I was originally going to read the first couple of chapters, which deal with infants, and stop there. But much to my surprise, this was a far better b...moreI was originally going to read the first couple of chapters, which deal with infants, and stop there. But much to my surprise, this was a far better book than I had imagined. What I was expecting was another pat, self-help-section miracle solution to everyone's parenting woes type of book (the endorsement by and comparison to French Women Don't Get Fat wasn't helping). What I found instead was an honest, informative, well-researched, and well-written account of an American mother raising children in Paris - and trying to understand the sometimes startling cultural differences she saw.
This book had everything that I want in an exploration of this kind of topic, and none of what I hate. To wit, although extremely impressed with Parisian child-rearing, she does not present it as some kind of exoticized wisdom of the ancients; she begins with concrete observations (Parisian infants sleep through the night by two to three months, Parisian toddlers are not picky eaters), does a good job of not appearing to be drawing from one or two rose-colored cases, and then explores how this happens through history, social framework, and a series of reported interviews. The result is that, as a reader, you feel you are stepping through the investigation and are empowered to judge for yourself. Finally, she doesn't present all this information clinically. Rather, she portrays it personally, in the light of her own child-raising efforts (all in Paris), and the challenges she faces. The result is a sort of focused, informative travelogue of Paris - a parentlog, if you will.
Technically speaking, I read this a little late - if you actually want your newborn to sleep through the night, you're supposed to use the French mojo before three months. Regardless, what I appreciated so much about this book is that it held up an alternate paradigm to consider. And the book doesn't sell it as an all-or-nothing deal. In fact, "all" is probably an impossibility without the ensconcement of French culture and its excellent childcare benefits. Reading the book felt like intensely good reflecting material for being mindful and aware of what is good and what can be, for choosing my own parenting path.
I understand that some people have taken exception to the book - but I found that, taking it as a reference point and not a "thou must" codex, Bringing Up Bebe really counts as required reading for any new or would-be parent.(less)
The short version is: if you read the first book, read this one, too. While a little weak on character voices, Sanderson is clear-eyed with the charac...moreThe short version is: if you read the first book, read this one, too. While a little weak on character voices, Sanderson is clear-eyed with the characters themselves; plot and story are well-crafted to the last sentence of the final page. As with the first in the series, the quotes heading each chapter are some of the very few that I don't hate.(less)
Science fiction is often hailed as the literature of ideas - as a place where the story does not have to be well crafted if it explores possibilities...moreScience fiction is often hailed as the literature of ideas - as a place where the story does not have to be well crafted if it explores possibilities brilliantly and provocatively. Fantasy, Sci Fi's sibling genre, rarely gets any such defense (although, to be fair, the quality of the writing as writing is a bit higher, on average) - if it gets any defense or justification at all, it has something to do with with modern myth and telling timeless stories. But really, when you come down to it, there's no reason why Sci Fi should have a monopoly on idea-based literature. And Mistborn does an excellent job of making this point.
Mistborn's first and most striking feature--the nature of magic in its world--is boldly and unmistakably using genre to explore ideas. But then, the fascination with how magic works seems to be some sort of geek secret among fantasy fans, and it is a subject that was always about ideas. From Tolkien to Earthsea to Hogwarts, a system of magic that you can peer into and, if not understand then get a sense of, is something that is absolutely critical to those who look for it. And in this age of pervasive video game culture, many of us are additionally aware of literally systematized magic rulesets, playable descendants of Dungeons and Dragons. Generally in fantasy, the goal has been for magic to "feel" right, and then fill in rules that support that feel. When the rules conflicted or ran into a wall, some handwaving has generally been enough to satisfy. But in recent years, writers such as Patrick Rothfuss and Mistborn's own Brandon Sanderson seem to have had a different idea: what if magic, in a fantasy world, were an empty box that you could fill with whatever mechanisms you wanted? And how (here we return to Sci Fi's garb) would those mechanisms change society, politics, power, the world? In Rothfuss' novels, it functions as a cipher for scientific ability, more or less. In Mistborn, the nature of the system is entirely novel and, in some sense, largely the point. Who can use it, how they use it, what it does to the power structures of society. Ladies and gents: a fantasy novel of ideas.
