This was an odd book. I got the overall intent of it: a middle-aged man heads to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to make one last business deal that will...moreThis was an odd book. I got the overall intent of it: a middle-aged man heads to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to make one last business deal that will redeem his personal worth and restore his faith in his value to his family and his self. And while I like Eggers' writing style, a lot, this story meanders all over the place. He does a nice job evoking the deserts of the Middle East, and detailing the disconnect between the Kingdom and Westerners, but the main character's relationships with women are icy and ultimately frustrating. And the book's ending is so abrupt and unexpected it gives off the distinct impression that the author threw his hands up and admitted defeat, saying: "That's it! I can't do anything more with this story." That said, I like Eggers' style enough to want to read more of his stuff. Overall disappointing.(less)
A gorgeous, beautifully written book. Restores the lost art of deep storytelling. The book weaves a rich tapestry of characters and a story line that...moreA gorgeous, beautifully written book. Restores the lost art of deep storytelling. The book weaves a rich tapestry of characters and a story line that borders on the implausible. It covers art, divorce, class, teenage angst, drug use, gambling, and the cities of New York, Vegas and Amsterdam. Not bad, eh? My only criticism, and it is a *minor* one, is the book is too long and parts of it lacked an editor's touch. I imagine Tartt's editors tried, but her writing is so close to perfection, that cutting it down probably felt like making incisions in their own skin. I am very excited to read more of her work. Highly recommend.(less)
I've been on a Gaiman splurge lately. I've (admittedly) been pulled into his recent and rapidly-expanding orbit of celebrity, due to his unusual partn...moreI've been on a Gaiman splurge lately. I've (admittedly) been pulled into his recent and rapidly-expanding orbit of celebrity, due to his unusual partnership with singer/performance artist Amanda Palmer, and his excellent and inspiring college commencement speech.
I love Gaiman's rich imagination and visualization of other worlds, but having read two consecutive books of his now (previously the Graveyard Book), I'm finding he leaves me a bit cold. There's something missing from his writing. A fundamental lack of empathy that's slightly unsettling. I can't put my finger on it, but it's a nagging sense of cold sterility. His characters, particularly children, lack warmth and connectedness to others.
It could also be that this book, which was initially intended as a short story, lost something in his attempt to stretch it out to novel-length (capitalizing on said celebrity?). Looking back, Gaiman's American Gods and Neverwhere, two books I very much enjoyed, had this characteristic as well. But they were such fabulously spun stories it was easy to overlook. Those books also primarily had adult characters. Ocean, as well as the Graveyard Book, feature children in the main. Ultimately, it's Gaiman's lack of warmth and humanity with young characters that made this book both uncomfortable and frustrating.(less)
Exposes the dark underbelly of rural Ohio and West Virginia, and the consequences and evil spawned by generational dysfunction and abuse. A powerful s...moreExposes the dark underbelly of rural Ohio and West Virginia, and the consequences and evil spawned by generational dysfunction and abuse. A powerful story and impossible to put down. I'm a huge fan of this writer and glad I stumbled upon him and his gothic vision. I will be devouring anything I can find by him. (less)
A somewhat interesting first-hand report by a Navy SEAL who participated in the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. Unfortunately the book is marred by t...moreA somewhat interesting first-hand report by a Navy SEAL who participated in the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. Unfortunately the book is marred by the author's irrelevant political comments. Owen clearly goes out of his way to drop criticisms of President Obama, who he claims took full credit for the raid, which is complete nonsense. He says *nothing* about the previous President who sent military members, including the SEALS, into combat to needlessly die in Iraq, nor does he decry that President's personal claim of "mission accomplished" when the war was only just beginning.
Owen decries politics himself but uses the book to criticize a President who, despite deep reluctance from his own staff and military advisers to risk a challenging mission on sovereign soil, had the guts to order the attack. Owen ridiculously claims their success got Obama re-elected, without pausing to consider what would have happened if the mission had failed. Had Owen left his personal political leanings out of the book, it would have been far more enjoyable. And certainly less annoying.
