Mesa, AZ, United States
Wow. It is amazing to me to think this book was written in 1794/95. One of the most influential thinkers/writers/pamphleteers of the American AND French revolutions. You can't read Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins or Bart D. Ehrman and not feel that these authors ALL owe huge debts of gratitude to Thomas Paine and his last book. 'The Age of Reason', which essentially advocated deism, promoted humanism, reason and freethinking, and violently quarelled with ALL institutionalized religion (especially Christianity, viz the Bible), turned one of the heroes of the American Revolution into a social pariah. Only 6 people showed up for his funeral in 1809 (15 years after 'The Age of Reason' was first published) because many were still horrified by 'The Age of Reason'. Thomas Paine was an amazing thinker and like Hitch, I might not always agree with the end result of his thinking, but I am always amazed at the energy, force, originality and bravery of his thought.
What an amazing piece of historical writing. Tuchman shows how August, 2014 was impacted by two failed plans (Plan 17 & the Schlieffen Plan), Generals and politicos who were either overly optimistic at the wrong time or overly pessimistic at the wrong time. She detailed how inadvertent acts by disgraced Generals might have saved France, how the politics and the national moods of France, Germany, Russia, and Great Britain may have contributed to the length of the Great War.
After the Civil War and the War of Franco-Prussian War of 1870, war had morphed into a whole new beast. Few leaders grasped this at the beginning of August but by September 1914 there were very few living on the European continent who could avoid recognizing that war would never be the same again. The vitality and the drama of Tuchman's narrative made this book seemed delivered by 420-millimetre siege howitzers. Chapter after chapter would absolutely devastate me as I listened (and read for the maps and pacing). I am very glad I wasn't in the French (or Belgian or German or Russian) military in August of 1914.
Lee is such a solid narrator. It wasn't a standout, but I have absolutely no complaints. He read well. It was easily listened to at 2.5+ speed.
Edgar Rice Burrough's popular John Carter/Barsoom novels started with 'A Princess of Mars'. I can only imagine reading this cowboy in space novel when it was first published. It was absolute pulp (violent fights, naked women), but like all of Edgar Rice Burroughs' novels it can't be contained by any simple labels. Burroughs is able to explore ideas of eugenics and race, war and peace, love and family, all layered into a fast-paced, violent Martian travelogue. Burroughs loves supermen. The idea of John Carter having amazing strength because of the different gravities of Earth and Mars allows an everyman Virginian Civil Warrior to become a singular Martian Hercules.
Obviously, this is an extraordinarily influential sic-fi novel. It influenced everybody from Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon) to George Lucas (Star Wars) to James Cameron (Avatar). It is hard to watch Han Solo walk without thinking of John Carter's swagger or dream about Princess Leah in chains without my subconscious somehow floating back into visions of Princess Dejah Thoris in -- yes -- chains. It is a shame that Disney's John Carter movie didn't do better. I would love to see further efforts to make films out of the Barsoom series. It is a strange world where a movie that makes $200M+ globally and is still judged a failure.
Tarzan is one of those characters who came out of the post-Victorian, pre-WWI age that seem almost to exhibit a place larger than the actual book(s) he was born in. Like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan is both a type and a rejection of type. It is amazing to see the arc this character has taken over the last century. From the actual books written by Burroughs to the various movies, comics, cartoons, and the eventual Disneyfication of the story.
I read this book shortly after getting LOA's 100 year anniversary edition of both Tarzan and Princess of Mars. It was classic pulp. Like other magazine stories told during this time (the Most Dangerous Game, etc) it points to a certain level of supple, straight, superman that exists beneath the clothes of civilization. There must be some base-level appeal for us modern men where we feel compelled to dream we could, with only a knife and a rope, if put in the right situation, conquer the wilderness. There is a king of the jungle/nobel savage in all of us. It is the same impulse that drives viewers to watch 'Man Vs. Wild' and 'Naked and Afraid', etc. Civilization provides us with many comforts, but it also robs us of something. Burroughs recognized this missing treasure. His Tarzan novels (and to a degree his Mars novels) exploits and explores this missing link to our past. He is able to illustrate that underneath our jackets and ties there might be a bit of the savage inside this actuary and a beast inside that accountant, just waiting an opportunity to break free.
