In 200 or so micro-vignettes, The Lovers' Dictionary reveals more about two people, their relationship and every relationship that ever existed than bIn 200 or so micro-vignettes, The Lovers' Dictionary reveals more about two people, their relationship and every relationship that ever existed than books many, many times its length. That in itself is remarkable---especially to someone like me, to whom brevity does not come naturally.
I love the sentiment expressed on page 120 (ineffable, adj.) that "trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough." I love that that the author wrote this while actually describing so beautifully love and life through revised dictionary definitions.
At first, I thought this was a story about the birth and death of a relationship, but upon further consideration, I'm not convinced that's the case. I don't think it's a love story, or a break-up story, or a cathartic-release story. I think it's a story that portrays love as an entity different from being in love. When you're in love, everything is wonderful all the time. When you love someone, sometimes that person doesn't put the cap back on the toothpaste, or maybe they drink too much, or maybe they drive you nuts by using their legal background to out-lawyer you while arguing (or maybe that last one is just me...), and it's up to you to decide if that's something you can live with.*
That leads me to my favorite entry of the book---vagary, n. The mistake in thinking there can be an antidote to the uncertainty.
How brilliant is that?
Side note: I appreciate creative writing---not just Creative Writing, i.e. fiction, but creative in how the writing plays with prose and our preconceptions of what format a book should take. On that note, major applause to Levithan for taking a risk and succeeding wildly. I wonder, however, if this book would have earned the same reception had Jonathan Safran Foer written it. All the popular kids love to belittle JSF's creative work as precious and twee, but I'm not sure I see what makes one's work clever and the other's contrived.
*In my case, I'm going to stick this one out for the long-haul....more
First impression? Hilarious. Total spot-on satire of 1930s, pseudo/wannabe posh society in Britain - and I can say that with such confidence because IFirst impression? Hilarious. Total spot-on satire of 1930s, pseudo/wannabe posh society in Britain - and I can say that with such confidence because I was there and all. Well, no, not quite, not by about 53 years and an ocean, but I do live in New York, where desperate social climbers - the "see and be seen-ers" - and tacky people with a bit of money proliferate against my wishes.
The difference is that somewhere along the road, we stopped satirizing these people and took to glorifying them instead. Case in point: the person who wrote the 2000s version of this story - pretty young things with too much money, too few brains and too strong a sex drive - had it serialized in print and brought to life on TV, now known and idolized by millions as Gossip Girl.
I love a good satire; perhaps it's the scathing cynic in me, but I so enjoy when sharp, observant authors can cut into a ridiculous population or philosophy with a pen. Waugh clearly does this well, but I just wonder if Vile Bodies is a bit too long. The point of a satire is the satire itself - the plot is secondary at best, and since one isn't supposed to care about the characters, satire that's gone on for too long gets tedious. The brilliance starts to fade, the dark humor fizzles, and the reader is left trying to get through a book that, tiresomely, has turned into an overwrought joke. ...more
Let me start by saying I thought I would hate this book. I'm not usually one for short stories, and the use of "surreal" as a descriptive term (especiLet me start by saying I thought I would hate this book. I'm not usually one for short stories, and the use of "surreal" as a descriptive term (especially one intended to flatter) typically sends me running in the opposite direction. (Sorry, Dali, and your melting clocks.)
That said, there's something about this set of short stories and this surrealism that worked its way into my system and grabbed hold of me with its spectral charms, luring me in before I could even convince myself that this was overrated absurdist nonsense.
I am loath to use the word "wunderkind," so I won't, but Russell certainly is a talented writer. I'm in awe of the way she handles language, and she has her voice as an author nailed down. The strongest stories were the ones that most closely drew upon the Florida Everglades setting--those stories just oozed the eeriness of the location.
All that said, I picked up a strong sense of "trying too hard" in a few of the other stories, as though the creativity wasn't juicing properly so she just threw some preposterous ideas down that sounded sufficiently obscure and eclectic and called it a day. (I'm looking at you, "from Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration" and "Lady Yeti and the Palace of Artificial Snows." Weak, weak, weak.) More problematic, I felt there was some inconsistency in the "point" of each story. Some seemed ripe for dissecting and discussing deeper meanings, and others just seemed to be a way for Russell to showcase what fantastical and surreal situations she can come up with. Given such structural differences, I'm just not sure that all 10 belonged in the same collection.
