Oakland, CA | Member Since 2006
This book was fantastic. The author was just scientific and scholarly enough to keep me reading and enjoying it without getting bogged down and losing my interest.
The basic premise of this book about the science of neuro-plasticity is that scientists used to think that brain functions were fixed and certain parts of the brain were always in control of the same set of behaviors. However modern scientists have found that our thoughts, actions, and feelings can be processed in different parts of the brain and are NOT tied to a fixed location. The notion that the brain is "plastic," or malleable is a fairly new one, and it holds so much promise for many areas – stroke victims, senior citizens, people with OCD, children with learning disorders to name a few. The discoveries shown in the book have totally changed what we know about the brain, and the impact on our lives and our future has been - and will continue to be -huge. The case studies used by the author to demonstrate all of this are fascinating. The chapter about the sexual masochist and how his brain was wired so that pain actually caused sexual arousal was only one example of the sometimes bizarre case studies. Most were a lot more “normal” than this but still definitely held my attention.
I found it particularly interesting that the scientist who did many of the neuro -plasticity experiments in the beginning of the book, Michael Merzenich, is also the person who founded Posit Science, the company that sells the “Brain Fitness” program that is advertised a lot on KQED/public television. After reading this book, I am convinced that that program is a worthwhile one and that I ought to get on the bandwagon!
This book was billed as a “European Gone Girl, “ and at first I could not see why. However, as the plot evolved and the dinner went on, the comparison became clear.
(Spoiler alert - this paragraph :)
As in Gone Girl, the narrator starts out innocently enough. It seems he doesn’t care much for his famous brother and he has lots of musings and philosophies that seem interesting and make it seem like his goal of being a happy family is an innocent one. However, again like Gone Girl, the plot seems to take a turn after one particular incident in the book, and then the narrator becomes more and more “unreliable.” Whatever disease or condition he has makes him crazy, basically. It was annoying to not ever know what the name of the condition was supposed to be. Also, the way that the narrator won’t reveal what was wrong with his wife when she was in the hospital is annoying, as well. I wanted to know more about his wife. By the end, she seems as crazy as he is, but it is not clear why. She seems the more logical of the two, but in the end, she is not. Her evolution to this state is too unclear, in my opinion.
The book was like a manual in how NOT to be a good parent that is for sure. This father did everything possible to screw up his son, and it worked!
I really liked the structure of the book. It was built around one particular dinner, but in fact the plot ranges far back before this dinner. With each course, more is revealed. It is tantalizing in that way, and interesting to see what will come next.
In both books, though, the extreme actions of the characters seemed unbelievable, as did the endings. Overall, though, The Dinner wasn’t quite as exciting, or edgy, as Gone Girl.
I loved, loved , loved this book. I loved the plot, loved the characters, and loved her beautiful writing. This quote sums it up for me: “Donna Tartt is catnip for educated people who want to read entertaining but not difficult things about lofty topics and cosmopolitan people.” (Lydia Kiesling, The Rumpus, 11/30/13)
The goldfinch, it turns out, has been a symbol of Christ’s resurrection for hundreds of years. This may have started because of the thistle seeds that the goldfinch eats, which supposedly remind one of Christ’s crown of thorns. The painting, “Madonna of the Goldfinch” from 1506, exemplifies this Christian symbolism.
And even in ancient Egypt, this little bird was used to decorate coffins and remind the viewer that the soul is in the hands of God. This symbolism works perfectly in the book, The Goldfinch.
(Spoiler Alerts! )
The place where the symbolism becomes the most apparent is in Amsterdam. I love the way the final scenes there take place in the winter. Theo has hit bottom, he is about to commit suicide. It is cold, there is snow –traditional literary symbol for death. THEN it is Christmas day, and that is when he has his awakening, conversion, or rebirth. “ … after Amsterdam, which was really my Damascus, the way station and apogee of my conversion as I guess you’d call it, ….. “ (p. 768 ) A snowy Christmas: how perfect for a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.
That scene in Amsterdam is the main crisis in the book. For the rest of it, he pretty much tries to sum up the philosophy of life that he’s developed in going through all the horrors and yet the beauties of his life. This is a wonderful, emotionally moving, section. The painting of The Goldfinch has been symbolically representing how Theo’s soul has been in the hands of God – bumping from city to city and crisis to crisis - and now he’s wrestled with his demons and come out on the right side and can continue with his life in a better way. He’s doesn’t necessarily have a positive or happy outlook, BUT he is surviving, has reset his moral compass, and is ready to move on. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, he has had a conversion.
