Mesa, AZ, United States
A fascinating piece of Persian/Roman/Asia Minor history/biography. Mithradates makes almost every other challenger to the status quo seem inept, uncreative and not really committed. He isn't, however, a warrior king/leader you can completely admire. His methods for removing the Romans from Asia Minor were not even remotely reasonable ('Kill them all and let Zeus sort them out' wasn't tolerable even in 88 BC). However, his life was mythic. He was a brilliant linguist, military commander, scientist, and absolutely machismo to boot. He wasn't interested in playing a minor character on the world stage. He wanted to be a Darius or an Alexander the Great type of leader and for much of his life he was. The Romans were terrified of him. He fought them using terror, direct action (both naval and military), statecraft, and asymmetric warfare. He was rich, charismatic and ruthless.
The shortcoming of this book is one that would probably be the shortcoming of any historical biography of Mithradates: the lack of complete records. So much of Mithradates life is shrouded in rumor, speculation and second and third-hand sources. Those materials that exist are often biased because they were written by Romans. So Mayor is stuck, she can either try to sort out the fact from the fable and sometimes get a little loose with her narrative, or she can write a book that no one but Classical Historians would probably want to read. She chose readability, and the book was VERY readable, but it did come at a cost. The "what ifs and alternate endings and he might haves" get to be a little too much, or at least enough that I couldn't see giving this biography five stars.
Maybe 3.5 stars. I liked it more than I was prepared to. Reminded me in a lot of ways of Single & Single. It was a tight morality tale in a world lacking morality. Like most of le Carré's post-Soviet/post-Cold War spy novels the real play here is not East v West, THAT is just a side show, the real conflict is ALL internal. William Faulkner's famous quote from his Nobel Prize speech that "the human heart in conflict with itself" is the only thing worth writing about, regardless of the genre" seems to perfectly capture le Carré. But le Carré doesn't just use that idea with people, he uses that idea with institutions (Secret Intelligence Service), and with whole counties. The modern world is a world in conflict with itself. God is dead. But maybe, just maybe, He still listens to all your phone calls, still reads all your text messages, and despite all the past promises made -- and He might just decide to screw you in the end.
I wish I could claim credit for the catchy title/phrase: The spy who came back to the bank., but it has Mr. Moneyball* written all over it.
After reading and reviewing Our Kind of Traitor, I kept being drawn back to Single & Single, a le Carré I listened to and read last year, but never actually got around to reviewing. Both Single & Single & Our Kind of Traitor are part of le Carré's banking/black-market brand of post-Soviet spy fiction. Certainly not everyone's genre jam, but being a finance guy myself, I kinda dig 'em.
Anywho, this is one of those post-Cold War, pre-Iraq war novels where le Carré emerges as not just the grand master of spy fiction, but as perhaps the grand master of both the Cold War and the Ambiguous Thaw. He was noticing in the late 90s what a lot of the rest of us only figured clearly out a few years into the War in Iraq. Those who are guarding the BIG secrets, might not be the most trustworthy people around.
I love how le Carré plays around too. He isn't just angry, he is also clever and confident. Part of me really wants to believe that in the beginning of Single & Single, the gun that both exists and doesn't exist seems like a twist on Chekhov's gun. Let's call it Schrödinger's gun. Ladies and gentlemen of the court, this gun both exists and it doesn't. This gun that shows up in Scene I has already gone off, or perhaps it hasn't. No need for Chekhov. No need for Chekhov's gun. Everyone please keep your juried seats. As the big C once said, "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep." During this stage of le Carré's career, it seems like THAT is all he wanted to do. Break promises. Break with the past. Show you the gun, and the write a whole damn book about ignoring it.
* Michael Lewis
Screwed by Love,
Husband, I barely cut you,
Show me your fair daughters,
Laying with your wife,
Some men are perpetually drowned by love,
Hypochondriacs make the best lovers.
Not my favorite Dostoevsky, but definitely a novella that sticks to you, like a nightshirt after a fever. The big D is dealing with amazing themes: class, love, men, women. In someways it reminds me a bit of Beckett, but instead of Vladamir and Estragon, Dostoevsky gives us Velchaninov and Trusotsky -- and instead of God, there is Woman. See?
OK. I'll use another approach. Velchaninov and Trusotsky are binary stars. They are locked together by a woman, a child, and a strange mutual gravity. Pavel Pavlovich (Trusotsky) is fascinated by Velchaninov, but at the same time repelled by him. Alexei Ivanovich (Velchaninov) can't seem to interact with Pavel Pavlovich without disrupting Pavel's relationships with women (past, present, or future).
Then there are all the women. They would seem to be casualties of their society. Bound to be married by their fathers for money. Destined to be controlled by their husbands. Yeah, in theory. In practice, however, the women seem to be the only ones in control. The men have the symbolic power, but the women possess the energy and the force. Anyway, a clever little novel that I might have overlooked if I hadn't run across it in the sale rack of a discount book shop. Lucky for me, stars (and cuckolds) aren't the only things with gravity.
The audio quality of this novella kinda stinks. It sounds a bit like it was recorded by a 1980s Aiwa walkman through a toilet paper tube on a subway. Just based on the recording quality I'd probably avoid this, unless you really, really are a Dostoevsky audio completist.
