Mesa, AZ, United States
There are a rare handful of children's books and fantasy novels that definitely deserve to be experienced in different ways (books, movies, audio) and at different times (youth, middle age, etc). I remember my first exposure to this wonderful piece of high fantasy as a child. I loved the world Tolkien created and the way he was able to balance fantasy, poetry, humor and drama. I read it again during the whole 'Lord of the Rings' (LOTR) movie period, and now I've just listened to it on Audible with my own kids in anticipation of taking them to the movie. Wow!
When judging 'the Hobbit', it is tempting to grade it straight against the LOTR trilogy. There is a trap, however, in reading 'the Hobbit' AFTER reading the LOTR. While these works by Tolkien are obviously related, they are very, very different. Tolkien's approach, tone, style and intended audience was a different. If you separate LOTR from 'the Hobbit', gently, it is easier to see the greatness of 'the Hobbit' on its own.
As an adult, I now view 'the Hobbit' more as a Bildungsroman rather than a traditional quest novel. Listening and reading this with my kids, I found myself once more transported not just to middle-earth, but back to my own youth and innocence.
"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee."
I've been wanting to read this book for years. Patiently it sat, right behind me, waiting. I enjoyed Philbrick's 'Mayflower' and 'Sea of Glory'. Given how much I love Moby-Dick, I'm kinda surprised it took me so long (15 years) to read this history of the Essex.
Philbrick paces this narrative well. He patches together all the major perspectives. When the story leaves gaps, he dead reckons and is able to fill the story in with similar types of accidents, aggressive whale experiences, sailors, oil, blood, starvation, and -- well -- other episodes of cannibalism. He is able to humanize the captain, the first-mate, and the people of Nantucket (while also giving serious consideration for all the other sailors; those from Nantucket, outlanders, and black sailors too). It was a quick read, and compelling.
"Joe had been explaining things in the meantime. He said it was again the beginning of the unfinished, the re-discovery of the familiar, the re-experience of the already suffered, the fresh-forgetting of the unremembered. Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular and by nature it is interminable, repetitive and very nearly unbearable."
- O'Brien (omitted from the published novel)
After finishing Flann O'Brien's dark masterpiece of absurdity, I wanted to jam a well-chewed copy of Joyce in one pocket, a copy of Sterne in the other, push a DFW in my back left pocket, put some dark strawberry jam in my back right pocket, turn left twice, exit into my tight little garage and immediately make sweet sweet love to the nearest bicycle available. No. Not yet. She's not ready, nor is my review. I'll pick up this peach tomorrow.
So, it isn't tomorrow, but time and peaches are relative in purgatory. This is one of those books that is nearly impossible to review, but there is a space beyond impossible where letting go of this book exists. So, let's press forward shall we? The prose is amazing, funky; it floats and bursts from the page. Like Joyce and other Irish writers, O'Brien OWNs the English language (it is merely mortgaged to us mortals). Reading O'Brien is like watching one of those strange kids who can keep a soccer ball from ever hitting the ground. Gravity just doesn't matter. But let's bounce back to bikes and literature >
So, Flann O'Brien's novel seems to exist in a strange purgatory between Sterne's 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman' and DFW's 'The Broom of the System'. It is full of digressions, wooden legs, bicycles, murder, policemen (obviously), footnotes*, and much much more. This is one of those novels where rules are murdered and post-modernism is both born and twisted. There are books that are written to be sold and novels written to be worshiped. Get on your knees fellow travelers and start praying.
Norton's narration is brilliant. Seriously, BRILLIANT.
*O'Brien was out DFWing DFW before DFW was born.
I adore Michael Pollan. Sometimes, however, he comes across as a bit too foodie-East Coast-hipster, but his writing and perspectives keep pulling me back. His writing all seems to contain the same germ or basic theme. Whether he is writing about food, gardening, cooking, or building a house/writing room, Pollan gravitates towards simplicity and sustainability. It is like having a quirky, Jewish Zen master show you how to build a house or cook a meal. Yes. Be one with your potato.