In addition to thinking about the Christian symbolism in the book, I am also trying to figure out if it could be considered a “picaresque” novel – the part about the bumping around from city to city like Don Quixote. The Goldfinch does take the main character, Theo Decker, to many locations on many strange adventures. First it’s NYC, then Las Vegas, then back to NYC, and finally to Amsterdam, and then other locations around the globe are tacked on at the end. So , that part qualifies as picaresque. However, in looking up the characteristics of that genre on Wikipedia, it is not quite so clear. I’m not sure if I have a point or not. Here’s a list to help make a decision:
1. Written in the 1st person as an autobiographical account.
Check this one as a YES. Theo tells his story and reflects on his life.
2. Main character is of low social class, gets by without and rarely deigns to hold a job. This is not so clear. Theo Decker is not of low social class, however, he is often very poor and he does many things that could qualify as “low class.” The picaresque hero is usually a rogue, BUT he is a lovable rogue and so doesn’t really seem like a “picaro.” I would put Theo Decker in this category, since he IS lovable, he does get by on his wits , and he DOES commit many roguish acts. He does have a job at some point, however, he commits some of his “roguish” acts on the job.
3. There is no plot. The story is told in a series of loosely connected adventures or episodes. This doesn’t work for “The Goldfinch. ” It has a plot, although, again, this is somewhat ambiguous since the plot does wander all over the globe. I guess, to me, the plot seems to be about Theo Decker growing up and finally coming to peace (of sorts) with his life and what has happened to him. This is a story of redemption, and that is the plot. So, I think this is NOT like a picaresque novel in the area of plot.
4. Little character development in the main character. Once a picaro, always a picaro. NOPE. Theo definitely has a conversion – a redemption. In fact, that is the major point or theme of the book, so this part doesn’t work as picaresque.
5. The picaro’s story is told with a plainness of language or realism. I would say this is true. The writing is lovely, but it is very easy to read, and it is realistic. There is no magical realism; there are no obscure passages. In fact, that is one of the things I loved about the book: it was a good story, easy to read, but still it contained many beautiful passages, literary references, figurative language, symbolism, and interesting thoughts on the nature of existence. So it was a great combo of the simple and the complex.
6. Satire might sometimes be a prominent element. At first I didn’t see it as a satire. However, I’m re- reading it, and now I can see the satirical elements: the social workers trying to help Theo; Dave, his therapist; the characters and the very geography of Las Vegas (the Playa, the empty houses, Xandra) and the snootiness superficiality of some in the art world. It is dark in parts and could be considered to be critical of life or segments of society. Although overall it doesn’t read like a satire, I’d say parts of it seem to be written in a satirical vein.
7. The behavior of a picaresque hero stops just short of criminality. Carefree or immoral rascality positions the picaresque hero as a sympathetic outsider, untouched by the false rules of society. This one seems true to me. Theo is thrown outside of society by the explosion in the beginning. He is always lovable, even when he commits his worst acts in the book. Although he seems to be taken in by others (his dad and Boris, mainly) he is always sympathetic, innocent, and lovable.
It will be hard for me to find a book that I like as much as The Goldfinch! Maybe I’ll try Donna Tartt’s other books…..
What a fun book! I liked it BETTER than The Shining. Of course, that could be because I already read and vaguely remembered The Shining. In any case, Dr. Sleep transported me to another world… the world of a good book. It was a good story, and Stephen King knows how to tell good stories. I really appreciate the naturalness of his writing.
Although a person would not HAVE to have read The Shining first, I DO think it adds to the enjoyment to have the details from The Shining in the mind while going through Dr. Sleep. It adds to the fun to remember Dick Halloran, Wendy Torrance, Horace Derwent, and even Mrs. Massey from room 217!
I loved the writing in The Dog Stars! The author did such a great job of evoking the main character’s personality. Hig was a combination of an outdoorsman and “man’s man,” and then also a poet and philosopher. He was sensitive and often compassionate; I really loved his character.
The Dog Stars reminded me of “The Little Prince” in which the narrator flies around the world in his airplane, is stranded in the desert, and meets the little prince who expounds on the beauties and also the frailties of the world. Like The Little Prince, The Dog Stars presents a lesson about life. This famous line from The Little Prince is really the theme of that book: "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye." In the Dog Stars, it seems like the apocalypse has made Hig’s past life “invisible, “ and somehow allowed him to live more in the present, appreciating every small beauty, like the little prince said! Hig is has a poetic nature anyway, and so his observations throughout the book are poignant and touching.