Finally, as the author himself admits, for intelligence reasons, in addition to the SEALS on personal code of honor regarding mission silence, the book is based on information already previously reported, so the book itself offers nothing new in way of understanding of the raid.(less)
This book should have been edited down by at least a third and the story line better executed. It is v-e-r-y slow to take off, builds to a slightly in...moreThis book should have been edited down by at least a third and the story line better executed. It is v-e-r-y slow to take off, builds to a slightly interesting crescendo, then ultimately leaves too many themes un-addressed and questions unanswered.
I like Ford's writing. (He was a fellow student with the incredible Jim Harrison and his writing is similarly glorious.) But this novel seems strained, as if he struggled to figure out where to go with the book. The idea of being abandoned as a child, by parents who commit an impulsive and ill-conceived crime, is interesting and he does occasionally explore the theme poetically. But the narrative itself struggles out of the gate and never quite gets going. A more careful editing, and a better crafted story, would have vastly improved the book. (less)
A fantastic, well-paced read about the 2008 Presidential election in which a young, previously little known Illinois Senator with a funny name prevail...moreA fantastic, well-paced read about the 2008 Presidential election in which a young, previously little known Illinois Senator with a funny name prevailed.
Several surprising things emerged from this book for me: one was how perilously close the U.S. economy came to complete collapse, especially in the last few weeks of the election, which would have been disastrous enough domestically, but lethal to the global economy; how supremely confident and well organized Obama's team was going in; how overconfident, disorganized and self-defeating Hillary's team was; what an empty shock of hair John Edwards turned out to be; how disengaged and angry John McCain often was; how tensions between him and his wife Cindy were always near the boiling point, with rumored affairs surrounding both of them; how deeply shallow (she could not explain why there was a North and South Korea) and woefully unprepared for the moment Sarah Palin was (some of McCain's campaign staff thought she might seriously be mentally ill, and there was talk of what to actually do with her if they had managed to win the election); and Bill Clinton's ultimately destructive impact on his wife's run for President.
It was especially fun to read this book in light of Obama's recent reelection and I look forward to a follow-up to the 2012 campaign.(less)
I wanted to like this book, I really did. I love Roth's writing, but Exit Ghost failed me. It's overly indulgent and unfocused -- e.g. he appears to i...moreI wanted to like this book, I really did. I love Roth's writing, but Exit Ghost failed me. It's overly indulgent and unfocused -- e.g. he appears to insert a long George Plimpton remembrance in the middle of the story that involves only a minor reference to him -- and dialogue scenes, some real, some not, feel forced, one-sided and disconnected.
His writing about the physical difficulties of old age, incontinence and failing memory especially, are written about in Roth's typically honest, haunting fashion. But the remainder of the book seems slapped together and lacking in coherence. The characters are also thoroughly dis-likable: rich, famous, self-absorbed and thoroughly obnoxious (this book would make a perfect, though not very funny, Woody Allen film).
I will say this: His blowjob scenes are thought-provoking. And that's something, I suppose.
I had to force myself to finish the book and was relieved when I did. Probably not what any author wants to hear. Not that a grumpy Roth would give two bourbons.(less)
This was the first of two books I'm currently reading about George Washington. As part of my 2-year quest to read the top two biographies of each of o...moreThis was the first of two books I'm currently reading about George Washington. As part of my 2-year quest to read the top two biographies of each of our 43 U.S. Presidents, I began with this and Ron Chernow's behemoth "Washington: A Life," a far more comprehensive treatment.
Initially I preferred Chernow's book, but as I started to compare the two for interpretation, Ellis's gorgeous narrative writing quickly won me over. While no where near the depth of Chernow's tome, Ellis covers all the main themes of Washington's life from youth, to bumbling but ambitious officer in the French and Indians wars, to much-maligned, beleaguered Revolutionary war hero, to his service as President -- and truly father of his new nation -- for the first two terms of the new federal government (whose survival was by no means guaranteed).
