Petaluma, CA, United States | Member Since 2006
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.
I had to take a detour into Japanese YA fiction because of the terrific trailer for Edge of Tomorrow, which appears to be (loosely) based on this book. The book is a well-paced, tightly plotted genre novella. It has two things going for it that make it stand out: an incredibly great premise, and one carefully prepared exchange between the two main characters about 3/4 of the way through.
Apart from that, there isn't much in the way of character development, or even the exploration of the possibilities inherent in this rather original alien invasion story. Anime and manga fans will be in familiar territory with how things play out. Sakurazaka is focused on his protagonist only, and he provides as little context as he can get away with. That said, he does cheat a little. When the first person narrative gets in his way, he switches to third person, giving the reader information that our hero can't know, and even some stuff that the human race is not allowed to know. He even takes the cute tactic of having his hero comment on how time travel stories generally don't quite make sense, unlike this one which is "real life". Having disarmed the reader this way, he blithely goes on to spew out his own set of inconsistent time travel conundrums. Once again, anime and manga fans will be unfazed.
As for the coffee… Well, there is a sense in which the book strongly suggests that coffee is the most important thing on the planet. Or then again, it might just be a metaphor. I'm still a little confused by the title. Is that a literal translation of the Japanese? Or am I missing the grammatical intention? All the same, a very enjoyable quick read. Don't let the 3 star rating deceive you.
I pestered Audible so long about this book, having heard nothing but glowing things about it for so many years (and no time to read the paper version). So I rushed to put it in my queue as soon as it came out. Garcia Marquez has said that you have to be very careful not to fall into his trap. I wish I knew what he thought his trap was. Is it about love in old age? Is it about immorality disguised as faithfulness? Is it about the unreliability of the characters' appraisal of people and events? Is it about something else entirely? I will probably never know.
First of all, the prose is beautiful. Even in translation, you get the sense of an author with a gift for finding the right word and the felicitous phrase. The book is simply littered with insightful observations about life and humanity. Second, the characters are solidly created. We are interested in them, even as we sense that they may not be people we personally would like to know. And therein lies my uneasiness with this book. The more we get to know these characters, the more ordinary they seem, and--especially with Florentino--the more troubling their moral outlook on life becomes. Garcia Marquez leads us step by step down the proverbial primrose path, and I can follow as long as I suspend disbelief. I have more of a problem with it in the cold light of day.
I wish I could say I liked any of these characters. It would make it so much easier to give a heartfelt endorsement to this book. It is without question a great book. Tolstoy has learned a lot in the 8 years since he wrote War and Peace. Instead of shifting back and forth between the story and historical analysis, he has figured out how to integrate everything into the story. Not only does the historical exposition fit naturally into the dialog between the characters, but his observations of the characters and their feelings is spot on perfect. And by cluing us in to their feelings, we understand why they react in a particular way to the next person they encounter, and how those internal processes contribute to hampering and undermining the oral communication we all depend upon.
This was a hard book to listen to because I kept wanting to stop and consider all the ideas Tolstoy introduced. I suppose the key question for the reader is to decide what you think this book is about. I don't think it's about Anna Karenina anymore than War and Peace is about war and peace. I think Tolstoy's central concern is about how to live one's life, and how to satisfy one's soul. From that perspective, Anna serves as an example of how seemingly justifiable choices lead inexorably to disaster. Levin is more truly the protagonist of the book. Everyone else is illustrating to one degree or another the thesis Tolstoy is exploring.
I picked this version of the book because I like Wanda McCaddon as a narrator. I suppose I should have given more thought to which translation I wanted to hear. This one (as best I can determine) is the one by Louise and Aylmer Maude. Both Maude's and Bennett's translations have served generations of Tolstoy readers, but I guess those of us who haven't learned Russian will have to wait awhile to hear a more updated translation.
One thing that really surprised me is that Karenin, for all his faults, is hardly the monster he is generally regarded to be. In fact, it is impossible to point to a true villain in this book. Nearly every character in inwardly pursuing what he or she believes to be a good end, even if they are misguided in one way or another.
I was a little nervous starting book 3. It had been a while since I finished book 2, and there is the further confusion of where the TV series left off, so it's hard to keep track of what has happened. However, Martin has the confidence of a storyteller who knows he has a good story to tell. He manages to entwine the recap of the last book with the plot threads of the new book in a way that feels totally natural. In fact, he takes such a long time getting his multiple story lines back in motion that I had forgotten I had ever taken a break in between books by the time all the characters were back in place.