This recording's narration was good, but the recording's overall quality was poor.
I always enjoyed that line between humanist and believer. I remember when I was a Mormon missionary reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. After finishing it, I immediately felt I needed to read Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects. I don't have a real problem with agnostics, atheists, humanists, etc. I think the competitive nature of belief is important. I think religion NEEDS to be able to thrive under scrutiny. It can't be comfortable. It can't be too protected. It needs to offer something if it is going to continue to be relevant. But I just can't get too excited by Dawkins, Harris, and Maher's forms of Atheism. While I like and respect their ability and desire to look at facts, adore skepticism and the scientific method, etc., their tone seems to have been lifted from Fundamentalist Christians.
Perhaps, it is their evangelical nature I am rejecting. But it can't be that exactly. I loved Christopher Hitchens. It wasn't like he was just soft and kind. But he came off more like a drunk rationalist than I pious prig. Perhaps that is my main beef with Dawkins. When he is in positivist mode, he is exciting. I love reading his stuff about evolution and science and the scientific method. I just don't think he is very good and criticism. He seems to smug. Too cocky. To be fair to Dawkins I felt the same way about overly smug members of my own belief system, or Christians who seem more interested in bashing other's beliefs than showing the benefits of their own. Don't smash Buddhists, SHOW me what you have to offer. Don't smash belief, show me what skepticism has to offer.
As far as the narration, the back-and-forth narration between Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward was a bit distracting. The male/female, twisting narration helixes through the entire book, but I can't quite see the point of it. Perhaps it was just so that Dawkins didn't have to narrate the whole book himself. But why, in the middle of a paragraph, would you switch narrators. It was odd.
It is hard to not like David Mitchell. He is literary, just not too literary. He is funky, just not too funky. He is hip, just not too hip. He is political, just not too political. He is spiritual, but also seems to leave room for a bit of humanist doubt. I can't think of another writer who captures the energy or direction of the slick, urban, cosmopolitan, educated, 21st century global zeitgeist.
David Mitchell is brilliant at ventriloquism and style-jumping. His books are filled with multiple narrative and style incarnations (the stacking-doll Cloud Atlas, or narrative leaping number9dream, or his most recent The Bone Clocks), but sometime I feel like he is starting to eat his own tail here. I want to see Mitchell do a Peter Carey and jump out of his slick, crowd-pleasing novels into something a bit different.
Do I know exactly what I want? No. I just see this author who I've liked enough to read everything he's ever published, and fear that we might just get two or three more of these books. I like them. Don't get me wrong. I liked 'The Bone Clocks' enough to give it four stars and review and read it. I just don't want to see Mitchell begin to get so comfortable in his archipelago of interconnected narratives that he doesn't push his talent into dark, rough, and uncomfortable places.
Anyway, Mitchell hasn't written a novel YET that I'm very disappointed with and Bone Clocks is no exception. There might be a couple slower chapters and the ending might have been a bit predictable, but I had a hard time putting the novel down while reading and was sad to put it down when I finished. That isn't rare for me, but it is a pretty good indication that the novel is on solid ground. People keep claiming to see the death of the novel around the corner, but Mitchell's talent and narrative slickness is at least one star that keeps consistently reappearing.
A point on the narration. A couple of the narrations (Jessica Ball, etc) were a tad difficult for me. They worked, but they were so heavily accented that I couldn't listen to it faster than 1.5 speed without losing the thread of what was being said. Not a huge critique, but just my two pence.
McPhee is one of my favorites. I think his strongest form is the long-essay and I love his collections that are thematic. 'Uncommon Carriers' delivered exactly what I wanted with a bunch of surprises. Like always, McPhee is able to mix together great characters, fantastic observations, and a real sense of space and place and tell a story that illuminates some place or time that you have probably driven past without noticing a hundred times before.
McPhee has a a geologist's curiosity and patience (and a poet's pen) that allows him to spend an inordinate amount of time with a story to get that one detail that turns a good essay about boats into a fantastic essay about the craft of work, the beauty of place, the magnificence of the ordinary. The magic of McPhee isn't just that he writes new journalism almost better than anyone else on the planet, it is that he does more of it than almost anyone else. Up McPhee's other sleeve is his ability to make you want to follow him on his explorations. He isn't going to chase down your interests (rock stars, movies, money). Instead, McPhee is going to carefully let you follow him down his rabbit holes and help you onto his hobby-horses.
