Mesa, AZ, United States
Wow, not the book a financial advisor should read/listen to right before leaving his wife to go on a business trip. This is another novel where it seems more important (well timed) than it is actually good (well written). Don't get me wrong, I think this is a fine (and important) piece of literary fiction, but it just isn't GREAT fiction. Chopin, to me, is a little like a trembling bridge between Leo Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf that isn't as perfected as Tolstoy and not as consuming as Woolf, but feels like an adequate literary step between the two.
Often, when writing about the Renaissance there is tendency among experts/writers/historians to focus on the well-plumed bird and ignore the nest. Burckhardt spends nearly 400 pages carefully detailing the Tuscan nest of the Renaissance that embraced, protected, and incubated the great Italian artists of the Rinascimento (Giotto to Michelangelo, etc).
Burckhardt first describes the state in Italy and carefully describes the rise of the despots, the energy of the republics, and the push and the pull of the papacy. He builds on this, describing the development of the individual, Italy's relationship with its Classical past. Finally, Burckhardt details the science, society and religion of Italy during those impressive years between 1350 and 1550.
I think Daniel J. Boorstin summarized it best when he said Burckhardt "offered a classic portrait of the men and institutions that gave the era its characters and made it the mother of modern European civilization."
Like Gibbon's fantastic 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' it is tempting to gloss over how drastically the craft of history was changed by this book. Burckhardt wasn't interested in a stale or utilitarian history. He wanted a nest that was just as beautiful as the bird it bore.
'The Stalin Epigram' is unlike any Littell novel I've read. It is sad, beautiful, complex. It is a writer not playing with words to earn a living, or to impress, or to get laid, or to sell one stupid book. It is a lonely poet casting a stone into a cave, writing a love note to a dead lover, or telling Stalin to take a flying leap. It is art and art is always a little mad.
I normally don't gravitate towards abridged books (sorry folks on Audible, but this IS abridged), but Vasari's 'The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects' is a book that needs to be: 1) read by art history experts in its entirety (2000+ pages), 2) picked through periodically, like an encyclopedic “Garden of Delights”, 3) read abridged, in a version that focuses on the Renaissance's best (Vasari was interested in distinguishing the better from the good and the best from the better). My time here is limited. I only have so much time for the good. In my brief life here I want to hang with the Gods not with the minor prophets. I want Michelangelo not Niccolò Soggi. Sorry Niccolò.
The Penguin Classics/George Bull translation, was a great audio version. It had all the Teenage Ninja Mutant Renaissance artists, but still provided plenty of architects, sculptures and painters that I was either completely uninformed about or lacked much knowledge. Vasari has a natural narrative momentum, even if he does sometimes lose his narrative genius when he's consumed with listing and describing all of an artists works. It is a fine balancing act, to try and describe the artists' life, work, and importance and make the essay complete, without making the piece a laundry list of oil and marble.
One final note. This is one of those books that seems destined to become an amazing hypertext book or app. There were times while reading it I wished I was reading a digital copy that would provide links to pictures, blue prints, smoothly rotating statues, etc. What I wanted was a through the looking-glass, artist's version of 'The Elements' app by Theodore Gray. I want a multiverse of art, history, maps and blueprints. I want to fall into a hypertext of Renaissance Florence and Rome. Audiobooks or paper just fail to do justice to this beautiful subject.
Ross Macdonald definitely dances down the same literary streets as Hammett and Chandler. This hardboiled detective novel, the 8th in the Lew Archer series, feels like it was written in one continuous sitting (that is a good thing).
'The Galton Case' has a naked narrative intensity that is well-supported by its witty dialogue and California Noir setting. Macdonald is one of those authors who is so spare and bare that it is hard NOT to be impressed by the clean, minimalist architecture of his writing. If Proust was edited by Hemingway, liked bad girls (well OK, sometimes Proust liked bad girls) and wrote hardboiled novels, he'd be Ross Macdonald.
It has been awhile since I've read Robert Littell. This wasn't one of his best novels (*** 1/2), but it was still fascinating. At its core, 'Young Philby' is an ahistorical, fictionalized telling of the early life and background of Kim Philby, the most famous of the Cambridge Five.
Littell's fictionalized account imagines the possibility that Philby was actually more than just a double agent. I would tell you more, but then I would have to kill you. Anyway, 'Young Philby' was well-written, well-developed, and nuanced enough to make Littell's argument credible.
One of my big regrets over the last couple years is that I never met Michael Hastings. He wrote some of the "great" long-form journalism pieces for Rolling Stone Magazine during the last decade ('The Runaway General' & 'Bowe Bergdahl: America's Last Prisoner of War'). Hastings' genius was a combination of gonzo passion with the ability to laser-in on stories months or years before they became news.