I think Martin has improved as a writer. The first two books suffered from having too much exposition inserted under the pretence of interior monologue. Here in the third book the exposition is much better integrated and used to drive the story, not just as background filler. He often sets up certain vocabulary to foreshadow or bleed across in the transition to the next segment of one of his multiple storylines. And somehow he pulls off the amazing trick of making the ending incredibly satisfying and simultaneously leaving you craving the next book.
And now the list of words I would be happy never to hear again: garron, boiled leather, small clothes, milk of the poppy, dream wine, flagon.
Salman Rushdie sure isn't afraid to take on large themes in his books. The Satanic Verses dealt with the whole Anglo-Indian immigrant experience. Midnight's Children is a broadly sprawling picaresque account of the first 30 years of India's post-Empire independence. There is plenty of humor except when Rushdie pauses to be serious or poignant or sometimes even tragic. There is also a good deal of history thrown in for context, of which I daresay the average American is largely ignorant. It must have seemed, in 1977, as though India's brief flirtation with democracy was dangerously close to collapse.
The problem with writing a book that way is that it's hard to feel especially close to any of his characters. There is a kind of distance between them and the reader held apart by the witty repartee of the author. I suppose that's why it feels especially touching when that distance is relaxed and characters are allowed to be vulnerable emotionally. Which isn't to say that his characters are not interesting or vivid in their own way. The upside of writing the book that way is that it keeps it entertaining even through the parts that, upon reflection, had to have been emotionally traumatic.
I waited in vain for the sentence that cost Rushdie a defamation suit from Indira Gandhi, but that sentence has been removed. Rushdie's introduction to this anniversary edition talks about the suit, and the fascinating story of how the book came to be written and the very entertaining rejection notices this Booker Prize-winning book received. It is a shame Rushdie's career has been overshadowed by the controversy over Satanic Verses. I do not think he gets enough credit for being the wonderfully funny, witty, and entertaining author that he is.
Lyndam Gregory does a fantastic job of catching the various Indian accents and keeping all the characters differentiated.
Frank Muller was a great audiobook reader. But first I should talk about the book.
This is a great book. A first person account by an average soldier with no apparent exaggeration or didacticism. Pretty much every situation you can imagine a soldier would get into is presented but it never feels contrived. In fact, very little of the book involves actual fighting, which only adds to the realism. We have seen this so many times in the years since this book was written. We probably don't even realize how influential this book has been. And if some things in this book feel clichéd, you can probably blame all those imitators that came afterwards.
But what makes the book stand out is the character of its narrator. His feelings about his situation, his feelings about his comrades, his reactions to what happens, his observations about the war, his recounting the opinions of the people he meets. Whatever illusions he may have had about fighting for his country, they are soon replaced by the reality of modern warfare. His loyalty is to his comrades. His main concerns are about things like getting enough to eat keeping his feet dry. These observations build quietly and powerfully through the whole book, and that is what makes it such an effective statement about war and the universality of mankind.
I'll shut up now and let the book speak for itself.
Frank Muller does a terrific job of conveying the tone of the bored soldier struggling to preserve his personhood. I only recently discovered this reader and am sorry to learn that he is no longer with us.
I remember this title being heavily hyped all through the mid to late '70s. I'm sorry it took me this long to get to it. I would have appreciated it better as a teenager. As it is, I can't be entirely sure if the authors were consciously mocking the sci-fi style of the 1950s, or if they thought they were contemporary and hip.
Those familiar with the maritime novels of Forrester and O'Brien will instantly recognize the stock characters in this book. The authors even borrow quite a bit of 18th century admiralty terminology. I suppose in some sense this is a novel about first contact, but it's a 1974 book and the issues of 1974 loom large. The Vietnam war was tapering off, the cold war with the Soviet Union was starting to thaw, and the possibility of opening up relations with China was either an opportunity or a threat. If indeed the aliens are a stand-in for the Chinese, then they reflect the stereotypes and xenophobia of the early 1970s. I will say that Asians are distinctly absent from the confederation of humans who make up the Empire.
What I found believable about the book was the way in which both sides attempt to conceal certain things about themselves. I have to confess to a certain disappointment that the Empire couldn't muster a more competent expedition to initiate first contact, but I suppose that's realistic given the experience of our own times. There's no reason to think human nature in A.D. 3000 will be any different from today.
Some amusing things about the book: they still use percolators to make coffee! (despite the fact we already had Mr. Coffee drip machines in 1974); passing references to Tolkien (the most troublesome rebel planet is named Sauron); and references to Star Trek (all space ship engineers speak with a Scottish accent).
