“What does reading do, You can learn almost everything from reading, But I read too, So you must know something, Now I’m not so sure, You’ll have to read differently then, How, The same method doesn’t work for everyone, each person has to invent his or her own, whichever suits them best, some people spend their entire lives reading but never get beyond reading the words on the page, they don’t understand that the words are merely stepping stones placed across a fast-flowing river, and the reason they’re there is so that we can reach the farther shore, it’s the other side that matters, Unless, Unless what, Unless those rivers don’t have just two shores but many, unless each reader is his or her own shore, and that shore is the only shore worth reaching.”—José Saramago, The Cave (via doubledaybooks)
“Physics says: go to sleep. Of course you’re tired. Every atom in you has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes nonstop from mitosis to now. Quit tapping your feet. They’ll dance inside themselves without you. Go to sleep. Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch by inch America is giving itself to the ocean. Go to sleep. Let darkness lap at your sides. Give darkness an inch. You aren’t alone. All of the continents used to be one body. You aren’t alone. Go to sleep. Astronomy says: the sun will rise tomorrow, Zoology says: on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle, Psychology says: but first it has to be night, so Biology says: the body-clocks are stopped all over town and History says: here are the blankets, layer on layer, down and down.”—Albert Goldbarth, “The Sciences Sing a Lullabye” (via fleurishes, sangfroid)
Well written discourses on growing up are amazing. The clarity with which the author described her years from infancy to childhood and beyond was astonishing; it was as if the babies in Mary Poppins had retained the eloquent speech which which they used to discourse with birds and other nonhuman entities. It made for some serious misunderstandings on my part at the beginning though, as I was originally very annoyed with Simone at the beginning of her life. Her tantrums and her taking of her blessed life as a given were very frustrating, at least until I realized that the way she was conveying her emotions and thought processes made her seem much older than she actually was at the time. It was easier to forgive her then, and actually made the reasons behind her outbursts as a child fascinating instead of insufferable. I will admit that the more antagonistic she became with her parents, the closer she came to my heart. Major bias on my part, but I definitely related better at any rate. Once my annoyances her cleared up, her life was one of the more intellectually stimulating biographies that I have had the pleasure of reading, to the extent that I will have to find more works by deep thinkers of the period. I’m especially looking forward to reading Jean-Paul Sartre; the way she describes him makes me wish I had met him, and if given the chance I would gladly give my right arm in order to do so. Many of the people she interacted with were interesting, but what shone clearest through her time with them is how it was normal for her to quickly fall in with them, discourse for a while, and then fall out just as quickly. This resonated deeply with my own experiences with others, along with the fact that she also had multiple periods of stagnancy of existence. To want for everything, yet be limited to a repeating daily life barred on all sides! There is no greater torture than this. Reading this book doesn’t help my own dissatisfaction with my short term goal of settling down to a career, but it was satisfying in my long term goal of figuring out exactly what my existence is supposed to consist of. I think there’s a little too much personal reflection in here. Darn. Going back to the book, it’s hard to beat a heady mix of descriptive elegance and intellectual stimulation in a never ending journey of self discovery, and Simone has honed the process of its creation to a science. Not sure if I’ll ever look into any of the books that she reported on devouring, but as said previously, I definitely need to read Sartre. Someone who was described as always thinking definitely deserves some attention.
2.5/5 I liked the credit Defoe gave to the heroine, I really did. He was able to see into the plight of women during such a time when their only source of living was either to marry well, or find work through less than savory means. Moll’s time period as a thief was also greatly entertaining. But ultimately, the plot plodded for most of the book, and Defoe’s writing style didn’t help that at all. The circumstances were also slightly unbelievable at parts, especially near the end; it all ended a little too easily and much too well. Also, I had expected her life to be much worse in the beginning, along the lines of growing up in the streets. Not having a mother is a shame and all, but her life could have been much worse. Her misfortunes really had more to do her choice of bed partners than anything else. That may be an unfair statement, but it is true.
The bravery of this man. It’s near impossible to comprehend how he was able to devote his life to the betterment of his beloved country and suffer such horrors as compensation. He didn’t even make it to the camps, you know. He didn’t need to in order to endure the worst of the atrocities that WWII had to offer to mankind. And then he was able to recount it in the most minute detail, but wasn’t able to finish writing it. The irony of it all is sickening. People should be grateful that he went through such trials with his mind intact, as it is hard to think of a more fit person suitable for the task of descending into hell and coming out of it to tell the tale. It never stopped either. Months home from grave-digging in Ukraine, he’s then thrust into prison, gets out and leaves the country, and then is barely recovered from his experiences when he makes the decision to go back to Hungary, and subsequently its ghettos. To put it simply, the guy could never catch a break. And yet he kept going, despite the failure of his country, despite the failure of his people, despite the failure of mankind to give him the life that his efforts should have brought him. And in the process he brought us this memoir that exemplifies the fact that reality is stranger than fiction, and even the most fantastical story pales in comparison to the truths of what humans are really capable of. Horrifically evil, infuriatingly neutral, altruistically beautiful. All are showcased in the author’s recounting of the fate he suffered during one of the worst times of the history of the world.