But Mistborn excels in more than ideas. It also tells a good tale, and tells it well. The line-by-line prose is not quite on par with Martin or Rothfuss; the cast of characters are all very well-conceived, with depth, secrets, and development... but their portrayal and voices come up just shy of vibrant or naturalistic. To my ears, it was the writing of a brilliant mind that had determined how things should go, but whose execution was just a shade stiff. But I mean to be blessing with Sanderson with faint criticism. (And look forward to steadily rising craft in the sequels.) You'll hardly notice or care about any of this during the book. Mistborn merits high praise for bucking the traditional fantasy plot format preserving a classic and satisfying proper dramatic arc; for incorporating some of the best elements of the modern wave of Young Adult literature; for writing both genders well and including romance and attraction in the story organically and without hardly a trace of male gaze; for some of the best use of quotations at the beginnings of chapters I've seen; and for constructing his plot with a healthy set of well-formed reversals and twists. You will not be disappointed with the beginning, middle, or end of this book. The gun on the mantle at the start will be fired by the end. You will probably not see half of it coming.
I've managed to spend three sizable paragraphs and say hardly anything about the actual content on the book. That's good, because there's no point in giving much away. I do want to take a moment to note that the themes of Skaa slavery, the god-emperor, and the role of "thieving crews" (these tidbits are hardly spoilers) draw on an amusingly broad array of source references and real-world viewpoints, again somewhat unusual for fantasy fare. The book, by the way, feels so film-ready at times I half wonder if he didn't originally conceive of it for Hollywood. As an example, the way that magic users "fly" in Mistborn would look entirely accurate on kung-fu style wires. And no doubt, some of the magic-fueled action sequences would make for some entertaining, Matrix-style cinematography.
And lastly, since I "read" this as an audiobook, I have to mention that the actor, Michael Kramer, did a truly excellent job. He individualized more than a dozen characters, not just finding voices that sounded distinct, but giving them emotion, nuance, and depth - in a word, acting. His performance of one of the main characters (Vin) was a hair weak at times - a teenage girl is never easy for a grown man to voice - but she is enough of a stand-in for the reader that a flatish delivery didn't really take much away. (I'd also argue some of the writing of Vin, when she speaks, is some of the weakest writing in the book. But I'd have to read it in print to argue with real conviction.)
All in all, Mistborn delivers: ideas are invented and explored on the planes of pure logic and of worldly repercussion; characters live, feel, and change; and around it all a darn good tale is spun to a satisfying conclusion. Which is pretty much what books are for, after all.(less)
Read as much as pertained to newborns and infants. Was hoping for more detail and more step by step development. So really this just wasn't the book I...moreRead as much as pertained to newborns and infants. Was hoping for more detail and more step by step development. So really this just wasn't the book I wanted.(less)
Dave Eggers seems to be working hard at inventing a new genre of literary biography. Prior to Zeitoun came What is the What, an intense portrayal of a...moreDave Eggers seems to be working hard at inventing a new genre of literary biography. Prior to Zeitoun came What is the What, an intense portrayal of a refugee of Sudanese genocide, lost and struggling in the USA. He chose an unusual narrative technique to present that story, where the past and the present telescoped uneasily. The structure, reminiscent of modern fiction, worked with visceral and moving effect.
