills a rabbit within the boundary of a national park for no apparent reason. That wo...moreThis book was not very good. It was written by a park ranger who kills a rabbit within the boundary of a national park for no apparent reason. That would be a federal crime by the way. The incident basically confirmed my opinion of the author as a complete moron and total jerk.(less)