At the end of The Little Prince, the prince tells the narrator that when he leaves it will make the narrator sad, but it will be consoling to look at the stars and think of the prince's lovable laughter, and that it will seem as if all the stars are laughing. It seems like Hig uses the stars in this way, as a sort of consolation, and that the name of the book refers to the nostalgia and beauty in the memories of all the stars he has named that console him in his current, post apocalyptic life.
The Dog Stars is the type of sci-fi that I like. I think you could call this science fiction in that it takes one aspect of the world today and fictionalizes it, but still lets all the characters interact in totally realistic way, and the lessons learned apply to us today in the real world. All the ruminations that Hig dished out over the course of the book seemed to be useful not only in a post apocalyptic world, but also in our modern day world.
I loved Hig’s relationship with Bingley. They are forced together, and they both learn from each other. The evolution of Bingley’s character is interesting and heartwarming.
I only vaguely remember having read The Shining back when it first came out in 1977. The movie version is more firmly stuck in my mind, but it is hazy, too. So I decided to re-read this classic Stephen King book before trying the sequel, Dr. Sleep.
Although I really enjoyed reading it, I was somewhat disappointed as well. I thought I’d be on the edge of my seat and terrified. The first half or 2/3 of the novel seemed almost overburdened with foreshadowing and character development. The final 1/3 was much more exciting, and so I did come away feeling that the book almost lived up to its reputation.
Also, as usual, I really appreciated Stephen King’s writing and the structure of the novel. He is good! Now I can’t wait to watch the movie again! And then on to Dr. Sleep!
It wasn’t until the last hour of listening to this book that I really connected with it. I did enjoy it before that, but somehow it seemed a little bit overly sentimentalized or over dramatized. I’m not really sure, but the “lost wife” idea seemed to be carried a little bit too far. And then at the end, I actually wanted to know more about the reunion of the couple after all these years. It was probably best to cut it off when the author did, but… here I was just really getting into it. So, I was left wanting.
The scenes regarding the holocaust were chilling, and I could tell that they must have been based on someone’s true story. This was confirmed when I listened to an interview with the author at the end.
Overall, I did like the book. It was worth reading.
This was really enjoyable crime fiction! I could hardly stop reading it, which makes it rank high in my book. I was glad to see some of the same characters and references to episodes from the last book, The Phantom. I do think this would make it harder for a newcomer to the Harry Hole series to understand or get as involved in the book as it was for a veteran of Jo Nesbo, but for me, it made it like a homecoming!
One thing that I didn’t like about the book is the way Jo Nesbo was constantly trying to build suspense by, basically, tricking the reader into thinking one thing was happening, only to reveal a little later on that it was really something else. The biggest examples of this technique had to do with Harry Hole, the main character, and whether he was alive or not. There were many smaller examples, however, that kept cropping up. These DID serve to keep me on the edge of my seat, but after a while it also seemed overdone or contrived. One example (spoiler alert) was when the reader is led to believe that the young 12-year-old girl, Aurora, is the victim of the horrible serial killer. Nesbo does this by juxtaposing the section of the book with scenes of the young victim alongside the next section where Aurora is discovered missing. Of course, the reader begins to assume that Aurora is the victim.
One other problem I had was that the first suspect, Valentin, is sort of dropped half way through, and then there is a tiny bit of evidence at the end that he might have shown up again. However, this whole tangent was too unresolved, in my opinion. It seems obvious there will be another book (yea!), but still, Nesbo needs to finish this one off in a bit more of a polished fashion.
This book is not bad but is too long and rambling. I loved Bryce’s Courtenay’s “The Power of One,” and I enjoyed “Tandia,” but now he has gone off the deep end with a long saga that tries to include too many characters. Also, his propensity to have the goodness of the main characters shine through no matter what their humble situation is, in this book, maudlin and over the top.
I will say that each of the various stories did, at times, really engage me and pull on my heartstrings. The narrator, Mole, is damaged by his war-scarred father, Tommy. Mole’s admiration for his father is heartwarming. His father’s war story is grueling and tragic, but it is really long and boring at the same time. Ugh; that could have been shortened. Mole’s adaptation to life in the bush is interesting, especially the descriptions of fire fighting in Australia. I learned a lot about forest fires in the process. The ending of Mole’s story, at the very end of the book after all those hours of listening, ironically ends up seeming too quickly wrapped up. It’s like Courtenay finally ran out of steam or the editor said ENOUGH. The brother who is in the fashion industry has an interesting story, as well. However, if I were shortening the book, I’d probably have left his part out. My favorite story was the family’s oldest daughter, Sarah, and her feminist struggle to get accepted into medical school against great odds and as a pregnant single woman in backwoods Australia. I liked that. Also the family’s friends, Sophie and Maurie SuckFizzle, have a sad but uplifting story of triumph over adversity, but again this verges into sentimentality and maudlin territory. Then there is the brother who stays around and leads the family to economic success in the trucking business. In all, there are just too many characters and too much territory for one book.
