Unpolished as these "reminiscences" are, Woolf's great mastery as a writer shines trough: her sharp wit, her wonderful skills as an observer, her inte...moreUnpolished as these "reminiscences" are, Woolf's great mastery as a writer shines trough: her sharp wit, her wonderful skills as an observer, her intellect and sense of humor all make the book a pleasure to read. Of course, these are just fragments of what was supposed to become her memoir, left unfinished at the time of her death. There's some repetitiveness, to some passages, for example, a sense that what's on page, was just a rough draft, to be polished later.
But when Woolf is good, she's really good! The way she can bring these scenes and people to life, even while lamenting the difficulty of the task, is remarkable. As is the way she so seemingly effortlessly weaves the larger context of Victorian society into the tapestry of her own private life.(less)
Bechdel is a compelling person: well-read, intelligent, introspective and brutally honest. She's also probably quite difficult. In this book, her moth...moreBechdel is a compelling person: well-read, intelligent, introspective and brutally honest. She's also probably quite difficult. In this book, her mother comes accross as strong-willed, intelligent but bitter person with sharp sense of humor. Their relationship is obviously strained, but I wouldn't mind having a long dinner with either of these women.
I just wish I liked Bechdel's art more. She can occasionally achieve near brilliance, but usually her drawings are neither simple enough to be considered minimalistic, nor virtuoso enough for naturalism, but rather straddle an awkward line between different styles of representing "reality" in comic book form. Shame, really.(less)
It's difficult to rate a book this intensely personal, this honest. And Didion is brutally honest here, to the point of ugliness. This is not a pretty...moreIt's difficult to rate a book this intensely personal, this honest. And Didion is brutally honest here, to the point of ugliness. This is not a pretty, comforting book. Besides the pain of losing her daughter, Didion recounts her (imagined or real) failures as a mother in painstaking detail. And she also confronts her own mortality in such an open, harsh manner that I don't think I've read anything like it before.(less)
The Mitford girls are utterly fascinating, and anyone who's even a little bit interested in the history of ideas in 20th century Europe, or the Englis...moreThe Mitford girls are utterly fascinating, and anyone who's even a little bit interested in the history of ideas in 20th century Europe, or the English aristocracy between the wars, will probably find something to like in this book: Lovell writes their story well. However, couple of things about the book did annoy me a bit. Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love and Love in Cold Climate are novels, they're fiction. No matter how much she borrowed from reality, she used her imagination and skill as a writer to finish the books. She didn't lie, she wrote novels. It's understandable for family members to recognize fictionalized versions of themselves, and consider the portrait distored. It's not okay for a professional biographer to not understand the difference between dishonesty, lies, and fiction. Second, Lovell's admiration of the family matriarch Sydney gets a bit much after a while.
Still, the good far outweighs the bad in this case. It's interesting how reality is often far from realistic. If you read all this in one novel, you'd consider it rather fantastical.(less)
There's really not much to say about this book that hasn't been said already. Compared to some other Holocaust books I've read, Levi's style is very s...moreThere's really not much to say about this book that hasn't been said already. Compared to some other Holocaust books I've read, Levi's style is very sparse, and very effective in its sparseness. The scope of the title If This Is a Man (or as it's translated to Finnish: Is This Man) is wide. It refers not only to those who run the concentration camp and send people to their deaths but those who must survive there, what it does to their humanity. And his message is not uplifting. This is not a pretty book. There are no comforting tales of how a right attitude or will-power or something or other can see you trough the worst. No, Levi is clear that no-one can actually survive in Auschwitz. Even those who make it out alive have lost themselves along the way: lost their humanness, their humanity.
It could be said that Levi himself never survived Auschwitz. After struggling with depression for years, he committed suicide in 1987.
Interestingly, Levi focuses on the day to day aspects of the life in concentration camp: the work, the food, the absurdity of some of the rules. He refers to the chimneys and the selections, but in a very matter of fact way, expecting the reader to be familiar with the history, and usually not explaining himself much. At times, the book can get a bit meandering, even slow. An exciting Hollywood Holocaust this is not.