It has all the things that I love about Michael Chabon: the quirky characters, the beautiful filigreed prose, the androgenous and ambiguous lovers. But, it also contains more warmth and crazy energy than some of his later books. And I appreciate that. I appreciate the feeling that this book ran past Chabon's careful editing. Its kinetic narrative isn't about to be slowed by careful massaging. To Hell with all that. In someways it feels a bit like the Pastoral Wanderings of Don Quixote (just replace Rocinante and Sancho Panza with a dead dog and a tuba). IT also at times feels like a Greek New Comedy with the chorus singing through the vortex ring of Afghan Indica pot smoke. So yeah, I liked it good enough.
There is something almost perfect about Virginia Woolf's modernism. Her stream of conscious writing seems to be more aromatic than Proust (if that is possible) and goes down easier than Joyce. While she didn't write the massive 'Remembrance of Things Past' or the revolutionary 'Ulysses', her short novels seem - pound for pound - to stand up to these greats. Mrs Dalloway is a Madeleine that bites back and most certainly a novel that would make God "shout in the street" after reading.
I should give a quick intro and say that I rarely EVER, EVER re-read a book. I should also mention that 3 years ago I had never cracked Dante's Divine Comedy. Now, I am finishing the Divine Comedy for the 3rd time. I've read Pinsky's translation of the Inferno. I've read Ciardi. I've flirted with Mandelbaum and danced with Hollander, but from Canto 1 of Inferno/Hell to Canto XXXIII of Paradiso/Heaven, I can't say I've read a better version than the Clive James translation.
He replaced the terza rima (**A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, D-E-D-E-E** a measure hard to write without poetic stretch marks in English) with the quatrain, and in doing so made the English translation his own. It gives the Divine Comedy the verbal energy and the poetry that makes inferior translations a slog and makes Dante so damn difficult to translate well. A mediocre translation might capture the stripes but lose the tiger. Clive James pulled off a master translation of one of the greatest works of art in any medium -- ever.
You go to him for action and plotting, for dialogue and badassery. His novels don't just pull you through them, they hurl you through. 3x speed was not fast enough to keep up with my interest. Les Trois Mousquetaires is pulp before their was pulp and noir before their was noir. I personally like the Count of Monte Cristo better, but I could also argue that 3M is a better-made novel. Anyway, if you like adventure books read it. If you like littttttraaaature. Get off your pretentious leather chair and read it too.
There is this bourgeoisie period in every man's life. This midpoint between birth and death where man is trapped alone. Unable to exist in hot or cold of the absolutes he tries to find his way between the extremes in the comfortable center. Fearing life and death, he just exists ... barely. This is not a novel for the young. Just like it is better to save King Lear for late in one's life, it is better to save Steppenwolf for those crisis years of the midlife.
Hesse's novels seem to flirt between the edge of memoir, scripture, prose poem and Eastern philosophy tract. This isn't a book you want to read in a hot bath with scotch in one hand and a razor blade in the other. You will either spill your drink or spill your blood or lose every printed word, the hot water erasing pages and pickling your fingers, toes and time.
There are parts of me that get super irritated by Hesse and parts of me that absolutely love him. It depends, I guess, on what part of me is dominating at the time, which of my selves is dislocated and which is demanding the most.
Somedays, I wonder if I had my druthers I'd be a shepherd and write poetry on rocks. Unfortunately, I am a bourgeoisie bitch cloaking myself in cashmere and not a mangy wolf from the steppes.
This review is short, and winter is coming. Quck summary, here is a tasty in less than 1/2 minute: Swords, sex, incest, ships, war, slaves, maidens, maidenhead (no not that town in Berkshire, England), night, knights, dragons, draegans, a dwarf, dire-wolves, the cold, war, sex, fire, ice, crows (crows, crows, crows), snow, Snow, whores, weddings and more sex.
Roy Doltrice does a good job with the narration of a long book, but he seems to only have four voices: King/knight and low-born man; high-born woman and whore. It is like a barratone choir with only four notes. Great notes, rich notes, but only four. That makes it difficult when the audiobook has more flaming swords than voices. That being said, didn't Bono say once that all one needed to be great was three chords and the truth. I guess, then, this narration has the truth + 1.
This book morphed a couple times in my brain. It started off a bit uneven, filled with vignettes and sketches that seemed to anticipate the later genius of Dickens and even presented several shadows of future books and stories. After 100 pages I figured I would have another 700 pages of various Pickwick club digressions. There would be interesting characters (Sam Weller, Alfred Jingle, etc).
The narrative started to bog down, however, during the next couple hundred pages. The book had little velocity and the digressions seemed to have stalled, but then something happened. Dickens absolutely found his genius. It is interesting to behold a great author find his voice. I'm not just talking about any author or any voice. It is amazing to see Dickens find that genius balance between characters, plot, social commentary/satire, and humor. It was like watching a bird hatch, a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. More than the story, which ended very well, the book is worth the effort for what it shows about Dickens. This isn't the first Dickens I'd read, but after you've read a bunch of Dickens, I'd definitely read this just to soak in Dickens growth and his views on friendship, marriage, lawyers, and debt.
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