This book has been on my list to read for many years. I've read some Kipling before, here and there, and I've never been very impressed. I was hoping...more This book has been on my list to read for many years. I've read some Kipling before, here and there, and I've never been very impressed. I was hoping that this book would change my mind.
Kipling is a very overrated writer. In this book, a wealthy son is picked up by a Gloucester fishing boat and must fish cod for three months. This contact with reality cures the spoiled child and he goes on to become a captain of industry, like his millionaire father. I enjoy the idea of this book much better than its actuality. The book itself is full of racism of every kind--seems that Kipling brought to bear every racist idea and human generality to force in this short book. You can expect to find every sort of people stereotyped here with glee. What's more, the lessons learned by the hero is one in which capitalism is uncritically hailed as right-mindedness, even leading to a scene in which a son calls the money spent on his upbringing a poor investment. At its heart, there seems to be a lack of a heart in this novel.
As a prose writer, Kipling is good, his sentences rise and fall in neat modulation. His prose is musical, but their tune is very harsh and, at the end, shallow.(less)
Isaac Asimov may be one of science fiction's most over rated writers. And I say this as a fan, particularly of his robot stories. I have finally fough...more Isaac Asimov may be one of science fiction's most over rated writers. And I say this as a fan, particularly of his robot stories. I have finally fought my way through Foundation, and, undoubtedly, I will fight my way through several others as well. Is it a bad book? Yes. Is it a good book? Yes. Somehow Asimov has the ability to be both. As a writer of prose, he has no instinct, no flair, and hardly any unique quality to call his own. There are no passages in Asimov that I'm likely ever to single out for sheer prosaic brilliance, no sentences that I might underline and say, huh, I need to chew on that one. His characters too lack any kind of depth or reality. They are cardboard characters walking through cardboard prose.
The ideas behind the book are often interesting enough to push you through. Foundation hasn't aged too well, however. Based mainly on ideas of Empire founded by the late Victorian Gibbons, the book is obviously a palimpsest of Gibbons portrait of the Roman empire translated without much verve into science fiction. The same social theories. The same idea of social inertia, planned out to an absurd level, and given the name of psychohistory. As a pretext, it's an interesting idea that is more interesting than at other times in the book. The ideas sometimes do elevate the book and it becomes good, sometimes VERY good, but this is not often enough to make this a great book. It all feels too often like the same story, the same characters, just in different situations. That isn't writing. It's putting the same cardboard characters into a different diorama.
I know Asimov is a giant name in science fiction, but I have to say, if you're interested in social movements and historical development, you might want to pick up Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, just to see how far science fiction has come and how impressively it has matured.
A raucous trip into the cliches of the American West, the book is filled with equal amounts of humor and horror. Coover sets out to portray all of the...more A raucous trip into the cliches of the American West, the book is filled with equal amounts of humor and horror. Coover sets out to portray all of the archetypes of the American West: white horses, black horses, train robberies, hangings, the innocent schoolmarm, the whore with the heart of gold--all of which populate the dream-like pages of this book. the writing is particularly gorgeous, sometimes grotesque, but always stunning. It is a surreal trip through the American fantasy of the West. My only problem with a book like this is that the surreal is always a parody and shuns narrative. It's difficult to view a work like this as only making fun of the genre, or, at best, an homage to it. In so doing, it never really explores its territory or pushes it into new areas. It simply lives inside it, and, while the writing is fantastic, the book can't reach beyond that. It's a good book, no doubt, and a must-read if you're a fan of the Western. But in the end, you're left, like the kid in the book, staring up at a dark sky.(less)
