Petaluma, CA, United States | Member Since 2006
I'm not sure how much empathy poor old Herzog would get if you're not a middle-aged guy. If you are unfortunate enough to be a middle-aged guy, then this book will resonate big time. Bellow has managed to capture with exquisite finesse what we all feel, while encapsulating it in a very specific story of a particular time and place. It is masterfully done. If you are fortunate enough not to be a middle-aged guy, you will hopefully come away with a better understanding of how they got to be the way they are. Ultimately, this is a story about reconciling the elements of your life and moving on with a new sense of equanimity. In other words, a mid-life crisis story. On a minor note, it is also a precious time capsule for those of us who remember Chicago in the early 1960s.
Is science about being able to understand the physical world, or is it merely what we are able to say about the physical world? This is one way of framing the great question explored in this book. It's always a challenge in this kind of book to strike the right balance for the intended audience. Kumar does a fairly good job of that in terms of understandable analogies vs. mathematical formulas. Translating his formulas and tables into the audio format poses additional difficulties. I think Ray Porter does about as good a job as he could have, though I think he could have used a little more coaching on some of the mathematical phrasing. In the first half of the book, I felt Kumar paid too much attention to the human interest side of things. There's a certain style that reporters have when they are self-consciously describing people and their clothing and inferring thoughts and feelings they have no justification for. That's what it felt like. Kumar is at his best when he is talking about the questions that paved the way for further exploration, and how the various physicists challenged each other to address unexplained loopholes and paradoxes in their theorems. This really was the single most important question of the 20th century: whether there is or is not an objective reality independent of the observer. To borrow from Einstein, the rest is merely details.
This book came out in 1994 and it says a lot about how fast this field is growing that certain parts already feel a little outdated. Fortunately, there is a 2007 update at the end of the book that comments on and catches up with some of the latest developments. That was one of the best parts for me, and I didn't have a clue it would be included.
Pinker is at his best relating about the exciting research going on in neurolinguistics. He is less entertaining when he tries to argue his support for a particular ideological position. I don't have an issue with the idea that a 'language instinct' may exist, but I was never quite clear what he meant by the term 'instinct.' Regardless, as an introduction to all the key topics of interest in his field, this is a great book.
That is probably a key point. Some books are very narrowly focused and organized to support a key thesis. This is more of a survey-of-the-landscape type book. I suspect Pinker got attached to his title and decided everything had to tie back to that in some way. So the book will meander around from one fascinating topic to the next and suddenly he's harping on instincts again and telling why he believes it's true and why we should care.
Apart from that minor complaint, I found this book thoroughly enjoyable. I find modern discussions of linguistics to shed so much light on 'true' grammar and understanding the role words really play in sentence meaning (including his little discussion about whether the word 'of' actually has any meaning or merely marks other words that convey meaning). I especially enjoyed the afterward, not just because of the research updates, but because it showed the author himself had grown over the intervening 13 years and acquired a sense of humor about himself.
I had long been curious about all those other elements beyond the 20 or so the average person can name, but I had never realized how important a role the period table itself had played in helping them all to be discovered. This book tells that story. But it goes much further than that. This is a collection of so many cool stories about the discovery of the elements, the people who discovered them, and the uses to which some of these elements have been put. War, poison, jealousy, rivalries, friendships, love affairs and many other factors come into play here. This is a very human story of the lurching story of scientific progress. Highly recommended.
The prose in this book has its share of obligatory medieval scenes and cliches and large chunks of it come across as wooden and hackneyed. If that were all there was to it, this would be just another second rate fantasy page turner. But where it shines is in the characters and the motivations. It is hard to think of any other work where so many characters have their own well-developed sense of their own self-interest. Watching these characters work out their own agendas against each other and how that forces them to change their strategy or suffer the consequences makes this an utterly compelling series.
Fans of the HBO series will find a deeper understanding of some of the actions and motivations of the characters. That said, there are a few places where the TV show has improved upon the book--taking advantage of that 2nd draft effect, or tightening up an episode that lagged on the page. It's a fascinating exercise in itself just studying how the material can be differently adapted for film vs. novel.
Some series consists of standalone books. This is not one of them. There is no sense of having arrived at a stopping place, nor even of having a central protagonist. Instead, we're left with multiple story lines all poised to lurch on to the next chapter, and multiple characters all vying for our affection (or disaffection as the case may be).
Roy Dotrice is an excellent narrator (though many times I wish I had a map or a family tree to keep things straight), and I hope both he and I live long enough to see how it all ends.