In this sense Zeitoun is a direct spiritual successor. Although its narrative structure is less sophisticated, what makes it more than just biography is the rich kaleidoscope overlay of the book's themes: a Syrian Muslim man caught in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina. What about those early years of America in the new millennium isn't captured there? One man's remarkable story, turned just so in the light becomes a reflection on all the chaos, abuse, and uncertainty of the Bush years. (Note to Conservatives: by the way, this is how the rest of us felt then.) Mr. Zeitoun is also a builder and painter, and in my opinion, this is the layer that completes the work. The maelstrom of anti-Muslim sentiment and failed domestic husbandry that resulted in post-Katrina New Orleans, on a public level, intersects artfully with the personal-level version of the same: destruction and waste versus building, maintaining, belonging versus displacement, the human and related versus the faceless and bureaucratic. All of these colors are played out across the pages of Zeitoun, and I do not believe that Mr. Eggers either lucked into this arrangement or forced the framework on Zeitoun's tale - rather, like a photographer, I believe he chose an artful and excellent composition to frame the subject in his lens.
One thing I found curious in reading was the narrator's voice, which could be described as terse, verging on stiff. What's strange is that I don't remember that stiffness from What is the What, so I believe it was an intentional choice in this work. Either he was echoing Mr. Zeitoun's own speech (in which case, it might sound far better if you had his voice in your head), or it was an attempt to present a neutral, clear-eyed narrator who let the events raise or condemn themselves without comment. Either way, there were times when the stiffness of the language stuck out noticeably.
In past times, "true accounts" of heroic lives were popularly available. (So much so that most of 19th century fiction parrots the narrative framing of it.*) The rigor of facts was not quite so strict, then, and so readers could enjoy both a Thing That Actually Was and a Well Told Tale, combined. Since we have become pickier about facts and such, that coupling has been hard to come by. We have memoirs, true - but they're their own genre, and rarely deliver the sort of historical, personal, and literary package that Dave Eggers is proving adept at.
Zeitoun is moving, historically interesting, thoughtful, and nuanced. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
* Okay, it's a lot more complicated than that, and there are probably dozens of PhD's on the topic, but I believe in broad brushstrokes the statement stands.(less)
How had I never read Raymond Chandler before? I knew about him. Had vague plans to read him for a few years now. But I think I must have made the unde...moreHow had I never read Raymond Chandler before? I knew about him. Had vague plans to read him for a few years now. But I think I must have made the understandable and common mistake of assuming that the source of a thousand cliches must be cut from the same cloth as its issue. Although all throughout The Big Sleep I could see general outlines ("like chalk outlines at a crime scene," my own internal cliche-generator pipes in), and although this book is without a doubt a hard-boiled, gritty, zeitgeist-up-the-wazoo "private eye" crime thriller, this book and its distinctive language rise above.
For one, Chandler plays with symbols in a way little outside of 'propah litrachuh' ever really does. In the opening pages, on striding into the benefactor's mansion, our gumshoe protagonist gazes up at image of a knight untying a naked woman from some Andromeda-like predicament. He makes a clever comment about it at the time, but the meaning and tone of this image play out in luminous variations over the pages of the book, as mystery upon mystery is overturned. At another point, the narrator comments that guns keep coming to him. Falling into his pockets, weighing him down. He says it too late in the book for me to count it as foreshadowing; I'd rather call it a subtle form of dramatic irony, because all the same, he doesn't yet know the full meaning of those words. (Until you've finished the book, neither do you.)
And the language. Yes, it's hard boiled. You've got to imagine it read like quips off the celluloid heads of the films that float as a vague backdrop, like mountains or the ocean that frame this classic-era Los Angeles yarn. You've got to. They're lines that teeter like a drunk tough guy along the line between ham-handed and brusque, beatnik poetry. In a verbal shootout with a knockout dame, protagonist Phil Marlowe quips, "I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights." When people don't answer, they "let that one slide" and "blondes" are indeed sometimes "bombshells." But the coppers and the crooks only give a minimum of that mobster-talk that only really yields drama in two dimensions, at maximum.