Le Guin is a social visionary. Her work always questions our moral relationships to one another. Work like this has elevated an entire genre. Science...more Le Guin is a social visionary. Her work always questions our moral relationships to one another. Work like this has elevated an entire genre. Science fiction does not suffer as badly as other genres when it comes to reputation because of authors like Le Guin who has showed us how a book may comment and question our assumptions about our lives and how we live it. This book is a long meditation on perhaps one of the most central frictions of the human condition: the self and the society. What Le Guin creates is a dual world to mirror this condition: one in which the welfare of the whole is valued and one where it is the self that is important. This book could have been an easy communism versus capitalism book, and the Cold War does simmer under the surface of the novel, but Le Guin is too gifted for such lazy thinking. Both of her societies are imperfect, and there are no easy conclusions in this novel. It is what sets this book apart from ideologically bound dystopias, and it is what makes me believe this book will survive where others will be forgotten. Because as deeply as this book is a Cold War book, and it is that, it investigates the issues at stake so profoundly, it rises above its time and becomes something more. (less)
An instant classic of nonfiction, this book is simply a masterpiece. A book that shows us the earth we live on in fascinating detail and history. From...more An instant classic of nonfiction, this book is simply a masterpiece. A book that shows us the earth we live on in fascinating detail and history. From the Precambrian to the San Francisco earthquakes of the twentieth century, John McPhee illuminates the vast amount of history under out feet. If you've ever had an interest in rocks or continental history, or wanted to explore how mountains came to be, this is a book you must own. Not only does it explain some complicated theories of geology, McPhee does it with a prose so vibrant, fresh, and elastic, that it is always a joy to read. I thoroughly recommend this book to the curious-minded, or anyone who's ever looked at a mountain and said WOW. (less)
Tortilla Flat is a book about a gang of friends who do everything in their power not to work and get drunk as much as they can. Steinbeck draws parall...more Tortilla Flat is a book about a gang of friends who do everything in their power not to work and get drunk as much as they can. Steinbeck draws parallels between them and the Arthurian Round Table, subtly but distinctly. I'm not sure how successful this was, because, well, the only ideology that Danny and his friends have is drunkenness, and while this can be entertaining and humorous, it doesn't make these friends very likable. The most interesting part of the book, and what makes it a good book, is Steinbeck's wonderful way of portraying the characters when they convince themselves of their own righteousness. They are able to twist any immoral situation to a moral decision, and convince themselves they are always in the right, no matter what nefarious activities they are up to. Steinbeck was brilliant with this, and it makes all the characters more interesting--and the book too. If it weren't for these moral manipulations, Tortilla Flat would be a bit flat itself. As it is, this is a good book, and a quick, fun read. (less)
This is a good family saga from Oates. Living in Buffalo and having traveled around Western New York, the novel has added poignancy. The High Point Fa...more This is a good family saga from Oates. Living in Buffalo and having traveled around Western New York, the novel has added poignancy. The High Point Farm featured in the novel seems to fit the exact description of several farms in the area. Oates' characterization is brilliant, the movement, wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it. My only annoyance in the book was that Oates doesn't seem to deeply understand some of the issues she tries to portray. This was evident to me in the simplistic way she handled the Darwin Vs. Religion debate. She uses the character of Patrick, a young, scientifically minded man to argue evolution, but fails to understand her own subject. For example, Patrick, while studying science at Cornell, has certain questions which sound suspiciously like popular arguments for intelligent design. At one point, Patrick wonders about how the eye could have evolved, how a thing goes from unperceiving to perceiving, what seems to him an improbable leap. Darwin actually devotes a part of "Origin of Species" to this exact question and carefully and meticulously shows how evolution could have made a functioning eye in a way that surely would have allayed Patrick's doubt--it is truly an impressive part of the book and must have convinced many scientists of the probability of evolution. Patrick would certainly have known this crucial passage. Instead, it becomes a source of mild doubt for Patrick. And the overall portrayal of Patrick's viewpoint is one of arrogance and, even sometimes, cruelty. This is a minor thing, but very frustrating when the Darwin Vs. Religion debate is so alive in the United States--in part because intelligent authors like Oates don't seem to be up to the task of portraying it faithfully. Perhaps it's because she doesn't like to antagonize people, as she has said in an interview. But sometimes literature is very antagonistic. You don't solve problems by watering down the debate. You have to portray it faithfully. Sometimes Oates doesn't seem to me to have as much courage as she needs to be a phenomenal writer. She seems content on just being quite good. And that's what this book is, in the end. Quite good.
