1. The Waiter isn't a particularly good writer. 2. He could at times be a little condescending, which kindI had a couple of problems with this book...
1. The Waiter isn't a particularly good writer. 2. He could at times be a little condescending, which kind of pisses me off.
So in regards to numero uno...this wasn't necessarily a deal-breaker. I don't think Waiter thinks he's writing epic literature here, so his less than stellar writing didn't ruin my life or anything. It read like a blog - I suppose because it is a blog - so really, just like with any blog, I was hoping just to get a few laughs and an insider's peek in a world I don't know.
Waiter does take you into his world, but - this brings us to numero dos - I don't especially like the way he sees his world. Granted, there were a few little vignettes that I adored (e.g. the tale of the couple who came into the Bistro for Valentine's Day and were embarrassed to realize it was way pricier than they could afford; Waiter saved the day and went the extra length to give them a special night), but Waiter could get a little arrogant, too. I'm going to preface this by saying I can't imagine being a waiter - I really don't like being around people enough for a job like that - but if you are a waiter, you gotta know what comes with the territory.
Wait - backtrack again. Waiter doesn't seem like a bad guy, or a bad waiter even, but little things that he said irked him (such as when someone who only orders a moderately priced bottle of wine dares to ask for one of the cool extra-large balloon wine glasses instead of the cheap ones), I had to roll my eyes. I'm sure there are seemingly normal people who turn into lunatic bastards when dining out, but most people are just looking for a nice time and a chance to be waited on for a change. If they want the nice wine glass - if that's what's standing between them and happiness - give them the nice wine glass.
I read this book so quickly I can't quite remember many more examples, but I think you get the picture: if you want an easy read that spills a bit of restaurant industry gossip, this will do you right, but don't expect - which some people have erroneously called it - a waiter equivalent of Anthony Bourdain's infinitely superior Kitchen Confidential.
Let's be fair. Considering the intended audience is readers 12+, Zusak's take on good and evil as evidenced in***A Small Gripe About The Book Thief***
Let's be fair. Considering the intended audience is readers 12+, Zusak's take on good and evil as evidenced in WWII Germany is an ambitious task, and employing Death as the novel's narrator contributes a layer of metaphor and insight not typically found in YA writing (or much of general fiction, for that matter). The writing is literary and thoughtful, and, unlike in much of YA, the teenage protagonist struggles with issues that extend beyond her immediate circle of influence.
So the set-up all sounds great--it's looking like a grand slam, or at least a home run--and yet, it never quite gets there. Death's ***obnoxious*** interludes increasingly intrude on the story, and even when he's not being too much of a pest, he speaks like Ernest Hemingway on a particularly taciturn day after taking a course in creative post-modern writing:
The window. Hands on the frame, scissor of the legs. Landing feet. Books and pages and a happy place.
Again, I want to play fair, so I'll admit these gripes didn't set in until about halfway through the book. I get the sense that Zusak knew he had created something with incredible potential but, as he became aware of his achievement, he started to lose it and ended up trying too hard to keep it alive. That's one of the quickest ways to kill your creation. Still, it hung on as best as it could, which was better than most books hang on, and the ending had some brilliance to it.
And now, if a may, I petty complaint: What's with Zusak's obsession with the word "small"? Everything he describes is small--a small story, a small fact, a small girl, a small moment. I think he thought it connoted overlooked purity or goodness--something worthy of being heard--but it just came across as stylized and pretentious, like, "I'm saying small, but really I mean larger, more important and more symbolic than the universe." /End petty complaint.
My final thought is that I'm probably being overly hard on this book in this review, but it's only because I do like it and want it to be its best possible self. Does this mean I'm going to be the parent whose kid comes home with an A- on their test and I scoff because it's not an A? Crap. I hope not. I just want what's best for my unborn, unconceived children...and for The Book Thief....more
"I always thought that the day Steve Martin died would be the saddest day of my life."
--Michael Scott, The Office
Martin doesn't write to make"I always thought that the day Steve Martin died would be the saddest day of my life."
--Michael Scott, The Office
Martin doesn't write to make you laugh, but unlike many people who are talented in one field and believe that means they're capable of anything ("I'm an actress/singer/author/fashion designer/cardiologist"), his writing is well worthy of print. I love seeing this side of him, and it's really cool to compare his public persona---Steve Martin, comedian extraordinaire---with his literary voice. (Then it's even cooler when he comes to Asheville and plays the banjo. Oh Steve...one of these days I'll see you there live.)
I just kind of love him.
Side note: I also want him to keep working with Tina Fey. If there were a Tina/Steve channel on YouTube, I would probably do nothing but watch that. So long, Goodreads....more
Amazing, amazing book. That doesn't really do it justice, but I'm not sure how to do it justice...and I'm not alone:
"Is it not astonishing that a workAmazing, amazing book. That doesn't really do it justice, but I'm not sure how to do it justice...and I'm not alone:
"Is it not astonishing that a work so rooted in fantasy, filled with narrative high jinks and comic flights, stands forth centrally as a moral discourse? It is indeed...I find myself nervous, to a degree I don't recall in my past as a reviewer, about failing the work, inadequately displaying its brilliance." -- The New York Times Book Review (Front Page)
That's what the FRONT PAGE of The New York TIMES had to say??? And I'M expected to come up with something on my own for Goodreads?? Um, pressure.