Oh, this is a crime thriller, though, no question. There's a tough, handsome, lonely, and mildly-alcoholic private detective. He follows his guts and says things like, (paraphrased) "I'd long ago gotten used to the fact that I'm not bullet proof." But it's also an exercise in restraint - could give modern action movies a stern lesson in how to do things right. Hardly a dozen shots are fired in the whole book. Cold blooded killers come at a bare minimum. Instead, there are a lot of desperate people - desperate to survive, desperate for "two nickels to knock together," desperate to bury their sins. And the superpowers that our hero Marlowe has over everyone else are a gut instinct like a compass, that classical tragic dose of honor, and the fact that he's not afraid of anyone. Like everything else here: the old cliche, and somehow more than just that.
This book is a rip-roarer. You'll want to toss it back in one eye-watering gulp, both for the gritty noir whodunit The Big Sleep exemplifies, and for the heady haze of brooding, shadowed mystery that sets it in a class apart.
* * *
I should add that I "read" this as an audiobook, and that the narrator (Elliott Gould, for Phoenix Audio) was just about perfect for the role. He read Marlowe like so many bullet slugs spat into concrete, and hosted the flock of various other characters each in appropriate voices.(less)
How did I wind up reading this? A certain household librarian left it lying out, and next thing I knew, there I was. In all honesty, I'd been meaning...moreHow did I wind up reading this? A certain household librarian left it lying out, and next thing I knew, there I was. In all honesty, I'd been meaning to read it. I have a lucid memory of the time when the book was making its debut. The Echo Bazaar people, FailBetterGames, hosted a similar game of the book where you got to tour the Cirque des Rêves, and the game was entirely enchanting. (I presume Ms Morgenstern wrote the game text as well, but don't actually know it for a fact.) As usual, though, it was luck and circumstance that actually put the opened book in front of me--and I'm glad it did.
The Night Circus is very much in the same vein as Jonathan Strange Mr Norrell; an enchanting curio perched on the windowsill between fairytale and novel, and there's not a thing wrong with that. When I say fairytale, I don't mean the modern, toothless, all-in-pastels kind, either. This book is surprisingly dark in bits. Not [i]that[/i] dark. Not George R.R. Martin dark, which I don’t think I would have wanted, although I did find myself wishing that some of the darker twists were a little closer, a little more visceral, a little less aestheticized, so that I felt the peril and heartbreak a little more keenly. I would say that its artistic eccentricities are both what make the book and what, in a few points, weaken it some. Enemies that I expected to be villainous caricatures turned out to have depth and motives (bits of the tale reminded me of Miyazaki films), plot turns sometimes hinge on strong, simple symbols (such as time), rather than Dickensian contrivances. And magic.
Magic is the other topic worth discussing here. The book describes the magic the characters perform in sweeping and grandiose vagaries, and for the most part it works. There are no midichlorines here. There is no cerebral system to distract you from the story. But at times those vagaries are too vague. The impressionistic and nouveau flourishes that for most of the book enchant at a few junctures read like mumbo-jumbo macguffins. She did this, and couldn’t do that, because fol-the-dol-diddle-I-do, and that’s all you get.
I suppose you could accuse the book of putting style before substance. But then, the style is superb and a feast for the imagination, and there is substance there. Enough to gobble this book up, enjoy it, and suffer no regret.(less)
If you're curious about, or want to become, a well paid writer for popular hollywood movies, read this. If their writing style doesn't turn you off, y...moreIf you're curious about, or want to become, a well paid writer for popular hollywood movies, read this. If their writing style doesn't turn you off, you'll enjoy the book, and you might just be cut out to join their ranks.
I read this for a little project. Not thinking of going to Hollywood.(less)
Read for work. If you really want to read about D&D dark elves, read the Salvatore books first. Then if you want more, try this series. Some fans...moreRead for work. If you really want to read about D&D dark elves, read the Salvatore books first. Then if you want more, try this series. Some fans of the oeuvre hate them, others feel they got what they came for.(less)
Gene Luen Yang isn't the first to write about the American immigrant experience (Chinese or otherwise), but he's one of the best doing this in the com...moreGene Luen Yang isn't the first to write about the American immigrant experience (Chinese or otherwise), but he's one of the best doing this in the comic format, and he does so with a sweet, modern, and insightful style and a dry sense of humor. What I like best about his comics are their knack for putting all the forces and voices in the hero's life on the page, and then staunchly refusing to take sides or make easy good guys and bad guys out of them.
