**spoiler alert** I was first introduced to Harry Potter in a Children’s Lit class in college. I had resisted this popular phenomenon until I was forc**spoiler alert** I was first introduced to Harry Potter in a Children’s Lit class in college. I had resisted this popular phenomenon until I was forced to pick it up for a grade, and Book 1 was short enough that I could read it in the course of 2 hours. I have to admit I wasn’t impressed to any extent, nor did I dislike the experience, but I was critical on grounds of its being derivative, even if reading the first led to reading the second. After all, if I was bored and looking for something light, I could do worse than a fantasy about a child wizard who fights evil with his friends. But it was really the third book, with its increasing darkness, that took me in and made me a fan.
With a movie coming out for Order of Phoenix and Deathly Hallows on the horizon, I decided I would reread Half-Blood Prince. I figured it would take four sittings, of course, with its 600 pages, but time does fly when reading this one, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is my favorite so far. What I wouldn’t have been willing to admit in college that I’m perfectly comfortable saying now is that J.K. Rowling is a fantastic storyteller; she writes with great clarity, wit, and humor; and she’s created a cast of loveable characters with whom most people, due to the common experience of growing up, can relate closely.
That said, the reason for my preference for the 6th book is that it’s the most emotionally rich in the series. Here we get the backstory of Voldemort (*spoiler alert*) through a series of flashbacks (coming in HP by way of magically extracted memories), and in this way, we come to understand the villain’s similarities and differences with our hero. After all, the villain has to have reasons for committing heinous acts, and until now, we don’t know what these are.
Voldemort is from a once-powerful wizard family reduced to poverty that lives in a dilapidated hovel on the edge of a small town, wary of outsiders, and their main point of pride is their pure blood, the lineage having cross-bred for generations so as not to pollute the line. Voldemort’s mother lives with her father and brother and yearns for the love of a nonmagical man (“muggle” in this world) and when her father and brother are arrested, she uses the opportunity to bewitch her beloved and run off. She ends up pregnant, the man deserts her, and she dies while giving birth to her half-wizard, half-muggle son, thus making him an orphan (like Harry).
But whereas Harry comes to Hogwarts and befriends Ron and Hermione creating unity and strength through positive emotions, Voldemort, when growing in the orphanage shuns other children, torturing them at times (without the awareness of adults) and stealing their possessions. What fuels him is his hatred of his beginnings, his mother’s weakness at having died like a common person despite being a witch, and the “muggle” blood inherited from his father. Over the course of his time at Hogwarts, Voldemort, charming as only evil can be, learns to win over people as a means to an end and disguise his insidious purposes, but he never befriends anyone. He moves, through his hatred, further away from many of the emotions that drive Harry, namely the desire to protect the people he loves and avenge his parents’ death.
With Dumbledore’s help in exploring Voldemort’s past, Harry begins to understand that he’s come to be where he is through the choices he’s made, that his greatest strengths are an alliance with his friends, and that this might hold the key to destroying his enemy, a fact that’s made all the more poignant when Dumbledore, in an all-out assault on Hogwarts by Voldemort’s Death Eaters, is killed at the end. The stakes are higher than before, the action and pace increase as the conclusion draws near, and things are looking darker than ever, which is the setup that any fan wants when the end is looming and it leaves us with the question: How will our hero prevail?...more
Most people give accolades to Nabokov for simply being Nabokov, and I have to admit, I'm always tempted to fall in with the flock rather than give myMost people give accolades to Nabokov for simply being Nabokov, and I have to admit, I'm always tempted to fall in with the flock rather than give my real opinion of his books. After all, if I don't like it, it must mean that I don't "get it," and if I don't "get it," it must somehow mean that I'm stupid, right?
Let's start off by admitting that Nabokov's books are hard to "get" and that even those with great intelligence don't derive everything offered or intended by these novels. So if I write a review here and it's not all inclusive, keep that in mind. I'll be the first to admit it: I don't understand everything the man, whether successful or not, is trying to do.
The fact is, I liked this book, but I didn't "really like it" (four star rating) or "love it" (five stars). Perhaps in my older age, I'll revisit this one with more patience and time on my hands to unlock its many treasures of language (since it is beautifully composed). After all, Nabokov is synonymous with such fare. But this is exactly my point: we give Nabokov the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a linguistically difficult and challenging/confusing book because he is Nabokov, and one walks away from his novels a bit word-drunk and reeling with a diminished capacity to differentiate between what we enjoyed and what we didn't. What did I just encounter? What really happened (since so much of his writing is ambiguous and open to interpretation)?