4.5/5 Margaret Atwood has such a way with metaphors. Give her a calm pond filled with normal plant life, and she’ll make you see corpses floating in their own blood. An addictive sort of morbidity. Anyways. It seems like every time I turn around there’s another dystopia floating by in all its screwed up glory. Well. That depends on the quality (cough Hunger Games cough). Here we have one that doesn’t explain itself as much as others do, at least not very consistently. I enjoy this kind of writing if it is done well, as it feels like you sink into the world so much more if you have to feel your way around in ignorance for a while before getting the big picture. Atwood’s style is uniquely suited to this, as she can wrap you in such disturbing visualizations that you’re always trying to catch your balance from yet another normal scene gone twisted and stunningly grotesque. You can feel the main character succumbing to these horrible waves brought upon by her unthinkable situation; never have I sympathized more with her tenuous hold on sanity, or felt more mentally threatened by words on paper. It doesn’t help that current politics are so concerned with women’s bodies and many of the resulting problems the dystopia sought to solve. Definitely put my teeth on edge. In summary, this book will disturb you with its overt sexual power plays and Old Testament viciousness. It’s unsettling in a good way though, in that it gives you plenty of food for thought. And as I said previously, Atwood has a way with words that gives new meaning to the phrase ‘morbid fascination’.
“I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words.”—Jeanette Winterson (via amorette)
I really like this Stendhal character. He may have written in the 1800’s, but his prose is far easier to grasp and enjoy than other authors of the period. His writing is bold, emotional, and unafraid to speak its mind truthfully on many of the matters society chooses to ignore in order to benefit itself. It reads like an intellectual rant at times, angry and scathing and ultimately delightful in its keen critique of the hypocrisies that riddle the world of the novel. And what better way of exploring these issues than through Julien, a peasant from the province who rose to prominence, capturing not one but two of the most elevated hearts among the nobility. And what contrast between the two women! What is amazing about these love affairs is that the actions of the lovers are no less ridiculous than those of many literary romances, but Stendhal explores the reasoning behind them so thoroughly that it reads not like silly interactions, but like logical results of the characters’ upbringings and educational experiences. It makes the ultimate conclusion that much more sorrowful, to know the characters were well and fully trapped in their reasoning taken mostly from books of historical prowess as well as philosophical teachings. They never had the real world experience to know that what works in writing rarely works in practice, and it takes an unfortunate end to teach them this. Plot points aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this social critique, one that didn’t bother to fully hide behind its story, but thrust out its opinions in a manner that would stir the heart of any reader.
This is one of those books that I read so that I’d have the experience to back up my opinions on a series that has been hyped up to a ridiculous extent. I have to say, I didn’t have to work at all at being unimpressed. The idea wasn’t all that novel, the writing was mostly telling instead of showing, and wasn’t even that good to boot. Too many awkward phrasings and grammatical errors. And maybe it was the lack of description and minimal emotional conveyance, but Katniss’ narration was very underdeveloped, in that she wasn’t nearly as angry or scared or mindful of her horrible situation as she should have been. Peeta seemed to have more complexity to him, but it’s unsure how long that will last. And the rest of the characters barely get five pages to them before disappearing forever, so it’s near impossible to judge them. I know it’s YA, but I’ve read much better YA. If you want a dystopia, go read The Giver or something. Much better use of your time.
