Mesa, AZ, United States
I am nearly finished with the individual portions of' Annals of the Former World' ('Basin and Range' ☑, 'In Suspect Terrain' ☑, 'Assembling California' ☑). All I have left is to read the section 'Crossing the Craton' (a sixty page addition to his 40th parallel/I-80 project that filled in the blank in the map and allowed the publishers of 'Annals of the Former World' some additional McPhee text not found in the four main books/sections previously published to incentivize McPhee's fans to fork out the addtional $35 in 1998 to get the whole brilliant McPhee mess).
I read/listened to these books a little out of order over a little over the last year. I started off well with 'Basin & Range', 'In Suspect Terrain', but then jumped to 'Assembling California' since a couple of weeks ago I was going to be driving through California and figured it would be nice to have some geology of the geography I was going to be driving through next to me.
While I was a little disappointed with 'Assembling California', I loved 'Rising from the Plains'. I don't know if it was a return to my roots (Wyoming and Snake River and Mormon Country), or the fact that this book seemed just to excite McPhee more. You could tell he loved the Loves (David Love: Yale educated geologist, cowboy; John Love: David's father, mirthful Scot rancher/cowboy, nephew of John Muir; Ethel Waxham Love: David's mother, teacher, writer). He threads this family's golden personality and history with the geology and geography of Wyoming.
These books are dangerous and should not be given to children. I am keeping them locked up with my William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, etc. If my son or daughter (no field geology sexist me) were to discover these McPhee books too young (s)he might just grow up to be a passionate field geologist. Reading this as I near my 40s, McPhee almost makes me want to take up a hammer, hop on a horse and ride into the mountains.
I give it four stars, simply because 'Coming into the Country' still exists for me as a slightly better book, but I think the combined energy of all of the 'Annals' is definitely amazing. I've grown to appreciate the narrative skills of Nelson Runger, although he went back and forth calling the Uinta Mountains at times the [WINtas) and at other times properly the (YOU-IN-tas). Anyway, a minor issue, but not overly distracting.
"There was no filling the holes of death. The emptiness might be filled up by other things over the years -- new friends, children, new tasks -- but the holes would remain."
There have been books I've read fast before because they were exciting. There have been books that I've read before because they were funny. This is a book that was sad, moving, traumatic, large and important. I didn't nibble. I quickly gulped; cried, then gulped again. You can feel the soul that went into writing this book and the lives that went into giving this book meaning.
This novel belongs on the shelf strategically next to: 'War and Peace', 'The Things They Carried', 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', 'Red Badge of Courage', and 'The Naked and the Dead'.
Probably 3.5 stars, but I tend towards grade-inflation with authors I admire, so -- just to be safe -- I'm rounding down on this one. I liked the first 4/5, but the last quintile bugged a little. It started brilliantly, but ended with a J. Leno (long explanation of the joke just told). It was like towards the end PKD discounted his readers would get it, so he left simple instructions (remove plastic before eating) and tied the whole thing off neat (with complementary happy ending). Other than the explanatory ending and the relative happy ending for the narrator, the book was fascinating and at times brilliant.
A very Proust-inspired (memory, love, dreams, art) Nabokov. The last of his Russian novels, 'the Gift' is a complex and rich Künstlerroman and is one of those novels that makes me wish I spent more time in college studying Russian simply so I could catch the nuanced differences between the Chapters where Nabokov is mimicking Pushkin, Gogol, and other Russian novelists.
Nabokov always amazes me with his ability to provoke, entertain and awe his readers. There are some novelists where it is clear they are writing for a certain audience. Nabokov seems content just to write novels that entertain an audience of one (VN). If someone else gets his books, well, it is all just a sugary and mischievous bonus, but overall ... he'd prefer to be left alone to categorize and pin his rare butterflies and metric variations.
This year I've been reading the separate segments of McPhee's Pulitzer Prize winning 1998 opus Annals of the Former World, but skipped (for now) Rising from the Plains because I was going to be driving with my brother from San Francisco to Mesa, AZ. We were going to hang in Berkeley and hit Yosemite, Sequoia, etc., on our trip South and East and I figured it was a perfect time to read 'Assembling California'.
Like all McPhee writing, 'Assembling California 'is an amazing conglomeration of good writing, great characters, and interesting technical facts. However, unlike the earlier books in this series ( Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain) it just doesn't set up as nicely. I'm not sure if it had more to do with the messiness of California's geology, the limits of Eldridge Moores as an engaging character, or if McPhee had just grown a bit tired of his own Great I-80 Geology Project. He is engaging, but there just wasn't as much sparkle or heat as with earlier books with Karen Kleinspehn, Kenneth Deffeyes, or Anita Harris. A solid McPhee and a good addition to the series, just not the strongest piece. I hope that 'Rising from the Plains' works out a bit better.
Wow, Proust kills it with this last book in his masterpiece In Search of Lost Time. He pulls it all together. I loved Proust's reflections on literary and artistic creation, reality, memory, pain, death and time -- and how in 'Time Regained' he draws all his themes together.
About 2/3 into 'Time Regained' the book started to swarm with emotional, intellectual, and experiential energy. You can feel Proust near a climax. IT is like the last movement of a great classical piece. The book feels like all his themes and fugues are twisting together, increasing in tempo, and taking a firmer shape: page by page, word after word.