I'm sorry to say that if the name Nabokov wasn't slapped across the cover, I wouldn't give it a second look past the first two chapters (and I doubt many other people would), even if it was the same exact book under a less well-known author's name. But as he's the author of Lolita, I can give him some leeway.
As usual, the narrator's voice is pretentious beyond belief, and he uses 3 different languages (English, French and Russian) in the telling of his tale (which is something I don't necessarily mind, but I also don't take the time to really examine the Russian words, being that I'm entirely unfamiliar with the tongue). Nabokov simulates the author Van Veen writing about himself in 3rd person with hand-written notes from the margins of an original manuscript by the title character Ada included in parenthetical asides, along with an appendix at the end composed by Nabokov himself under the pseudonym Vivian Darkbloom examining smaller details. He plays with time and space (citing Proust in a conversation from the 1880s when Proust didn't publish until the early part of the 20th Century, and having a major airline disaster occur in 1905) and the reader is often left asking himself why we're assaulted with these anachronisms, only to be given a slight explanation in the fourth part of the book. By that time, it starts to make since (sort of), but again, without giving in to the Nabokovian curve (benefit of the doubt), most readers wouldn't have made it this far.
Ada is obviously a book Nabokov wanted people to study and take their time with, a book that is meant to be read more than once and pondered. The main question upon entering this world is whether or not you want to do this. For the first 200 pages, I did. For the last 300, I found my attention span waning and Nabokov's attention to detail tedious (which is not surprising, as this also happened to me about 200 pages into Lolita). Maybe I'll feel different in 10 or 20 years, but for now, I just don't have the discipline to keep with it when, for endless paragraphs, he deviates from the story to catalogue trees and butterflies and motel and hotel rooms. At that point, it simply feels masturbatory. ...more
As I was finishing Gravity's Rainbow (took me 2 months), I started kicking around an question that hadn't necessarily occured to me when I started: AmAs I was finishing Gravity's Rainbow (took me 2 months), I started kicking around an question that hadn't necessarily occured to me when I started: Am I really intended to understand everything that's going on in this book? And if approached with the answer of "no," Gravity's Rainbow is an enjoyable experience. I started off slowly in the attempt to take in every word and comprehend everything that was going on, but as I read an reread, I realized that some of this stuff was either above my head or completely incomprehensible without a study guide or a graduate course and I should simply try to extract from the experience what I could rather than try to understand it in its entirety.
Unlike other high-brow writers such as Joyce or Nabokov, Pynchon uses a low-brow, toilet humor that lends him an immediacy and accessibility not found in Ulysses or Lolita/Ada (okay, it's arguable, but when Nabokov and Joyce make jokes...um, face it people, they're not really that funny) and the periods of lucidity and of tangible plot within Pynchon's work are intriguing. He writes with a genuine love of language and can weave a spell-binding web with poetic, descriptive lines that draws a reader in, although at times, the text is incredibly difficult (sometimes painful) to wade through.
In particular, I found the story of Pokler (one of hundreds of characters) caught my attention, for the questions it raised. Although it may only occupy 30 pages of the book, I felt an emotional attachment to this German scientist that I wasn't able to form with any of the others in the book. Basically, Pokler is an important figure in the development of the V2 rocket for the Germans, but he's not necessarily the most willing or happy of workers. His wife and daughter are in a concentration camp somewhere and his superiors hold this against him like a carrot at the end of a stick. Each year for a few days, his daughter is sent to visit him, and then taken away unexpected without the benefit of a goodbye. Of course, each year, he's not certain as to whether it is the same girl or even his daughter at all, but he pretends that she is simply because he needs that connection to survive, to keep himself sane. The story is an unsettling examination of familial relationships and the idea of identity, and its worth reading the book if only for this small section.
Of course, the rest of the novel had its moments, but none so poignant for me as that of Pokler's work on the rocket and his relationship with his daughter. There are times when a reader has to wade through examinations of corporate conspiracy ("They" being a main, unidentified force throughout) and descriptions of the science behind rocket feul, and at these times Gravity's Rainbow is completely overwhelming. But then again, perhaps Pynchon's point is to make you feel as lost in the novel as people do in modern life. Certain things don't make much sense; but hey, when you look out at the complexities of the world, is the society we live in any different?...more
Last night, I finished the first novella in this book, Calvino's The Nonexistent Night, and as Calvino stands among my favorite novelists, I can't sayLast night, I finished the first novella in this book, Calvino's The Nonexistent Night, and as Calvino stands among my favorite novelists, I can't say a bad word about it.