3.5/5 Phweeeeeeeee. Success. This has been the only book to date that I have viewed with trepidation. Blood and guts I can deal with. Dryness I will tolerate and breeze on through if need be. This though. This was intimidating. It was sophomore year? Yes, sophomore year of high school, when I heard tales of this vicious beast of a mindtwisting hazard to health. All in literary form. Amazing. But the book. Perhaps in ten or twenty years or so I’ll settle down and drag out the definitions and footnotes and explanations to every single little bit Joyce throws out. This time round I just read and understood what I could. And I have to say, this man was a genius. He could take any literary from known to man at that time and extend it beyond all possible reason, while keeping true to the inherent character at all times. Amazing. You have to have that kind of mentality I think, to get through it, if you lack the cultural knowledge and appreciation. The fact that he knew so much and saw so much of it as ridiculous, and spent the time and immense effort (going blind while writing something does not sound pleasant at all) of conveying exactly what he felt about all of it is just. Well. Read the book. And for all those who read it and hated it and refused to attempt some grasping of meaning, your loss. If that was your viewpoint on the matter, you were either taking the book or yourself way too seriously. The only reason why you’d read the book was if you knew what you were getting in to. Joyce distilled all this as experimentation and parody, and in a few brilliant cases some serious reflection on life and its meaning. So. I liked it. Barely understood one word in twenty, probably, if not fifty. But it wasn’t all like the last chapter, and frankly I didn’t mind the pure stream of conscious so much as the multitudes of references that I didn’t get. Besides that. I have triumphed, and plan for a more through triumph in the future. But for now. A rest.
What a heady mix of disgust and pleasure, outrage and ecstasy, spartan existence and orgiastic frenzy. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is as close to a deity as you can get; so removed from the human sphere of existence, and yet can easily shift the sphere in the most drastic ways. His reasoning behind committing these actions that cause such violent repercussions throughout the world is no more logical than addiction is, and he cares not about the hoards that are dragged along in his wake. I have never given much thought to smell, but the overwhelming sway it holds over mankind and life in general is undeniable. Perhaps it is so powerful because it is both omnipresent and intangible; it is very hard to resist or formulate reasons for resistance when under the influence of such a pervasive, invisible influence. Now, the book. Beginning was a bit slow, and the mental pictures (I guess they’d be odors in this case) were hardly the most attractive things. But once Grenouille sighted his first victim, the pace immediately went into breakneck descriptive bliss. I haven’t read something with so many delightful descriptions in a long time. In fact, it’s one of those books that makes you want to go out and track down all of the beautiful objects and scents and just absorb them all. Grenouille’s addiction seems to be catching! He certainly does give new meaning to the phrase ‘burn the candle at both ends’; whether urchin, ascetic, perfumer, murderer, or god, his race towards fulfilling his internal pleasure never ceases, not even upon consumption. A powerfully precocious devil of a being, that one.
People. They pass through your life, your mind, your heart, bundled in their own worlds with their wants and needs and feelings. And they’ll tangle you up and drag you with and leave you with a lump in your throat and a weight in your gut. That’s the best case scenario. Worst case scenario you end up broken, jailed, dead. Philip avoids the latter with an insight into the human condition so instinctive and accurate it is frankly terrifying. Doesn’t help him at all with the former though. Besides all that, he is a singular character with singular motives. He would have been an excellent knight in the medieval ages, but I have a feeling that he wouldn’t have been drawn to such an auspicious living. His inherent moral code is tempered by a fixation on the seedier side of living. He craves the city, a filthy machine that rests on a vicious underbelly and is topped with a slathering of sickening gilt. Guilt? Same difference. He lives to solve the problem without regard to both those he affects and those who affect him; he must have an indifference to life made of steel, if not a mental complex the size of the city he resides in. I’d have to read more into him to find out. Which I think I shall. All discussion of the main character aside, the crime was tantalizing, the plot moved at a compulsively readable place, and you have to love witty banter, even if much of it was bluffing and bullshit. That’s why we have Marlowe though, to carve through all the things people say and find what they actually mean. You know, I think he would’ve made a cool English professor. I’m not sure how well street smarts would have translated to character and plot analysis, but humans really haven’t changed that much in the past millennium or so. Different words, but our motives and thought patterns still follow stupidly predictable ways for those who can see it. Raymond Chandler can definitely see it, and shows it to the rest of us in a way that leaves us craving more. There’s no greater escape from the bullshit of your own life than through a novel that cuts through its own, and it is inherently addicting.