I'm almost sad that it is over. There are few books I've ever wanted to start reading/listening to again immediately after finishing. Today as I was setting down 'Time Regained', I almost reached for 'Swann's Way'. I feel like there was so much I missed, whole sections that I just didn't get in the beginning. Gems that dropped between the pages of my cognition.
At the same time, I think that is the essence of Proust: the recognition that in the end, his novel is just us. My same need or desire to go back and read 'In Search of Lost Time' again is similar to my desire to go back into my own past and re-experience my youth with the knowledge I have now. It is a futile, but a very human desire. It is an impulse created by recognizing the expanse and limitations of time and memory. The genius of Proust is his ability to transport the reader to that point where we recognize the art within our own lives at the intersection of our memory and experience.
I'm glad I had the audiobook version to help me pace through this masterpiece.
I loved 'Spies of the Balkans' (Night Soldiers #11). It wasn't Furst's best in the series, but it was a sweet Kataïfi of a novel. Emotionally this was a novel that fed me. Furst highlights the little things people do with just a little nudge to make a dark world just a bit better. 'Spies of the Balkans' is about the sacrifices people made during fascism's push into Southern Europe.
The novel centers around Costa Zannis, a senior police official in Salonika, who sometimes finds his talents needed by both the Jews seeking to escape Germany and British spy networks. It is a novel that drips with the hidden goodness of those amazing men and women who refused to let dark circumstances dictate their character.
Daniel Gerroll does an excellent job of narrating Spies of the Balkans. He has narrated the last three (Spies of Warsaw, Spies of Balkans, Mission to Paris) and has done a great job with Furst. It is kinda like James Bond. I love the classic Furst narrator (Guidall narrated Night Solders # 1 - 8), but have also really enjoyed Gerroll.
A robust, tight and occasionally frisky Furst novel. I am quickly approaching the end of my Furst 'Soldiers of the Night' jag and thus far it has been a fascinating experience. His character-driven novels could easily be bound into one gigantic prewar novel. They all swirl and fugue with similar themes, many of the same characters, and the same dark ambiance. He is detail oriented, historically accurate, writes well AND is one of the best atmosphere writers around. He leaves you feeling the grit, the cold, and the tongue of the WWII night. He is a first-class genre writer that while not quite in the le Carré aristocracy, is certainly in the spy-Master ruling class.
'Spies of Warsaw' is centered around a French military attaché in Warsaw who is struggling with a growing sense of urgency about the inevitable crash of Nazi Germany tanks into France and Poland, while also dealing with a satchel filled with unreliable allies, reluctant spies and self-serving superiors.
There is certainly a lot to like about Eleanor's novel. Its structure is fascinatingly clever and reminds me of the way Nabokov divided ADA, or Ardor. In the Luminaries -- Part 1: 360 pgs, Part 2: 160 pgs, Part 3: 104 pgs, Part 4: 96 pgs, Part 5: 40 pages, Part 6: 26 pages, Part 7: 13 pages, Part 8: 10 pgs, Part 9: 6 pgs, Part 10: 6 pgs, Part 11: 4 pages, Part 12: 4 pages. Or looked at slightly differently:
Compare this to Nabokov's ADA -- Part 1: 326 pgs, Part 2: 120, Part 3: 86, Part 4: 32, Part 5: 25
Or looked at slightly differently:
Catton is following in the brave tradition of Nabokov, Pynchon, et al in constructing an elaboratly structured novel. The plot is interesting, but at times ends up being a little redundant. Do we really need to look at the same event from twelve different angles? OK, I'm not sure if that actually ever happens, but at points in the novel it sure felt like it did.
My problem with Catton is she just don't hold up against the writers I want to compare her to (Pynchon, Dickens, Carey, Nabokov) Carey and Nabokov demolish her prose. Her language while precise didn't twinkle or thrill me. Her plot while interesting didn't pull OR push me. Her characters while interesting didn't move or provoke me. And her setting, while exotic didn't capture or entice me. I want to give her some MFA extra-credit for her ambition, but great literature can't be solely rewarded for its ambition and potential. The Luminaries lacked the heart, soul and transcendence that a book about the stars and lovers almost demands. She belongs on the shelf next to Eggers, just not next to Nabokov.
Finished reading this with my kids, but I probably enjoyed it the most. It was a fun introduction to Lawrence of Arabia written by Alstair MacLean in 1962. It focuses on the role that T.E. Lawrence played in the Arab Revolt during WWI. There is just enough wind-up with his early life, character, etc., and the history/geography of Arabia to insure the thrust of MacLean's small biography doesn't lose nonserious readers in a desert of Arab ignorance. But the book's real brilliance is in MacLean's depiction of the Capture of Aqaba, Battle of Tafileh and the Fall of Damascus. At the end, MacLean also ties the book off with a summary of the post-War years and some of the political results of T.E. Lawrence's work with Winston Churchill and the Colonial Office.
Again, as a biography this is probably not where I would start for T.E. Lawrence. This is more literary hagiography than biography. Alistar MacLean is better known for his war novels like 'The Guns of Navarone' and 'Where Eagles Dare'. MacLean's book came out the same year as Lawrence of Arabia the academy award winning movie (which suggests this was one of those books intended to surf the wave of interest generated by a popular film). But still, if you are going to read one biography to your kids designed around a legend, saint, or mythmaker ... you could certainly feed the kids worse.
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