I do not question John Barth's credentials in the world of postmodernism. I count myself as a fan of both, but I can find a lot more postmodernism in Tristram Shandy than in this work. For that matter, there's a good deal of Tristram Shandy in this work, but Barth does a better job of tying it all up in a cohesive narrative. In fact, it felt to me like this book was more of a homage to Sterne or Fielding than an attempt to carve out bold new territory in the realm of the novel. It is a hilarious story full of all the stock devices culled from a hundred different sources and smushed together. It is just as bawdy and earthy as Sterne or Fielding (in fact, he may be trying to outdo them), but never as explicit as modern authors are.
For the first 60% of this book, I confess I could not fathom why this book merited the reputation it had. It was certainly inventive enough but the pacing and the plot devices were always just at the verge of tedium. However, the last 40% picked up and all the work laid up to that point began to bear fruit. In fact, it started to be fun to see what horrible predicament the author would put his protagonist in next, just to see how he could possibly extricate him.
In the end, it was a rollicking good story, though I am less sure it qualifies as great literature. And I am still unsure how it qualifies as postmodern.
Kevin Pariseau turns in an excellent performance keeping the myriad characters separate. His choice for the protagonist, though wholly appropriate, is annoying. But for that I have to blame Eben Cooke more than Mr. Pariseau.
Fforde's interests as an author continue to take him in a different direction than some of his fans would perhaps desire. The focus on the book world, which made the first 5 books so memorable, is abandoned here for a closer examination of other parts of his quirky parallel universe. It's still wildly entertaining, and certainly moreso than book 6.
One constant thread through all Fforde's work is an interest in social satire. Beyond that it gets increasingly hard to classify his books as belonging to any particular genre. His inventiveness knows no bounds. It's somewhat interesting then to see that he's allowing Thursday Next to age and bear the consequences of all the injuries she's suffered over the years. It sort of puts a limit on how many books there can be within her fictional lifetime, unlike other protagonists who seem immune to the passage of time.
Fans of Fforde are already keenly aware that book 8 will be about the Dark Reading Matter. This book and the preceding one have done their part to telegraph the inevitability of that exploration. This book in particular does a fine job of setting up how that mysterious place might be approached. I only hope that after all his puttering around with exploring different ideas, that he comes up with a worthy story arc for his next dive into the Book World (and yes, that pun is intended).
Oh, and about Jenny, I... wait, I forgot. I'm sure it will come back to me in a moment.
A number of people were disappointed with this but I prefer to think Fforde was just exploring some inevitable possibilities. After all, he had completed a glorious 5-novel story arc and set up no end of intriguing questions about the book world. These questions had to be addressed. And the key question is what does it all look like from the written-Thursday's point of view?
Admittedly, it's not my favorite book in the series. From a narrative perspective, large chunks of it feel maddeningly slow. But narrative pace has never been the prime attraction of this series for me. It's all about the inventiveness of the ideas and the quirky book references. And in this regard, Fforde does not disappoint.
Things pick up a bit as the book progresses. The "written characters" become more interesting as they are forced to grow as characters. I suppose "character development" was another book problem Fforde was interested in exploring.
There's even a scene that is genuinely touching where written-Thursday meets real-Thursday's family.
But the kittens? Well, for that you'll just have to read the book. And I didn't even mention the puppies...
I don't know how this ended up in my library. It's an amusing excerpt from a Steve Martin book. Entertaining enough, but I never requested it and it showed up after I had been a member for about 6 years. Not exactly "my first listen". Still, it didn't cost me anything so how can I complain?
Any parent who claims never to have thought this stuff is either in denial or a liar. It's a charming idea and deserves to be read at least once. I don't know about twice. Having Samuel L. Jackson read it would seem to be an inspired choice, but I felt he was straining a bit. For this particular book, I think I would recommend going for the full experience of the spoofed picture book with your own voice. Just keep it away from the kids. That said, I would never have been satisfied until I had heard Samuel L. Jackson himself take a crack at it.
This is a great inquiry into how we perceive reality. How do we know what's real and what's not? I think a lot of people come to this book assuming the opening framing scene is reality, but what if it's not? (For that matter, what does 'reality' mean in the context of speculative fiction?)
There are a lot of unanswered questions in this book. Some people dismiss that as '60s trippy nonsense. Or it could be in the nature of dreams. Or it could be a meditation on how the modern world unmoors us from the long-established connections we have with the real world.
Along the way, PKD has many amusing observations on what the world could or would become. What if everything you did required payment at the time you did it? Coin-operated refrigerators and TVs? (And who is collecting all those coins?) And the faux-ads for Ubik are hilarious. As fresh now as they were 40 years ago (or as stale, depending on how you think about ads).
The reader, Anthony Heald, works very hard at making this a performance. I enjoyed his interpretation most of the time, but he would occasionally mix up his voices. And sometimes his extreme inflections would override the voice he had chosen for a particular character.
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