Level Up does all these things, and does them well -- but it's not my favorite. I miss Lang's own art style. I think my favorite of his books (that I've read) would be Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order, for its sheer originality, weirdness, and intimacy of subject, but I believe American Born Chinese is better known, an honor it fully deserves.(less)
If you've read books one through four, you will read this one, too. You've waited; it is as inevitable as the seasons.
So there isn't any need to endor...moreIf you've read books one through four, you will read this one, too. You've waited; it is as inevitable as the seasons.
So there isn't any need to endorse or recommend this book at all. Instead, there is space for a little post-lectio rumination. (This review is spoiler free)George R.R. Martin has not lost his touch. The characters are as big and as vibrant, the plots and intrigues as sweeping, and reversals as hairpin as the prior books. As you probably know, books four and five in the series began as one. When it got too big, it was split in two. A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5) follows the farther flung characters, at first, then catches up with the previous book and runs ahead. The early parts of the book are a hair slow, as they march to their rendezvous points... or is it just that things speed up and intensify near the end, so the first half feels slow in comparison?
Something that I like about Mr. Martin's storytelling, that sets it apart from most fantasy, is the Tolstoyan way he portrays things going wrong. In myth, a hero and villain face off, and the better woman or man lives to boast. So often in the A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1) series, you find yourself in the thick of the moment with the all-too-realistic feeling that they came at a bad time, if it hadn't been an off-day, if, if, if... the vagaries of real people that make the tale glisten with light, depth, and detail.
There are times, of course, when you wish that just, for once, someone could get a hero's moment, a sense of accomplishment, and that it would be sure to last through their next chapter. That's the thing about getting this far into a series this large and long: you know the writers patterns, and you know them well. When things start to turn bad, your heart sinks; Mr. Martin has killed before, and he will kill again.
One of the patterns that struck me reading A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5) was the lining of big, worldwide themes and events. I think George R.R. Martin has entirely the right idea, but I think he struggles to pull the sense of these off more than he does with some of the other aspects of his tales. Part of this is surely the high mark he's set himself. As with the red comet in the first books, he turns his nose up at the easy routes: making sweeping events mean something, objectively, that the author knows and tells the player. These events are things which every character reads their own meaning into, reflects their own personality off of, and that's the point. That's what so much of this fictional enterprise is about. But one also sense (well, at least I do) that the global events and parallels that come out in the tales are supposed to evince a sort of cadence of finality, to call sympathetic note of the world's ineluctible turning. And there, I'd argue, Martin reaches but doesn't always achieve.
That's all right, though. There is a world in turmoil worth of Boschian turmoil to entertain the reader here. And, if I could say just one more thing, it's that I think George R.R. Martin has the best religions in all of fantasy. They feel right, and, honestly, no one else's do.(less)
A great little YA graphic novel. Loved the art style and enjoyed the story. I thought there were a few moments that could have gone even farther in te...moreA great little YA graphic novel. Loved the art style and enjoyed the story. I thought there were a few moments that could have gone even farther in terms of raw emotional truth, but that's the sort of criticism you only have for something you like quite well to begin with.(less)
(audibook) Simon Prebble's reading is spot-on. His Holmes and Watson are excellent, and has a sufficient roster of other voices to fill in adequate de...more(audibook) Simon Prebble's reading is spot-on. His Holmes and Watson are excellent, and has a sufficient roster of other voices to fill in adequate depth the bright little sepia sketches that are Conan Doyle's works. On revisiting these handful of tales, I found that though there is a clear formula to the presentation, it is always executed with such style and interest that it simply doesn't matter. A Sherlock Holmes mystery is just the shape and size it needs to be, never mind the uniformity.(less)
This book was a lot of fun to listen to. First of all: Wil Wheaton. Second: videogame future dystopia YA. What is it? This is book is fan-service abou...moreThis book was a lot of fun to listen to. First of all: Wil Wheaton. Second: videogame future dystopia YA. What is it? This is book is fan-service about fan-service; it is a world where the celebration of nerd culture is celebrated. Yes, it is exactly as self-referential as that sounds. The premise, laid out in the very first pages of the book, is a bleak future completely obsessed with 80's video games, music, and film culture due to the eccentric will of a Steve Jobs-like genius who invented the future of entertainment. A contest to inherit all he owned causes a generation to study everything-eighties as if it were scripture. The result is a ludicrously convenient premise: a glimpse of what is to come that is chock full of what has oh-so-fashionably been.