The story revolves around a suit of armor with nothing inside except the nonexistent knight of Charlemagne's army, Agilulf, who (dis)embodies chivalric perfection. With tender wit and subtle humor, Cavlino traces the adventures of Agilulf as he travels throughout Europe and North Africa to prove the chastity of a virgin he'd saved to earn his knighthood fifteen years prior after another knight contests that the woman couldn't have been a virgin since she was his mother.
Of course, you can get all of that from reading the back of the book. What you don't get is the ways in which Cavlino pokes fun at the act of war as senseless and futile without being mean or vicious about it (you catch more bees with honey, right?) or the way in which the plot is resolved with a clever Shakespearian twist of mistaken identities unmasked.
At 140 pages, it was a quick and quirky read, light-hearted and fun in the way it deals with some weighty philosophical topics, although not necessarily a classic in the vein of The Baron in the Trees or If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.
The Cloven Viscount, on the other hand, isn't quite as interesting as the first novella. It's a rather simplistic parable about the nature of good and evil in the human soul. An Italian Viscount goes off to fight in the crusades and is blow into two halves by a cannonball. One half is pure good, the other pure evil, and eventually in order for the kingdom to exist in peace these two halves need to be rejoined to form a full person. Although it's a fun read, the idea is rather simplistic and has been summed up in other reviews here....more
So far, I can't decide whether I like this or Gilead better, which is the highest compliment I can give. They're both so full of beauty and compassionSo far, I can't decide whether I like this or Gilead better, which is the highest compliment I can give. They're both so full of beauty and compassion for what people go through in everyday life. I love them. ...more
Mark Twain once made that comment about classics being books that everyone talks about but no one reads, and it might be no truer than with Proust monMark Twain once made that comment about classics being books that everyone talks about but no one reads, and it might be no truer than with Proust monumental Remembrance of Things Past. I spent '07 trying to get through Volume 1 and I'll spend '08 on Volume 2. I love Proust at his best, and there's certainly a great deal here for Lit Majors or Professors to talk about, mull over, write papers on, etc. but the problem is that I'm neither these days, and my enjoyment is limited to passages that make me see life in ways I never had before.
This is what Proust is best at. He takes the most mundane experience and elevates it to the level of poetry. He obssesses over a gesture and glint of sunlight on a cupboard door and he makes us feel it, takes our breath away. Of course, when he gets into French politics and the society of his time, my attention wanes, and he completely loses me to when he writes of women's personalities.
Truth be told, I see the completion of this book as a challenge to myself and I enjoy it in small doses, but I don't imagine there are many out there who could sit down and read the whole work cover to cover in a month or two. It's a bit to wearing and wearying. ...more
This book starts out well, giving an interesting evokation of a gay man's youth in the Midwest, small town America, but when the main character entersThis book starts out well, giving an interesting evokation of a gay man's youth in the Midwest, small town America, but when the main character enters boarding school, it veers off course and I lost interest. In the end, White's story supposedly autobiographical comes off as a bit difficult to believe, as though halfway into the composition he decided his goal was not to write a realist rendering of his life, but to shock and be sensationalist. Perhaps in the time it was written, there was some point to this, but reading it in 2008, it has a rather ridiculous effect.
Another problem I had with this was the prose style. For some reason American writers of this period (Philip Roth, John Updike, etc) tend to all sound the same to me, use the same voice, have the same opinions, and stylistically I find it dull. It's almost like they were taught there is only one definitive way to write and that's it. This book reminded me of Goodbye Columbus. If you're into that kind of thing you'll enjoy A Boy's Own Story. If not, it's best to skip it. ...more
Although I adore the topics Murakami tends to tackle along with his tone and style, I always come away from his novels feeling as though plot-wise, soAlthough I adore the topics Murakami tends to tackle along with his tone and style, I always come away from his novels feeling as though plot-wise, something was missing. For example, Hard Boiled Wonderland was a wonderful wild ride until I got to the end and said, "That's it? That's how it ends?" Fortunately, After Dark doesn't leave me with that sense of wanting more (even if he doesn't resolve all plot points). I finished this book in a sitting, and came away feeling a bit sad and fortuante. This book focuses on one night and the people whose lives intersect over that period. One could almost imagine this being adapted by the late, great Robert Altman, if he was, you know, Japanese. It was a beautiful and enjoyable read, but didn't necessarily have the epic scope of something like Wind-up Bird Chronicle. In the end, I'd recommend this for people who have read his work and enjoyed it. If you haven't encountered Murakami yet, I'd start with his short-stories (or Wind-up Bird, if you're willing to tackle a book of that length). ...more