I have never been so undecided as to what a rate a book. The oscillation from three to four stars and back again was dizzying, and made worse by the fact that I felt that a 3.5 would be a cop out concerning this particular novel. The writing was a mix of excellent logical processes and long trains of theological meanderings. I’d find the words blurring before my eyes when the author kept up his lists for too long, or when one of the characters was especially verbose on religious concerns. At least I have some familiarity with the Bible and its related texts, or I would have been completely lost. It was odd, though. It seemed almost that the author planned it that way, as detective monk William of Baskerville would often give insights into how ridiculous the whole concept of religion is. This ridiculousness was very apparent in the debates over laughter, heresy, and the differences between the countless denominations. So perhaps it was intended. Made for some very boring passages, I will admit. But the brilliant flashes of common sense and amazing trains of thought were enough to tide me over. I only wish more of the book was like that. But I must say, blatant inspiration is blatant. It’s been a while since I’ve read the Sherlock Holmes books, so I’ll be modeling my observations after my more recent watching of the BBC series (unorthodox, I know, but it illustrates my point). The overwhelming powers of observation and subsequent deduction, the use of drugs to ameliorate thinking, the meditative states that heightened these neurological processes to a sharp focal point, and especially the final relationship between William and the revealed villain. That heady mix of moral antagonism and intellectual respect was very, very familiar. It’s a shame that it didn’t last, the intelligent state of mind at any rate. William’s novice had only flashes of insight when in the presence of his mentor, and the manuscript he writes shows how far back he has slipped into the comfort of religious ignorance. He saw the sense of writing down what happened, at any rate. And his discomfort with his state of mind in view of his memories shows that he isn’t completely resigned to the sheep state of blind faith. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I have a couple more books by this author to get through, and the reading should be interesting if they are as filled with convoluted and contrasting passages as this one.
Uplifting, inspiring, astounding. They all pale in comparison to the reality, and it is such a rare opportunity to be able to say that. There was so much standing in William’s way. He could have been satisfied with his small successes and not thought about much larger dreams. He might have become discouraged by the ridicule and setbacks, given up on the project when it was only halfway there. There was a huge chance of him simply dying before his idea ever got off the ground. It took an amazing combination of persistence, effort, and assistance from his friends and family to even raise the windmill; it took complete strangers to show his accomplishment to the world. The rate at which his success took off after so many years of painful trial and error was well deserved. Those are the facts of the matter. For the book itself, it reminded me of books of my childhood, with simple language and straightforward recounting of events. Although I don’t think as a child I would have understood all the technology that went into the William’s work, so I can be grateful to my college courses in physics and electrical engineering in that respect. It was funny though, seeing this book surrounded by thick textbooks that were surely much more dense and much less enjoyable. The library sorting system is funny that way on occasion. But back to the book. I especially enjoyed the mention of the TED conferences, whose videos are always extremely interesting as well as technologically innovative. I’m going to have to go find the videos that involved William; seeing him up there in front of a big crowd that fully appreciates his efforts and fully understands the reasons for his presentation difficulties will be a delight.
3.5/5 Well. I won’t deny the fact that I didn’t expect to love it. It may be that the recent trend of reading classics has left me suspicious of anything modern. Unfair, I know. But my reasons for this particular rating are sound enough for me. The writing was pretty typical: caustic wit, descriptive passages, hints at the unknown until they are dragged into the light. You know. But it didn’t help that I had the overwhelming urge to reread ‘The Golden Compass’ during the first half of the book and the fervent desire to rewatch ‘Ghost’ during the second. Because that’s essentially what the main creative sparks were driven with. That and the whole African music scene, which I didn’t understand much of; bit difficult to enjoy pop references when you can’t tell what’s real and what’s fiction. The book would be a plain three star if it wasn’t for the interjections of reality between chapters: spam email, news articles, excerpts from scientific articles, even the webpage of an IMDB style movie article. Those were refreshing, and indicated some real thought into the universe. If only the main framework wasn’t so obviously inspired. And the ending wasn’t the greatest either. I didn’t see any mention of a sequel in the book itself, but I think it could do with one, if only to give the author a chance to expand the universe a bit more with ideas of their own. And avoid having that ending being the end.
n. a relationship or friendship that you can’t get out of your head, which you thought had faded long ago but is still somehow alive and unfinished, like an abandoned campsite whose smoldering embers still have the power to start a forest fire.
This book was so much fun. Really, it’s been too long since I’ve been able to say that. And of course it would be Russian. That combination of comical absurdity and grave circumstances is unmatched by any other culture of literature. And what character fits the setting better than Satan himself? Devilishly good fun, no pun intended. Yes, there were people who died, and a an even larger number who survived but suffered unneedlessly due to the activities. Lots of psychological repercussions there. But the ending was heartwarming and the henchmen were the most beautifully random things and Woland was the archetype of the highly menacing yet extremely entrancing Prince of Darkness. Not to mention the fact that Margarita was fantastic. I love it when people know full well that they’re making a deal with the devil, but do it so well that they come out on top. Simply marvelous. If there’s a movie adaptation, I have to watch it, for the cat’s antics if nothing else. I also liked the alternative retelling of Pilate’s story; it was much more logical and thus much more enjoyable than its biblical counterpart, but I suppose that’s a given. Nonetheless, it was good. As was all of the book. Definitely entertaining, and very demonstrative of the madness of corruption. It helped that it explicitly showed how many are chewed up in the wake of the success of a chosen few. A sober lesson delivered in a very entertaining manner. Very nice.