The NYT review is pretty accurate. There are elements of fantasy - magical realism, to be specific - which is typically something I find totally unappealing in books (uh...except for Harry Potter, obviously), but Helprin absolutely makes it work in Winter's Tale. Magical white horses leaping city blocks in a single bound? Mysterious cloud walls? Sure. Give it to me. Then there are the narrative high jinks and comic flights: the book is at times laugh-out-loud funny. The storyline of the book changes throughout (it is nearly 800 pages, so I think that's allowed), shifting from gangs of New York to an unlikely love tale to fantasy cities to morality to justice to...you get the idea. The easiest way to describe the book, though, is to say it's a book about New York.
It's the sort of book, deceptively weighty and complex, where if you catch yourself skimming a paragraph - or even a line - because it seems like too much work to unravel its meaning, you feel like you're cheating...yourself? The author? The characters?, and you feel anxious until you go back and understand what it says. I was glad this was a book club book: there's a lot to discuss, and comparing interpretations stimulates the mind.
The plot can't be described here (like I said before, it changes and shifts and bends, and where you are at the beginning doesn't lead to where you are at the end), and like the reviewer at the Times, I'd be too nervous that I'd miss something or leave something out (or, God forbid, write something stupid) and fail miserably at it. So instead I'll just comment on something that Helprin's fans always comment on and his critics always bring up as the thing Helprin fans, pathetically, always comment on: his WORDS.
His writing is positively enchanting. Yes, really, enchanting is the word to use. It's funny, whimsical and charming, but elegant and precise. His sentences are gorgeous; I had to restrain myself from underlining half the book with quotes and phrases that struck me. Critics say this isn't enough, that we fans talk about the words because the stories they form aren't worth discussing, but I think we praise his words because they're - I'm going to say it again - enchanting.
The book is not without its faults, e.g. there are some storylines from the beginning that seemed to vanish, never to reappear in the 748 pages of the book. But...going back to the writing style, you don't really mind that it doesn't go anywhere (or does it?? Maybe it just eluded me) because you're totally happy just to be reading Helprin's words. Still, at times it was a little long, a little too elusive, a little too allegorical for my liking. If I could give this book 4.5 stars, I would; I'll probably spend the rest of my life switching my rating for this book between 4 and 5 stars on Goodreads.
At some point, I'd love to re-read this book and see what I come up with the next time. I'm sure it's a book that you could read 1000 times and still find something new with every read.
UPDATE: 12/23/08 Switching to 4. It's been driving me crazy knowing that it's a 5. Every once in a while, I think about this book, and I feel cheated...like I was entranced by it only to realize, after the mysterious cloud of romance around it dissipated, that I don't know what the book was REALLY about, it was too allegorical, it was too metaphorical...maybe I need to reread it. This is definitely a book to WORK through, not a light beach read for the carefree. ...more
I wouldn't normally read a book like this, being the elitist book snob that I am and all. Not that I had any reason to think it was lacking, mind you-I wouldn't normally read a book like this, being the elitist book snob that I am and all. Not that I had any reason to think it was lacking, mind you--I just tend to stick to my book-reading rule of thumb that if the cover is plastered with praise from Oprah and/or if everyone on the subway is reading it*, I usually stay away.
The irony, of course, is that I end up missing out on some great books because of this. For example: I very much enjoyed The Help--it was totally different from the Ya-Ya-esque perception I had of it--and I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own. A friend suggested I read it, though, and I'm glad I did. Lesson learned, maybe?
Maybe. Someone left a copy of Water for Elephants at my apartment, and since I had just finished reading Hemingway--and in an effort to be an equal-opportunity reader--I picked it up, thinking something light and breezy would be a good next read. Light and breezy it was--I read the entire book in about four hours--and while it had me sufficiently entertained for a lazy Sunday, it was pretty much a sappy love story with some melodrama thrown in for excitement, bundled together and disguised as sweeping literature.** Well, shit. Wasn't that the book I was trying to avoid?
I suppose sometimes, on a sleepy weekend, a crappy book can be the equivalent of a crappy movie: You know it sucks, but you can't be bothered to swap it out for something better.
*E-readers, iPads, and the like are making this difficult for me. How am I supposed to judge the person sitting across from me if I can't tell what he or she is reading??
Aww. I love this book...it's a story of unconditional love. Can anyone read it without crying??
Apparently a lot of goodreads readers, actually. I clicAww. I love this book...it's a story of unconditional love. Can anyone read it without crying??
Apparently a lot of goodreads readers, actually. I clicked on the 1-star reviews for The Giving Tree, and it seems many people have a problem with the fact that the boy never learns to give back...he just takes, takes and takes until the tree has given all of himself (literally) and he's nothing but a stump.
I understand their POV, but I think it's incomplete. For starters, as Boy ages, he does understands all the tree does for him and is to him. At the end of his days, Boy is with his tree, because he's old and wrinkly and now knows what's important--friendship and love. Bottom line, this is a book about unconditional love. What parent (I assume; I'm not one) wouldn't give their child everything they could to be happy? (And no, I'm not talking about toys....) I think it's brilliant....more