'The Last Magazine' gives us an energized, barely fictionalized, account of Michael Hastings' time at Newsweek. There is Nishant Patel & Sanders Berman (read Fareed Zakaria & Jon Meacham). There is sex. There is hackery. There's plenty of politics and porn, transvestites & bottom feeders. There are even twin narrators. Two sides of Michael Hastings. There is Michael Hastings the naive intern and A. E. Peoria the jaded combat vet who seems to have an inevitable destiny with self-destruction.
Like most unpublished novels discovered only after their famous authors have died, 'The Last Magazine' is a hot mess. There are parts that are repetitive, segments that go on too long, underdeveloped ideas, etc., but there is also a current and energy that is hard to contain. 'The Last Magazine' is raw and it is FUNNY.
One of my favorite tropes is Michael Hastings' dance on the fourth wall. In the beginning of the novel he details how many words he thinks the novel will be, the book's dangers, its pitfalls, etc. Hastings the author (not the narrator) reappears again and again to apologize for going too slow or too fast or for writing too much. This voice is difficult to pull off, but Hastings manages it with grace and doesn't typically overstay -- Hastings the author and the magician knows how to both make a scene and make a dramatic exit.
A fascinating exploration of debt, money, barter, and the credit systems used by man for thousands of years. Sure it has biases and like 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' is a bit too idealistic, but still -- wow -- an amazing book. While most economic books are still battling over the binary capitalism::socialism salvos, Graeber quietly flips both boats (or if not flips, rocks both boats HARD).
I mean really, when was the last time my wife let me read to her about social and economic transactions? Answer: Never. She has NEVER, EVER before let me read to her about money or debt or interest rates or the buying and selling of goods. This was an early rule in our marriage. It was practically a sacred cow, a promise made with a flesh-debt. We even broke bread sticks over it (I still have my stale tally). We kept our bargain, till this book, till last night. THAT is how good it is.
Anyway, go ahead read it in bed. Read it to your wife -- in bed. If you are really equals she will tell you after a few minutes whether she is in your debt, or you are in hers. And, that's OK. We are all debtors anyway.
le Guin's 'The Dispossessed' represents the high orbit of what SF can do. Science Fiction is best, most lasting, most literate, when it is using its conventional form(s) to explore not space but us. When the vehicle of SF is used to ask big questions that are easier bent with binary planets, with grand theories of time and space, etc., we are able to better understand both the limits and the horizons of our species.
The great SF writers (Asimov, Vonnegut, Heinlein, Dick, Bradbury, etc) have been able to explore political, economic, social, and cultural questions/possibilities using the future, time, and the wide-openness of space. Ursula K. Le Guin belongs firmly in the pantheon of great social SF writers. She will be read far into the future -- not because her writing reflects the future, but because it captures the now so perfectly.
A good first novel, just not a world-class bildungsroman that I'm going to push to have my daughter read immediately. Don't get me wrong, Green writes good characters and builds tight little novels (I can use the plural 'cause I've now read two). Sometimes, however, I feel a bit like I'm reading a Jennifer Egan MFA project: something clever, funny, tight but although it desperately reaches to matter ... it never quite grabs the matter. The Universe is a finicky bit@h.
This upsets me, because I really like the YouTube persona that IS John Green. It would be like falling for Mark Twain's personality and finding out he wrote only mediocre novels. My take is John Green is a C writer but an A+ promoter (not a bad thing if you want to make a living selling what you write).
As a friend of mine (Jacob) on another site said, "It's like emotional cotton candy. Simple and uncomplicated. They can make you cry without making you think, force you to laugh without having to reflect, and it's all so...upsetting to me."
I have an 11-year0old daughter. So, yeah there is that. Oh, so we have a rule that we read (or in my case listen or read) before we watch (except for voyeurism which makes reading before you watch a tad problematic). Also, we are a family of Green brother nerdfighters, so there is that too.
Perhaps, I should have had my 11-year-old daughter review it and just poach from her (the cost for me buying her the book, buying her movie tickets, indulging her 11-y-o whims and fangirl proclivities).
Oh, and today was a weird day to read the book and watch the movie. A good friend of ours just got diagnosed with 'Butt Cancer'. So, a cancer-rich day indeed.
Quick disclaimer, my reading/listening to John Green novels in no way should suggest I will EVER read 'Divergent'. My reading of contemporary YA fiction is VERY limited. My time on this planet is a short infinity of limited time and will not be filled with vampires, zombies, stormtroopers, or teen-crushes (too often). Well, unless my daughter cries, and then I'll probably just do what she wants.
Also, 'Butt Cancer' friend -- fight hard and fun hard. We are rooting for you.
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