I was really glad when it was over. I may be finished with Bryce Courtenay. I had to search and search for a kindle copy of the book to go along with my audio version. Now I think I know why it was hard to find.
I enjoyed reading The Son. It had a great combination of gritty, cowboy and Indian story telling, and also a lush, nostalgic feel. I loved the descriptions by Eli, the book’s namesake, of the Texas countryside when the grasses were high and they went on forever. As Eli rides the plains with the Indians, the descriptions of the countryside seemed to evoke the now long gone beauty and purity of the natural surroundings. The Indians certainly weren’t romanticized, but one did get a feeling from reading this book that our lives now are smaller in many ways than back when the Indians ruled or roamed the plains. When Eli returns from his captivity, his life back with the whites seems so confining and almost stultifying.
Eli, although he has a good and moral side, is also a man who stops at nothing to get what he wants and stops at nothing to defend his family. His ultimate greed, violence, and excess sets up one of the novels themes of justice or payback. I love the way that justice plays out in the end. It’s like history looping back on itself as we finally find out what has happened to Jeanne McCullough, the Colonel’s (Eli’s) great -granddaughter.
I thought the ending of the book with the Colonel was perfect, too. The nine-year-old Indian boy following after the Colonel was like an echo of Eli’s earlier days and just seemed such a fitting way to end.
“When the people were finished we killed every living dog and horse. I took the chief’s bladder for a tobacco pouch; it was tanned and embroidered with beads. In his shield, stuffed between the layers, was Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
WHEN THE SUN came up, we discovered a boy of nine years. We left him as a witness. At noon we reached the river and saw the boy had followed us with his bow—for twenty miles he had kept up with men on horseback—for twenty miles he had been running to his death. A child like that would be worth a thousand men today. We left him standing on the riverbank. As far as I know he is looking for me yet.”
(Kindle Locations 8290-8295).
This ending speaks to one of the major themes of the book, that of the rise and fall of empires. The empire could be the American west, the Comanche nation, OR , in this case, the McCullough family. All are doomed to fall. People are getting soft. This passage where Jeanne McCullough is thinking, states this change perfectly.
”But the slackening. By five she and her brothers were throwing loops. By ten she was at the branding fire. Her grandchildren were not good at anything and did not have much interest in anything either. She wondered if the Colonel would even recognize them as his descendants, felt briefly defensive for them, but of course it was true. Something was happening to the human race.
That is what all old people think, she decided…
When the first men arrived, she told them, there were mammoths, giant buffalo, giant horses, saber-toothed tigers, and giant bears. The American cheetah—the only animal on earth that could outrun a pronghorn antelope.
Her grandsons … went inside to watch television.”
(Kindle Locations 7882-7892).
Where the Colonel is hard and ruthless, His son, Peter, is almost the opposite. He has taken on the guilt of his father’s excesses and is compassionate and caring. I loved his character. I listened to the book and thought Peter’s voice was fantastic! What a great narrator. His voice seemed to take on the sadness and guilty burden that Peter carried with him. And I loved Peter’s story. Early on we find out the Peter has committed some act that has made him a pariah to the family. Since he seems so sensitive, moral, and thoughtful, it is hard to imagine what this act could be. That sets up a wonderful tension that carries on through the novel.
I just now saw a McCullough family tree diagram in the front of the Kindle edition! Seeing that earlier would have saved me a lot of initial confusion. The story sprawls out over many generations and flips back and forth a lot. I was listening to the book most of the time and was a bit confused until about 200 pages in as to who the characters were and how they fit together. It all fell into place, and I enjoyed putting together the puzzle pieces, but I think referring to the family tree in the beginning would have been great, too.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. The beautiful descriptions of the magic were enchanting. I could really visualize all the intricate tents in The Night Circus. The two main characters, as well as Bailey and the twins, were really interesting. I was drawn to figure out what was behind the mystery of the Night Circus and what was behind the contest that kept the two main characters embroiled for their entire lives. All of that I did enjoy.
SPOILER ALERT: In the end when it is revealed, however, the whole premise seems so shallow and disappointing. It just seemed so arbitrary. Two old men decide to totally manipulate the lives of two people in order to satisfy their own egos. It came down to so little. There seemed no real explanation of how the men came to initiate this challenge or the ones that came before. Without any background, I simply did not care about the actual contest. And without caring about the contest, the framework of the book seemed to be missing. There was a lot of magic and beautiful description, but the heart of the book wasn’t really there.
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