This is a good book that is ponderous under its own weight. Milan Kundera is a talented, brilliant writer, but he struggles in almost every paragraph...more This is a good book that is ponderous under its own weight. Milan Kundera is a talented, brilliant writer, but he struggles in almost every paragraph to say something profound. The book is full of general statements and general statements drawn from the logic of those statements. Because the book itself draws parallels with Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, I think it's fair to compare the two to explain what I mean. Tolstoy too was criticized for his general statements on the human condition. The first sentence of Anna Karenina is one of those statements, one of the most famous in all of literature. The difference between Tolstoy and Kundera is that after his general pronouncement, Tolstoy then sets out to demonstrate why he believes this sentence is true with eight hundred pages of honest and vivid representations of Russian society. Kundera, on the other hand, has such general statements on almost every page of this book. this is a shame considering how wonderful his descriptions of characters can be. It would be better if Kundera's reflections weren't on shaky grounds. He builds elaborate structures for his pronouncements based on pretty shallow understandings of popular philosophers like Descartes and Nietzsche. Sometimes his characters are contorted just to fit inside his ideas. But despite these weaknesses, which can make reading Kundera ponderous and annoying, his clarity of prose and observation make this a good book.(less)
I wanted to like this book for the artwork. The mice are portrayed in some strange land between cute and serious that is very enjoyable. Something abo...more I wanted to like this book for the artwork. The mice are portrayed in some strange land between cute and serious that is very enjoyable. Something about a mouse with a sword. It's nice. But unfortunately the writing is pretty bad. Several of the moments in the book that should have given the author an opportunity to explore, instead were highly derivative. When a mouse is caught inside a besieged town, the general proclaims that it is not them who is trapped inside with the enemy, it is the enemy who is trapped with them. A naked reference to Watchmen that borders on plagiarism. The book ends with the phrase "Winter is coming," swiped from the pages of George R.R. Martin. Now you might argue that these are references, but it's more than that. When you take a line for its dramatic strength, you steal that line. When you reference it to create something new, then you have used it appropriately. It was too difficult to get over the bad writing, which is unfortunate because the artwork and the characters were fun. (less)
Recently I had an appendectomy. Don't feel sorry for me. I actually have what I call hospital books. Since everyone ends up in the hospital at some po...more Recently I had an appendectomy. Don't feel sorry for me. I actually have what I call hospital books. Since everyone ends up in the hospital at some point in their life, I have a list of books that I will read when I'm laid up without anything else to do. In a way, hospitalization is a great way for me to catch up on some reading. Now I have to say that "Under the Dome" is not on my hospital list. "The Brothers Karamazov" is. But when I returned home from the hospital, I wasn't in the mood for Dostoevsky. I decided I wanted to read King. Now, I'm from Maine. Reading Stephen King is a little bit like going home for me. When I was in high school, I once skipped about two days of school so I could stay home and read "Misery," marveling at the nested story, and it's increasing typos, the little penciled in letters. I like Stephen King. No, he's not Dostoevsky, but the man knows one thing: he knows how humans act under stress. "Under the Dome," is a good novel. It moves at a seriously breakneck speed. It's viciously difficult to put down. In the first few pages, murder, mayhem, death. Pure King. Just wonderful! I know many people prefer "The Stand" to almost everything else the man has done, but I'm not one of those. While "The Stand" is great, I'm not a fan of the last half of that book. I loved the realism parts of "The Stand," the wondering what humans would actually do in that scenario. How would we survive? The face off against good and evil? I could do without that. "Under the Dome" is in some ways that novel. It's the story of a community shut off from the rest of the world by an impenetrable dome. Just a normal, small town with normal people in it. And of course all hell breaks loose. Because King knows that underneath normality seethes all the good and evil that humanity can muster. All you need to do is turn up the temperature a little bit and see what boils out. King knows, in the best of his writings, that humanity doesn't need the supernatural. Horror exists in our neighbors and in ourselves. Even if we no longer have an appendix.