Like most of the reading public, I spent the bulk of my weekend finishing the final Harry Potter book. I walked into Border's Saturday morning, walkedLike most of the reading public, I spent the bulk of my weekend finishing the final Harry Potter book. I walked into Border's Saturday morning, walked out with the book in ten minutes laughing at all the suckers who waited in long lines on Friday night, and didn't put it down except in the case of having an occaional social life for a few hours. And although the end of series oftentimes doesn't live up to the hype surrounding it, in this case, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows does. My main question going into this book was: How can the author make us believe that three wizards who have barely completed their schooling can defeat a villain that she has set up as the greatest dark wizard of all time seeing as the heroes aren't nearly as skilled? And she pulled it off, made me believe. There are a few minor details in which I was disappointed that I'll refrain from going into here, as I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but the final sequence gave me goosebumps, and instead of sitting down to read it in my nice comfortable chair, I stood up and paced my apartment as I sped through the last 100 pages or so. The epilogue felt a bit flat to me, but as it's only 5 or 6 pages of an otherwise wonderful book, that didn't matter much. Obviously, if you've made it this far in the series there's not much I have to say to convince anyone to read this book. I simply hope that other people get as much joy out of seeing how it all ends as I did....more
The most interesting thing in this book is the humanity of its historical figures. What we have with Mayflower is not a book in which all English wereThe most interesting thing in this book is the humanity of its historical figures. What we have with Mayflower is not a book in which all English were evil, land-hungry zealots bent on the genocide of a native population and all Native Americans are perfect Edenic people living in close harmony with the earth and land before the devilish white man shows up; what we have is a story in which flawed people both acheive great things and committ terrible acts. Mayflower gives us what feels to me to be the most well-balanced story of the conflict and friendship between the pilgrims and the Indians that I've ever encountered.
One of the most common reasons given for the study of history is that the only way to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past is to understand how they happened. I've encountered a number of people who think of Thanksgiving as the simplistic story we're fed in grade school, and of course, anyone with a bit of education beyond that level knows this isn't true. And I've also met people who are so outraged by the treatment of the native population over the past 200 years that they go to the oppoisite end of the spectrum in which they claim that these people were pretty much the perfect example of a utopian society before Europeans arrived. But as Mayflower shows us, neither of these perspectives are true. Some Indians double crossed and sold out one another in the interest of ascending to power (Squanto, in fact, was among these, having been one of the first and only Indians who could speak English upon the pilgrims arrival), and some English stood up for Indian rights and insisted that Eurpoeans should live in harmony with the native population instead of stealing their land and warring with them (although it is rather unfortunately that this was a minority and didn't have the impact of stopping the rampant savagery perpetrated by the government toward the Indians).
That being said, one of the most intersting things that this book demonstrates is the way in which a governmental power can turn a war between two factions (in this case between the Plymouth Colony and the Pokanokets) into a conflict encompassing an entire race of people (between people's of English Descent and several different Indian tribes) through ignorance and fear. Nathanial Philbrick shows us the ways in which peaceful tribes who wished to avoid the conflict were drawn in simply because they looked like the enemy. Sound familiar? It should because it goes on and on even in this day and age. The question, of course, remains that if human beings have been behaving this way for centuries, how can such behavior be changed?...more
Continuing with my rereading of the Harry Potter series, I finished the fourth book again on Sunday night. I first read this in late '03 in one sittinContinuing with my rereading of the Harry Potter series, I finished the fourth book again on Sunday night. I first read this in late '03 in one sitting on a couch in my old bedroom and was held in rapture by the most complex plot Rowling had yet put forth in one of her books. On reassessment, I didn't enjoy the ending as much for the convoluted exposition she uses to explain the mysteries she'd opened earlier in the novel, but I was still moved by Cedric's fate and the speech Dumbledore makes about uniting in the face of a common foe. Overall, it's still a pretty great read, but at the same time, this book doesn't benefit as much as the others from knowing how things turn out in the Deathly Hallows. ...more
Bukowski can be a breath of fresh air, and Post Office reminds me that the best writing results for allowing an individual voice to flow. Often peopleBukowski can be a breath of fresh air, and Post Office reminds me that the best writing results for allowing an individual voice to flow. Often people try to emulate Bukowski in the way they try to emulate someone like Raymond Carver. But it can't necessarily be done.
Post Office tells the story of the 12 years he worked for the goverment delivering mail, and it's told with wit and humor, and a touch of the sadness in life. The language is simple and sparse, but effective. And it's a quick read (I read it in three or four hours in the course of an afternoon). Recommended for anyone looking to cut through literary poetic bullshit and get a good slice of life piece. ...more