Given subject matter, Ready Player One is surprisingly accessible. The narrator introduces and explains every bit of 80's geek trivia. And the trivia is considerable. My generation are really the first full consumers of 80's videogames, and as a game professional, I think I know a good bit about the subject - but Ernest Cline dug up plenty that I actually had no idea existed. Plus, the swath of 80's culture gathered before the lens of this books' premise is wide enough that there is surely enough in it for everyone. More or less.
What the book also mostly succeeds at is an accurate portrayal of online video games and their culture. Every time somebody "coded" a space in the game-world, I winced; very few people seem to get that game designers and programmers are not usually the same people, and that even when they are you do not "code" a house to look just like X. I could nit-pick further, but obviously that's aside from the point. The bigger picture here is that about half the novel takes place in a virtual game world. Often, the author describes what a fully realized VR game world might be like in pleasingly plausible terms. At other moments, the desire to lend realistic weight and drama to a scene results in details that would be preposterous: sometimes an item just goes into your inventory, sometimes you can do things like peel a foil wrapper off of a thing. Sometimes things "lose hitpoints" and sometimes they collide and bits are crushed or broken. Biggest point here: sometimes death is just "game over" - sometimes it feels as if the author hopes we forget that it doesn't mean the end of life.
Professional nitpicks aside, the story is the very definition of a fun romp. The author manages to throw a satisfying number of twists and turns into the tale, which never, to my mind, feel contrived or stretched. He deserves a lot of praise for avoiding a few key stereotypes in the romance and character reveal department (although a few Japanese characters going on about "honor" was a bit embarrassing). It also ended on a perfectly balanced note, neither spelling too much or too little at the end. Sure, there could have been a little more narrative bravery - I don't feel that any of the setbacks or reversals really "hit home" for the protagonist as hard as they could have - and the bad guys look, sometimes, suspiciously like straw men. None of that will keep you from enjoying the book. If more of that enjoyment lies on the surface than deep down, what of it?
Hearing Wil Wheaton read this book was, as the protagonist might say, "a huge plus." I think Mr. Wheaton must have had a good time at it, too. He did an excellent job, and got a chance to a) mention his future self in an off-hand reference (along with Cory Doctorow), and b) re-enact a decent-sized tract of Monty Python professionally. And how often does that happen? Yeah.(less)
There are some good and proper mysteries in this book, which means there's only so much that you can, or rather, should say about it. The book is an i...moreThere are some good and proper mysteries in this book, which means there's only so much that you can, or rather, should say about it. The book is an intermingling of illustration and prose, and next to the mystery-history menagerie it unveils, this is the strongest part of the work. Action sequences and wondrous moments simply drop the word and show, and that works very well indeed. The narrative is in the opaque style -- simple language which tells more what than why. Despite this approach, the psychology of a young boy, lost and alone and somehow getting by, comes very much across. Not only is this effective, it is an evocative tribute to the epoch and subject matter that the book holds tight to its chest.
In counterpoint to all these bright spots, I sometimes had trouble with the illustrations, which are in soft pencil and can run towards muddled gray; still, many of them, the depictions of the characters faces especially, were wonderful. The lesson I draw is that you should read the book first, then see the movie after.(less)