'A Place of My Own' is an early Pollan book where he relates his experiences building a writing shed, a small backyard 104-square-foot outbuilding where he can dream, escape, imagine and write. It is part: 'A Room of One's Own' + 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' + 'Walden' + 'Shop Class as Soulcraft'. Pollen is looking at the value of solitude, space, work, nature, etc., in a modern technological age.
Pollan is the Jenna Jameson of hipster porn. I WANT to build my own cabin on family land in Idaho. I want to buy all my food in local, Saturday neighborhood markets. I want to tramp around the woods looking for mushrooms and figure out a way to feed my family in a sustainable and healthy way EVERYDAY. But most days reality just sits on me and I grab some canned crap from Walmart, maybe get my veggies from Sprouts and Fresh and Easy (or as my wife calls it Cheap and Sleazy) and go back to my suburban tract home. Pollen gives me room to fantasize about what part of my brain wants to, but isn't totally able to do -- escape, simplify, and double down on the urban, lumbersexual hipster hiding inside of me. I can't build a small outdoor cabin in my backyard, but I can fantasize about it for a couple hours while I read Pollan in the dark. And maybe, one day, I can pick up that hammer, eat that shroom, and start BANGIN'.
An interesting memoir, partially translated by David Mitchell, and written by a 13 yo Japanese boy with autism. If you teach, live with, know someone who has autism or an autistic child this is (or at least was for me) an insightful glimpse into the struggles and perspectives of a child with autism.
Another reminder that there are multiple ways to experience the world. Too often it seems that we have boundaries and expectations about what it means to be normal. Not all of us see the dress as Blue/Black or White/Gold. Some of us can feel the dress and some of us don't see anything at all. The more tolerant and understanding we become of the diversity of people, I believe, the better the experience we have on this blue rock will be.
Jonathan Haidt give a nice social science explanation for how we align politically and how we are built to disagree. This is one of those books that seems to fit in the same evolutionary psychology space as Bob Wright's 'The Moral Animal'. It is a combination of ethnography + evolutionary psychology + experimental psychology.
In 'The Righteous Mind', Haidt isn't seeking simply to explain why some people vote Left and others vote Right, or why some people believe in God A and other believe in God B. Haidt's bigger purpose is to explain how we are all hardwired to use reason NOT to MAKE our moral decisions/choices, but rather to use reason to BUTTRESS the choices (about God, politics, etc) that we've already made.
While I think his approach is a bit too simplistic, I still use his Moral Foundations Theory to explain why my father and I might have some overlap in values but different political views. I like the whole matrix of:
1. Care/harm: cherishing and protecting others.
2. Fairness/cheating: rendering justice according to shared rules. (Alternate name: Proportionality)
3. Liberty/oppression: the loathing of tyranny.
4. Loyalty/betrayal: standing with your group, family, nation. (Alternate name: Ingroup)
5. Authority/subversion: obeying tradition and legitimate authority. (Alternate name: Respect.)
6. Sanctity/degradation: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions. (Alternate name: Purity.)
Do I agree that liberals rank certain of these values higher than conservatives? Yes.
Do I agree that conservatives might value some of these foundational values more than liberals? Yes.
Do I agree that this list is the end-all, be-all of our Moral compass? No.
I think this is a good beginning. It is another social science draft that gives another way to look at how we think, how our thinking has evolved, and how we interact with each other. Any theory involving the human brain is bound to be a bit of a game in the dark. I think there are answers and many of the answers are compelling, but not all answers will be final or correct.
Look, there were certain parts of this book that just felt right, so I will spend a bit of time building a rational reason why it feels right and then post that reason on Audible.
Seriously, anytime I fantasize about writing a book I read a Hilary Mantel novel and become discouraged. Reading Mantel is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball or Federer play tennis (or back in the day watching Tiger Woods play golf). Unless you are born blind or stupid you realize that these people just don't exist on the same field or plane as the rest of humanity. No matter how many swings, shots, or hits I practiced, I could never play at the level of those masters.