Given that the book reflects concerns about globalization from the 1970s, it's interesting to reflect on the ways in which the book has proved prescient and the ways in which it hasn't. One thing is for sure: the debate about globalization and resource utilization has only gotten more intense over the last 40 years.
The narrator begins by alluding to heart problems that allegedly run in his wife's family, but the novel is concerned with a very different kind of heart problem. And that distinction sets the tone for our hapless narrator destined to be deceived by those closest to him. The structure of this novel is deceptively conversational. Ford even alludes to this conversational storytelling style, but make no mistake: every digression and flashback is calculated to serve the author's purpose.
The reading is brilliant here as Frank Muller captures the tone of the narrator who is removed from all the drama going on around him, who may or may not have been too stupid to notice, or simply may not have been involved enough in his own life, or may be something else. I assumed the title referred to Captain Ashburnham, but now I'm not so sure. It seems to be at least as apt a description for the narrator.
The narrator keeps referring to this as the "saddest story." It is indeed sad in a sorry sort of way. These characters are their own worst enemies. Ford does an outstanding job of showing how these people, lacking any real purpose in their lives but having money to burn, still manage to ruin what should have been a carefree existence. Would you and I do better if we had their resources and the ability to live life unfettered by worries and responsibilities? I guess Ford is saying that without real worries and responsibilities, human nature will force us to invent imaginary ones.
So here we have a lost generation before Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Here we have a noir long before the movie genre was popularized. And here we have existential despair long before Sartre. Ford was amazingly prescient at showing the spiritual malaise that would inform the 20th century.
As long as I remember he was only 30, I can forgive the overzealous, overeducated tone of these writings. It surprises and saddens me that he didn't outgrow some of his early ideas with the perspective of age and experience. That said, these are pieces that have stood the test of time, for whatever reason.
I confess I am at a loss to understand why Marx is still held in high regard in certain quarters. Perhaps his serious writings are more carefully structured. The pieces presented here are more in the way of periodical summations. Most of them are commentaries on current events or critiques of other writings by his contemporaries. It is difficult to properly evaluate them without a deep knowledge of the things he is critiquing. Time and again he will repeat a catch phrase without ever getting around to defining precisely what he means by it. So many of these terms have gotten muddied in the intervening 170 years that it makes the problem that much harder. Perhaps this is not a good choice for an audio book given the need for such annotations and footnoting. So many of his premises are simply taken for granted. So many of his "obvious" conclusions seem completely arbitrary. I waited for the chain of reasoning that led him to his conclusions but it never came. Occasionally, he would acknowledge an opposing viewpoint, and even offer to explore it, but after a token gesture in that direction he would say something like "but enough of that" and go back to preaching to the converted. As a newspaperman he certainly has a certain flair for rhetoric. He has a fondness for inversion formations such as "he does not say what he means, and he means what he does not say." That, by the way, is from his critique of Karl Heinzen. I have to say that most of the charges he levels at Heinzen apply to his own works as well.
Mercifully, the book is short, as otherwise it would simply be too frustrating to have so many questions left unexplained and unanswered. It is extremely ironic that someone who writes so penetratingly on the topics he addresses is somehow unable to carry that through to a logical conclusion.
One eerie aspect of this audio book is that the reader chooses to read it with a cheerful tone of voice, as though he were reading about kittens and puppies instead of hard-hitting political commentary.
It's hard to describe just what the structure of this book is. Characters we think are central disappear for long stretches. Characters we think are peripheral come to have major roles. The central plot line appears to lead nowhere. I am left with the sense that the real plot lies outside of what is reported in the book, and can only be inferred from the general shapes outlined therein. Faulkner is probably the most successful experimental writer of the 20th century. One of the few where we feel the experimental elements serve the function of the story instead of the other way around. In this book, it is the fragmented way of telling the story, and the sense of an overarching purpose that cannot be directly stated. Nowadays, the fragmented chronology has become so common that we may not appreciate how revolutionary Faulkner's work really was. One thing Faulkner is always good at is at expressing the ambiguity in a character's words or actions. Rather than simply say what a gesture means, he will leave you with a multitude of interpretations just as you are left in real life wondering what a gesture truly meant. Just as our own gestures mean more than can be neatly summed up in a tidy soundbite explanation.
It's not giving anything away to say that there are numerous allusions to the nativity story in this book, though it can be easy to forget as the story twists away in different directions. It's a very dark twisted version of the nativity story all the same. I think the underlying meaning of the book lies somewhere in the contemplation of its elements as they relate to that archetypal story.
Will Patton does a terrific job of keeping all the characters straight and of evoking the period and the people.
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