4.5/5 A rare mix of characters and languages and emotions indeed. Gripping. Kerewin is one of my all time favorite characters; she’s everything I am and so much more. The talent and the energy and the drive. Simply beautiful. I can’t forgive Joe though. I can’t. I don’t see any justification for his violence. Is this how male’s get? Is this how their logic works? It has no place in society, whatever their excuses and reasoning and past horrific experiences may be. What he did to Simon was unforgivable, and the way the book kept pushing them together was unbearable. No one should go through that much torture and horde the blame for themselves. Moving on though. The story builds and builds and then the ending. Hardly satisfying, especially given all the hinting and foreshadowing. It was all too easy, really. A happy family reunion, after all that? Unlikely. The flow of words was nice, I have to admit. The Maori language has a certain running quality that makes the sprinkling through tolerable, almost pleasant, despite the lack of understanding. I don’t agree with all of it. But I can’t deny its unique beauty.
I’m on a roll. Or rather I’ve finally figured out how to find lots of books that I’ll love. So many five stars, and it’s only February. Anyways. This book is like a savory meal that is extremely good for you. Or any activity that is rewarding in all the right ways. Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ comes to mind, or more a massive extension on its logic into a world where that fully accepts it. Will brings enough cynicism into the utopia to put up a good fight, but his acceptance and appreciation was inevitable. His main issue was jealousy; from this stems his desire to bring the place down to the level that he has been forced into acclimatizing to for his entire life. You can’t keep that attitude up for long though under these circumstances. At least, I definitely wouldn’t be able to. And Huxley. He took his amazingly keen analysis of human nature and applied it to success, rather than mindless continuous as he did in ‘Brave New World’. ‘Brave New World’ is more inevitable. But oh I wish this story would come to pass. In some way, some form, somehow. Long after I’m dead, that’s for sure. The world is too bogged down by those who don’t see the logic and genius reasoning behind all this. Of course there are probably flaws that I don’t see, ones that inspire contempt and disgust from those who have also read. It’s a shame, really. I can’t see any reason to dim the brilliance of this book in order to acknowledge its imperfections. It’s again like Hardin says. People are so used to rejecting any imperfect reform that comes around, in favor of maintaining the status quo. Perhaps it’s a bit much to apply it to book reviews. But hey, I love this book. And I get to apply recent learning. I love being able to do that.
Madness. Despicably disgustingly amazingly crafted madness. The ability of authors to write out these scenarios, diving into and drowning in the minds of the most horrific human beings imaginable, without completely losing their minds astounds me sometimes. Maximilian Aue is just a byproduct of this whole history, if you can believe it. He starts out with horrific tendencies, to be sure: incest from an extremely young age, coprophilia, murderous inclinations. And then comes the war and its horrible mesh of insane procedures combined with genocide in the name of a logic that only exists in minds blinded by ‘the bigger picture’. The motto of the war? It’s someone else’s responsibility. Every bit of it. And the sheer idiocy of it: setting out to wipe out entire races while simultaneously saving them for an efficient work force? The entire war effort of the Germans degenerated into a paradox along these lines; at the end it became nothing more than an atrocious mess of confusion and futile attempts at maintaining order, and above all rampant killing. You look at Dr. Aue, and you look at a microcosm that contains a good deal of the horrors. The thing is, even he wasn’t enough of a monster to fully appreciate them; the war machine around him combined with his bullet to the brain tormented his conscience into complete insanity. One of the more completely fucked up characters of literature. You have to appreciate the detail of the book; it’s so easy to sink into the world described from every aspect of cultural/political/societal context. Of course the sick taste of madness never fully leaves the pages; the aim of the book is not to leave you comfortable. Yes, quite a bit of this book will turn your stomach. But if you condemn it solely because of that, you’re missing the entire point that Germany in WWII was not a nice place. It would sicken you then, so there’s no point if it doesn’t sicken you now.
This was in many ways a breath of fresh air in Holocaust literature; reflective of the horrors yet focusing more on WWII itself and all the other things that were happening to the Jews outside of the camps. It was nice learning about the partisans and the underground survivors, and how Italy drew all the Jews from everywhere in preparation for a new life. In a way, it was a period that I already knew a lot about from previous literature, but delivered in a different way, focusing on a different perspective. It was also surprisingly balanced for a book by a Holocaust survivor; Levi didn’t sink too deeply into despair, or condemn everything for the rest of time for what happened. His style of writing is very straightforward, and spends just as much time on the good as on the bad. Surprisingly pleasant, as well as informative.