No matter how many books I read or words I write, my brain recognizes that Mantel's skill with a sentence is almost superhuman. She is elegant and strong. She doesn't waste a word. Her prose seems to float with a bold efficiency and beauty that is hard to balance. It is like watching a ballerina kick Mike Tyson's a$$. And I haven't even got to the fact that she can choke you with emotion and knock you out with a surprise twist and well-played verbal throw down. The normal laws of gravity and axioms of art do not apply to Mantel's prose. Her words float. Her sentences run forever. Mantel DOES not f#c% around with the English language. She owns it. Read her novels (or her stories) and she will sit on your chest and own you too.
“For every action, there's an infinity of outcomes. Countless trillions are possible, many milliards are likely, millions might be considered probable, several occur as possibilities to us as observers - and one comes true.”
- China Miéville, 'The Scar'
At some point there was an infinite number of possibilitites with this novel. This is the follow up to Perdido Street Station, book 2 in the Bas-Lag/New Crobuzon trilogy. There are chapters and lines and threads of this novel that contained amazing prose, brilliant ideas, funky characters, compelling themes, etc. I loved the motifs and themes China used: possibilities, scars, home, books, politics, community, etc. But there were also just too damn many pages. It could have been edited better. I'm not shy about books over 500 pages, but I don't want to read a 600+ page novel that really is just a fat 400 page novel.
Also, someone (a puissant editor, perhaps?) should have told China to stop using the word puissant (or its variants) and gout (gouts of water, gouts of blood, gouts of pleasure, gouts of relief, gouts of binding energy, gouts of smoke, gouts everywhere; enough gouts to form a trip or a tribe). Unless you are Cormac McCarthy (and there is only one CM) you need to be VERY careful when dropping the word gout casually in a novel. A reader who is paying attention is going to allow a word like gout or puissant to pop up just a few times in a novel that is 600 pages. Once you start dropping it in almost every chapter it practically begs the reader to start snickering or slap their forehead.
Finally, Miéville seemed unembarrassed by his use of steampunk cliches. He seemed to drag every single New Weird/Steampunk cliche into the light and wave it like an ensign. Obnoxious. But still I liked the novel. Hell, there were hours at a time when I REALLY enjoyed it. I devoted a few days to reading it. I loved its potential, and my review is just me letting off some steam (ba dum tss) about it not living up to what I hoped. I will, eventually, read his other books. I just don't feel compelled to read Iron Council tomorrow.
So, I was hoping for another: Perdido Street Station - 5 stars
And I didn't think it was equal to: Embassytown or The City & the City - 4 stars.
For me at least, I felt the same let down after reading Kraken - 4 stars (but maybe 3).
But hell, the guy still has managed to turn out better SF than most. Miéville's bottom stuff (that I've read) is way more compelling than a lot of the genre stuff out there. It was infinitely better than Cherie Priest's Boneshaker. Seriously, I had to bell, book and candle that piece of steampunk garbage. Only time healed those stupid steampunk wounds and I still have the scars.
A nice collection of essays that originally appeared in the New Yorker (most of McPhee's writings can be traced back to the New Yorker):
1. 'Irons in the Fire' (December 20, 1993) - About cattle rustling in Nevada.
2. 'Release' (September 28, 1987) - About Robert Russell, a blind professor at Franklin and Marshall College,in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
3. 'In Virgin Forest' (July 6, 1987) - About Hutcheson Memorial Forest in Franklin Township, New Jersey.
4. 'The Gravel Page' (January 29, 1996) - About geological forensics.
5. 'Duty of Care' (Jun 28, 1993) - About recycling tires.
6. 'Rinard at Manheim' (Dec 4, 1989) - About the Manheim Exotic Auction in Pennsylvania
7. 'Travels of the Rock' (Dec 4, 1989) - About Plymouth Rock and its re-mortaring.
There are several FANTASTIC pieces and several pieces of mortar holding it together. Not his best collection, but I have yet to regret reading a McPhee book and this is no exception. Essays to not miss: 'Irons in the Fire', 'In Virgin Forest', 'The Gravel Page', 'Duty of Care', 'Travels of the Rock'. I think my favorite of the whole book were 'Irons in the Fire' and 'The Gravel Page'. Amazing pieces.