It's impossible to not be in awe of Washington, who, unlike many great men throughout history, failed to control ambition and its interaction with the achievement of great power. He truly was a man of disciplined self-control who understood throughout his life that his place in history would be solely judged by how he responded to guiding the post-British new nation. It is quite obvious that had Washington chosen to serve as an enlightened King (of which many understood there was no such thing), he could have with widespread support. The new nation had no tradition of democracy and would have gladly welcomed their war hero -- our first true national celebrity -- as a welcomed benign sovereign chastened by a revolutionary re-definition of the relationship of power between ruler and ruled.
Yet Washington understood the historic moment and his place in it and seized it for the better, much to our nation's historic benefit. He also understood the blot of human bondage and was determined to free his slaves upon his death, much to the chagrin of his family and fellow Virginia planters. (In fact, even the liberty obsessed Jefferson failed to match Washington's intellectual acknowledgement of the fundamental contradiction of slavery and democracy.)
A highly pleasurable read and the perfect introduction to the life and times of George Washington. Highly recommend it.(less)
Been a while since a book kept me up all night in order to finish it. Fantastic, if deeply haunting, story; taut prose; a thoroughly dis-likable (but...moreBeen a while since a book kept me up all night in order to finish it. Fantastic, if deeply haunting, story; taut prose; a thoroughly dis-likable (but lovable) heroine; and a horrific mass murder that's not at all what it appears to be. What's not to like?(less)
A bit of a slog, but well worth it. Relationships, marriage, politics, love, hate, lust, music, the environment, hypocrisy, deceit, cruelty, deception...moreA bit of a slog, but well worth it. Relationships, marriage, politics, love, hate, lust, music, the environment, hypocrisy, deceit, cruelty, deception, loyalty, kindness -- it's all here and beautifully illustrated in a brisk, compelling story-telling style. Franzen is a marvelous observer of the human condition, a brilliant writer, and I cannot wait to read another of his books. Highly recommend.(less)
I know the difficulty of a father suddenly abandoning a household. The loss of the male figure, so associated with protection and security, the result...moreI know the difficulty of a father suddenly abandoning a household. The loss of the male figure, so associated with protection and security, the resulting personal guilt and confusion, and the wreckage left for surviving family members to pick through, can have a devastating long-term impact.
"Townie" was therefore an inevitable book for me to devour. And I did.
Andre Dubus III details his personal journey from child to man to pick up the shattered pieces of his famous writer father's abandonment. His unexpected departure results in the family's constant poverty, restless moving about, filthy apartments in dangerous neighborhoods, violence, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, and seeming utter hopelessness on Boston's meanest streets. Dubus ultimately learns to punch his way out of the despair, focusing his anger and fear into steely muscles, disciplined fitness, and a willingness to fight any enemy, any time at any cost.
Along the way one of his sisters is brutally raped, another locks herself into her room, his brother attempts suicide, and all the while his mother tries to do the best she can.
As the boy develops into a man, and as he moves toward a reaproachment with his pathologically self-absorbed old man, Dubus comes to realize that his trigger temper and willingness to fight bad guys--punching through the membrane of others' existence (as he puts it)--also costs him his humanity. For, although his fighting skills earn him self-confidence, a sense of worth, and his father's hard-won admiration, in the end he's still pounding the face of someone who is a father, son, husband or brother.
As he seeks to anchor his own confused identity, he discovers quite by accident his own affinity for writing (despite being the son of an accomplished writer, it oddly never occurs to Dubus to consider it an occupation until he actually starts writing himself). Dubus achieves success, financial security, raises a family, and buries his beloved father alongside with his desire to inflict violence on others, no matter how deserving they might be. The cost to himself outweighs any sense of righteousness or revenge.(less)