To me the most powerful chapter was the last one, where Levi chronicles the very last days before the Red Army liberated the camp. He spent those days at the camp hospital with the dead and the dying. After the Germans have left, the camp becomes a barren, smoking wasteland where the last remaining survivors scavenge for food and water trough frozen soil and snow and shit. It's horrifying, apocalyptic.(less)
If you're ever in Galway, consider visiting the childhood home of Nora Barnacle. It's a very small, almost unnoticeable place on Bowling Green. The mu...moreIf you're ever in Galway, consider visiting the childhood home of Nora Barnacle. It's a very small, almost unnoticeable place on Bowling Green. The museum itself, if it can even be called that, is not much to write home about, but for two euros, you'll hear the literature and history loving middle-aged eccentric (possessor of bad teeth and an attention whore of a dog called Fluffy) who keeps the place talk in great length not only about the Barnacles and the love story between James and Nora, but also the history of the neighborhood and Galway, the Irish intelligentsia at the turn of the century and what Joyce thought of that, etc. etc. She also gives tips on how to read Joyce. Besides spending Bloomsday in Dublin this year (it rained!) visiting that place was what most inspired me to tackle Joyce again after a few failed attempts over the years -- before this, I'd read half of Portrait, most of Dubliners and maybe 5 pages of Ulysses.
I went into this book expecting to appreciate and possibly even admire Joyce's unique inventiveness with language and the narrative form of novel. I did not expect to like the book or enjoy reading it. So it was a bit of a surprise to find myself quite immersed in certain passages and finding them very pleasurable to read. Joyce has a reputation as a writer of the mind, but in my extremely humble opinion, the parts where he deals with the corporeal and the physical are the best in this particular work of his, such as describing sounds, smells and bodily pain. The half of dozen or more pages given to a priest to wax poetic on the horrors of Hell were also very powerful, as were the chapters on Stephen's religious awakening and his strained attempt to hold on to it.
I was also surprised to find that Joyce wrote such funny, snappy and fast paced dialogues. Seriously, who knew that the notoriously cerebral and difficult James Joyce could be funny? Not me. The students here are every bit as pretentious and pompous as the students today, which makes their high brow discussions pretty entertaining to read. Of course, learned quotations in Latin have since fallen out of favor among most students, but still.
By and large, though, spending so much time deep in young Stephen's mind was a bit of a chore. As a child, his solipsism is more forgivable and the fleeting impressions he has of the world and other people confusing but evocative. The older and more educated he gets, the harder the text becomes to read, to say nothing of enjoying the experience. The last few pages rectify that somewhat.
In conclusion, I'd say this was well worth a read, and not nearly as difficult as I feared.
Edit. Looking at the other reviews here, it strikes me as funny and perfectly appropriate that they're usually either five or one star.
This is a Franco-Chinese graphic novel, which apparently hasn't been translated to English. It's about one man's life in China trough the decades. The...moreThis is a Franco-Chinese graphic novel, which apparently hasn't been translated to English. It's about one man's life in China trough the decades. The first volume concentrates on his childhood in the 50's and 60's, during Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Harrowing stuff. The art could probably be a little better. The book was visually interesting but not stunning.(less)
Marjane Satrapi is, without a doubt, one of my favorite writers at the moment. It's amazing how much humor, warmth and humanity is in this little book...moreMarjane Satrapi is, without a doubt, one of my favorite writers at the moment. It's amazing how much humor, warmth and humanity is in this little book.
The setting is simple. Nine women drink their afternoon tea and tell stories. Some of them are familiar from Satrapi's previous work, like her grandmother. I have to confess: I'm a little bit in love with that woman. In Persepolis, she was perhaps a bit idealized, the beloved grandmother of a child. Here, Marjane herself is older and the picture we get of her grandmother is fuller, more human. And she is delightful. Sharp tongued, flawed, smart, full of life. The stories these women tell vary from funny to bittersweet and tragic.
I love the sense of togetherness and community Satrapi creates. Women gossiping. Talking about love and sex. Everybody knows how important that good, long discussion with your best girlfriends can be. This book was that discussion, and it was wonderful. Talking and laughter are healing.(less)