'Irons in the Fire' explores the ranchers, the Brand Inspectors, the rustlers, and the cattle land of Nevada. These are cowboys. These are the hard-core libertarian Mormons that produced Cliven Bundy and his ilk. These are the mountains and deserts where Utah, Nevada, and Arizona all meet. This essays was poignant for me because one of the characters/rustlers/ropers/breaker of horses in the essay (Wayne Lee) was a direct descendent of John D. Lee. John D. Lee was an adopted son of Brigham Young who was later shot for his direct role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
John D. Lee was also the husband of my 5th Great-Grandmother (Abigail Schaeffer Woolsey Lee), and my 5th Great-Grandfather's (Joseph Henry Woolsey) two sisters (Rachel Woolsey and Agatha Woolsey). No direct blood, but a helluva lot of history and stories. If you want to figure out why this section of Nevada and Utah produce such fundamentally hard people, McPhee's essay is as good a place as any to start.
'The Gravel Page' was originally three linked essays in the New Yorker: 'The Gravel Page', 'Balloons of War', and 'Death of an Agent'. This is where McPhee is amazing. You put McPhee in a room or a car with the right person, start having him talk to them about Geology, Ecology, Arts & Crafts, or Sports and something magical happens with the narrative. These are the stories McPhee was born to write.
The Gravel Page presents three different facets of forensic geology. The first essay focuses on the investigation of A. Coors murder using geology. The second essays explores how early scientists from the Geological Survey were able to establish where the balloons that Japan was drifting over America came from. The final story details how forensic geologists at the FBI were able to track down where a DEA agent was killed and buried in Mexico using geology. His love of the subject and the characters AND place enables McPhee to weave a story that transports the reader around the world, while having on McPhee's every sentence.
Anyway, seek them out. Look them up. Buy them. Read them. Read them again.
"Life is composed of reality configurations so constituted. To abandon her would be to say, I can't endure reality as such. I have to have uniquely special easier conditions."
- Philip K. Dick, Now Wait for Last Year
This is a book for married couples (having difficulties), suicides, drug addicts, politicians, and time travelers -- and it just happens to be one of my favorite PKD novels ever (although ever with Philip Kindred Dick is always a fluid thing).
'Now Wait for Last Year' is something rare: a selcouth piece of pulp that if judged by its cover or sales (I'm guessing here), could easily be discarded. It is always a joy to find a book that resonates with you in a visceral way in a place you weren't expecting. This book really is the last/best self-help book for couples and suicides.
I thought this was just going to be another middle-of-the-road, funky, throwaway PKD from the mid-60s (1966 to be exact). Look, there are definitely better written Dick novels, but for even mild fans of this amazing author, I would definitely check this one out. There is a unpretentious sophistication and depth to it that some of his messier, early novels lack, but there is also a helluva lot of heart. It really is something haunting to finish a novel where you can almost smell and taste the chemical density of the blood the author pumped into the ink on every page.
"In a way there are no freaks, no abnormalities, except in the statistical sense. This is an unusual situation, but it’s not something to horrify us, actually it ought to make us happy. Life per se is good, and this is one form which life takes. There’s no special pain here, no cruelty or suffering. In fact there is solicitude and tenderness."
- Philip K Dick in Dr. Bloodmoney
What do you call a man with no arms and no legs floating dead (after an atmospheric nuclear accident) in the pool?
What do you call a man (a Thalidomide baby) with no arms and no legs who fixes things, has strong powers of psychokinesis (which helps a man with no arms and no legs to fix things), and has survived a nuclear holocaust?
What do you call a man with no arms and no legs in a pile of leaves after a near-lethal adventure inside of an owl?
What do you call a conjoined twin brother/sentient fetus/homunculus/tumor baby within his sister's body, who talks to the dead and has been yearning for an independent existence?
What do you call a dog with no hind legs and steel balls that chases mutant rats?
What do you call a man who was launched into space to colonize Mars, but ends up trapped in a satellite rotating Earth and somehow ends up becoming an omnipresent disc jockey in orbit?
What do you call a man with no arms and no legs no head and no torso?
What do you call one of my favorite sic-fi writers who wrote like 45 novels and kinda redefined sic-fi after 1970? A guy who writes crazy characters, has a funky relationship with God, man, and drugs?
PHILIP K DICK!!!
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