I would also be remiss if I didn't include a part of one of my favorite paragraphs. A barge McPhee is on, is flashed by a woman on a pleasure boat on the Missouri river. Here is McPhee's response:
...She has golden hair. She has the sort of body you go to see in marble. She holds her poise without retreat. In her ample presentation there is a defiance of gravity. There is no angle of repose. She is a siren and these are her songs. She is Henry Moore's "Oval with Points".
Franzen's freshman effort is striking. First, just gazing at the picture of Franzen on the back of the original novel and it makes me think this kid must have been gnawing on ideas for this book in his mother's womb. Seriously, he looks like he might be wearing the same deodorant his dad gave him at puberty.
Anyway, I was inspired to read this book because I was heading to St. Louis for a couple days and figured given the recent Ferguson-inspired race tensions, there might never be a more appropriate time to crack Franzen's novel about an Indian woman who takes over as the St. Louis chief of police. There is sex, violence, politics, intrigue, etc.. It is a thriller that aspires to be literary, or a thriller written by someone who is simply writing in the wrong genre.
The book is ambitious, messy (plot threads abandoned all over the place), inventive, cracked in places, but destined to stick around. I say that knowing that there are some serious Franzen haters out there. I also say that knowing this isn't his best work (by far). But in 1988, Franzen wrote a novel that seems to have almost perfectly captured the paranoid, xenophobic, social and race conflict that surrounds President Obama (birth certificate, etc). Imagine while reading this novel that Obama is Jammu and the United States is St. Louis and let the details slide from Ferguson to the Gateway Arch and there you are.
Franzen's fixation on the American family (both in its function and disfunction) is in pupae form here. Family dinners, tensions between spouses, extra-marital encounters, spoiled children, holiday tensions, they all germ here. His prose is great, if a bit uneven (brilliant in parts and boring in others). His plot is complicated. His setting masterful. Again, this isn't a masterpiece, but it was a clear indication of his future ambition and trajectory.
More of a tribute/essay/paean than a book, Coach is a relic. It is a reflection on Billy "Fitz" Fitzgerald, one of those influential and transformative men who through their character, courage and strength affect a large number of boys. Lewis recalls his memories of Coach Fitz and details the way both parents and children have changed (at least in the milieu of New Orleans and the Isidore Newman School). At heart it is a nostalgia tour of a great man and how lessons about adversity, strength, practice, resolve, respect and focus taught the right way to the right children can help children concur both fear and failure on the road to adulthood.
A slow soak in a bath of music, color, friends, loneliness, philosophy, creation and death. Murakami is a genius at writing with emotions swirling beneath the text. He gets the importance of the notes AND the silence of prose; of the unsaid, dreamy place that is both recognized and strange.
This isn't his most exciting work, but it is clearly not a throw-away either. It brings all the usual suspects to the Murakami table. Murakami writes best when he makes the reader feel like they are just near the surface of wakefulness. He bends the reader into a zone where it feels like a strange contractive tendency of the surface between sleep and wakefulness between musical, lucid dreams and surreal, philosophical nightmares.
It feels like you are balancing blind on the edge of a train platform; you feel the sound of the train and feel the compression of his words, but don't know if the Murakami train is going to hit you from the left or the right.
Like 'The Canterbury Tales', 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman', 'The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights', etc., 'The Decameron' is an early masterpiece of European literature. It is one of those books I've previously avoided because I thought it would be stilted and boring. Hells NASTY Bells was I wrong. Boccaccio is funny, flippant, irreverent, libidinous, provocative, inspiring, insulting, crazy and always -- always entertaining.
100 stories told during the the summer of 1348 as the Black Death is ravaging Florence (and Europe). Ten aristocratic youths take to the country to escape the death, stink and bodies of the City and to hang out and amuse themselves on stories of love and adventure and sex and trickery. Bad priests, evil princes, saints, sinners, and various twists and turns paints a detailed picture of Italy from over 660 years ago that seems just as modern and funky as today. Things have certainly changed, but lords and ladies it is incredible just how many things have stayed the same.
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