A pondering for your pleasure: I can't but help compare this sort of literary attempt to the work of an abstract artist since in both cases, it's not always easy to identify what constitutes talent. Is the red square on the blank canvas good? Is that art? Am I looking at some kind of masterpiece, or am I just looking at a red square on a blank canvas, done by someone who's banking that people won't voice their lack of understanding? This argument could get ugly fast, so let me clarify that a) I tend to appreciate abstract art and b) I don't think Russell is a sham of a writer. She's leaning toward the Kandinsky side of things, in this scenario. Yet as a rule of thumb, I think it's fair to say that unworthy writers and artists can both achieve glowing success due to the rest of the world having a case of "The Emperor Isn't Wearing Any Clothes." ...more
This book is Bryson through and through---it's as well-researched and informative as a textbook and as engaging as a rodeo (or some noun you find engaThis book is Bryson through and through---it's as well-researched and informative as a textbook and as engaging as a rodeo (or some noun you find engaging), so it's sort of a best-of-both-worlds experience, like watching The History Channel or Bill Nye, The Science Guy.
The man (Bill Bryson, not Bill Nye) makes anything---anything---interesting. He's on an apparent quest to know everything, which means that his research involves sifting through all the weighty texts and scholarly papers so you don't have to. When it comes to his own books and writing style, the facts are all there, but the best part about Bryson is that he recognizes that our world is funny: He has a sharp eye for its many absurdities and for humor in surprising situations, and he understands that including this can coexist with---and even enhance---the subject matter.
Side note: As an English major I took a class on the history of language in college, and while my friends probably made fun of me behind my back, it was completely riveting. Bryson frequently references the Baugh & Cable text that we used, so The Mother Tongue had the added benefit for me of making me feel like a smartypants.*
*Ah, yes---that reference to some obscure Middle English etymology? Read that. How do you like THEM apples?
I get pretty obsessive about keeping my books and my movies separate. There are rules, you see, and without rules defining how books and movies shouldI get pretty obsessive about keeping my books and my movies separate. There are rules, you see, and without rules defining how books and movies should interact, I just don't know where we'd be. As a nation, I mean. So as such, it's imperative to follow the following:
Rule #1: Always read the book first. It's critical that you visualize the story and the characters on your own without, say, Jennifer Aniston's face in your mind.
Rule #2: When we're talking about fluffy lite-reading books, the movie will be better than the book. (See: The Devil Wears Prada, Confessions of a Shopaholic)
Rule #3: Never buy a book with the movie-edition cover, even if you're reading it before seeing the movie. Testify: I read my mom's copy of Friday Night Lights and loved it so much that I wanted to own the book for myself. Problem is, just after I finished reading, they announced they were turning it into a movie, and the covers were updated with the little sticker that's like "NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE!" Fortunately, I have a very loving and sweet grandmother who scoured the planet to buy the last copy in existence without any reference to the movie. God bless Grandma. Sure, she's like 80 years old, but the lesson here is that you do what it takes when it comes to avoiding the movie edition.
Rule #4: Nicholas Sparks is unacceptable in either format.
Rule #5: I wish this would just go without saying, but the book that comes out based on the movie is always going to be the worst thing you ever read. The only example of this that I have right now is the Saved by the Bell series (Senior Class Trip, anyone?), but I think the argument is still valid, so the rule stands.
So. Now that we've established the rules, I'll start the real review by saying that I screwed up with Q&A. I saw Slumdog Millionaire and was completely and utterly oblivious to the fact that it was based on a book. How this could have possibly happened, I do not know, but I obviously had to try to make amends. By that, I mean "read Q&A."
I'm glad I did, and not just because it was 180-degrees from Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which just made me want to cry (although it was wonderful, 5 stars, and I highly recommend it to everyone).
Swarup uses the ingenious plot device of a game show to coax Ram Mohammed Thomas, our hero, into telling his life story. Gimmicky, some may say, but I thought it was clever and effective. I also liked getting to guess what the question would be based on the story he told because it made me feel like a total smarty-pants when I was right.
Three key downsides:
1. Unnatural dialogue. The writing was much smoother during RMT's internal thoughts and storytelling.
2. Confusing timelines. Since each game show question correlated to one story from RMT's life, it makes sense that the story would be told out of order. Still, I often found myself wondering where exactly we were in terms of chronology. Like, so story B happened before story A, but then story D was after C but before A, and no one has a clue where story E fits in. (Okay, it wasn't that confusing, but it could have been more seamless.)
3. An "and it all comes together!" ending, in which every loose end is beautifully tied up in a precious sort of way. I imagine Swarup hammering out the last chapter with the satisfaction one gets from snapping in that last piece to a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. (Which, by the way, I always need to be the one to do. Sometimes I even hide the last piece to ensure that I get to be the one with the honor of finishing the puzzle. Yes, I'm a little bit of an asshole.) This book is Bollywood fiction, though, and in Bollywood, there are no sad endings.
Those are relatively minor gripes given how enjoyable reading this book is. Even amid the story's darker elements, optimism and justice prevail. In the slums of India, sometimes you just need a happy ending, and Q&A at heart is simply a slumdog fairy tale. ...more