This is another book that I've been thinking about reading for the past, oh, 10 years, I guess. Recently I decided to pick it up. I've always wanted t...more This is another book that I've been thinking about reading for the past, oh, 10 years, I guess. Recently I decided to pick it up. I've always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. It's one of those fantasies that I have that I know, and not too deep down either, that will never happen. I like to bird, I like to hike, I love the woods, but I can't see how I could ever find an entire summer to devote to the AT. So I was excited to pick up this book and read aobut the experience. My impression of the book was mixed. Bryson is a great writer, there's no doubt of that. He's masterful at weaving both a story and a history together in ways that are intriguing, frightening, and, sometimes, funny. I mean actually funny. I laughed out loud reading this, and that is rare for me. However, I have to say, Bryson has a cynicism and fatalism that I don't find interesting. While he treks the woods, he seems to delight in telling horror stories of the disappearance of natural places in the U.S, and paints an apocalyptic picture of the demise of great swathes of forest by acid rain. At one point, he journeys to a smoking ruin of a town, which rests on a coal fire that has been burning for years. Why this outing was important to the book, I'm not sure. He seems to want to paint a very depressing picture of the American wilderness. No doubt there's room for this type of criticism. Without it, real action can not take place. But I want beauty before ugliness. I want to understand the importance of nature before I read about its demise. I think it's instructive that Bryson devotes pages and pages of this book to the extinction of several species of birds, but, after weeks of hiking on the trail, he fails to describe one living bird. There's surprisingly very little woods in "A Walk in the Woods." And while I'm glad I read it, I still think the great AT book has yet to be written. (less)
I was very excited about Swamplandia! and ready to enjoy it, but as I read it, I had to begin to admit, sadly, that it had gone wrong. I think here is...moreI was very excited about Swamplandia! and ready to enjoy it, but as I read it, I had to begin to admit, sadly, that it had gone wrong. I think here is an example of a short story writer trying to venture into the novel and failing. The most engaging part of the story actually is a short story embedded into it. The rest of it seems like it was a struggle for Russell to expand her prose.
I think this is a problem with a lot of contemporary writers and the structure of the writing business. In order to get noticed now, a writer must write short fiction. They become very good at the form. Once they publish a collection of short stories, they are then free to write a novel. Some are very successful in this transition. Others are not.
A novel and a short story share almost nothing in common. A novelist needs to have a long vision, needs to carefully unwind a plot point over a hundred pages, needs to leave narrative threads dangling, enticing the reader into the fullness of the novel. Sometimes short story writers cannot make this transition. And I think this is one of those times.
Problems? Well, despite an engaging setting and some interesting characters, nothing feels genuine. Nothing feels explored. Everything seems planned out from the beginning and the story never deviates from that plan. Ava, the main character, is sometimes funny and interesting and naive, and then, inexplicably, Russell uses her to funnel all the research she did for the novel. I can see her thumbing through the pages of research, looking for the place to add it. But why does Ava, home schooled, alligator-wrestling Ava, how does pre pubescent Ava know so much about Florida history, the WPA in the Everglades, the dates, the details? Her voice is inauthentic, and becomes a vehicle for information, death to a character.
Swamplandia! is a formula book. It seems that Russell knew she had to have an interesting character (little girl alligator wrestler, check), interesting setting (swamp in Florida, check), lots of historical research (check), and an intriguing situation (mother dies, family struggles with loss, check). But with all these elements, Swamplandia! lacks heart. After a while, I found Ava's voice to be inauthentic at best. Why Russell decided to cut the narrative into two, one from Ava's point of view, to a third person limited point of view from her brother, is beyond me. The adventures of Kiwi are extremely dull. Russell's invention of a super theme park lacks believability and Kiwi's place in it lacks any kind of veracity. The only reason I can figure that the novel was split like this was simply that Russell didn't know how to draw out her short story into a novel. She simply added more stories. Kiwi's part is really extraordinary for its dullness, and lacks even the sometimes gorgeous language of Ava's part.
I would have to say that this book lacks experience. Russell simply doesn't know how to write a novel yet. Hopefully she will be able to grow and expand. Because at times the language is startling and inventive, and the characters come into focus. Unfortunately, she has extreme difficulty in letting these characters live for more than a few pages before she collapses under the pressure.
I've been looking forward to this book for a long time, probably longer than I'd like to admit. For some reason, and I'm not sure why, I decided to pi...more I've been looking forward to this book for a long time, probably longer than I'd like to admit. For some reason, and I'm not sure why, I decided to pick it up, and began reading it. The first half of the book is truly remarkable storytelling. It's the pace that is addictive. With short, snappy chapters, each one leaving you interested in the following one, you can see that Dumas was definitely one of the fore-runners of the modern, popular novel. He lacks the depth of Dickens or Hugo, and replaces it with speed. The narrative is continuously being thrust forward. For pacing, the novel is a work of genius. However, the lack of characterization begins to weigh the book down by the middle. Once the revenge plot begins, the novel begins to suffer. The Count is too much the hero, too perfect to be anything but cartoonish. He reminds me of early comic book heroes, before they became capable of failure. But even with these failings, the book never ceases to be good, just not-as-good as the earlier part. (less)