Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Review: The Man in My Basement

The Man in My Basement The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an impulse read - one of those books I picked up at the library, opened to the middle, read one paragraph, and thought, ok, I'll give it a go .

I had read a Mosley book a few years back and thought it was just ok. I found his lewdness distracted from that story and in this book, I felt the same. He is preoccupied with a sophomoric kind of smuttiness; I don't really get this and think it diminishes his message but, hey, it is clearly just a style thing.

On the bright side, I enjoyed the story's pace and I respect the magnitude of the burden he took on when constructing his central character. The journey from inertia through brutal nihilism and back to solid (yet familiar) ground was good stuff.



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Friday, June 1, 2018

Review: Washington Square

Washington Square Washington Square by Henry James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have only just discovered the writing of Henry James. I simply could not put this book down. There are only a handful of writers who can so successfully travel through a man or a woman's unspoken thoughts ..... thoughts of propriety, impropriety, foolish hopes, devious schemes, love and detestation. It is a book about what is never said as much as it is a book about what is said which should never be said. It describes the many little deaths we will experience as others trifle with us and as we deny ourselves moments of heroic change. It is almost miraculous to me that someone has captured the infinite inscrutability of those who live a life of the mind, rather than a life of more concrete stuffs.
I loved this book.

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Review: Berlin Alexanderplatz

Berlin Alexanderplatz Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stylistically, not really my cup of tea. I have read so many other reviews all singing this book's praises. I don't get it. I have read in several places that this is "an important work". I don't get this either.

It is original, I'll give it that. It also has an artistic backbone which is very clever, so I liked that. Finally, it is an effective slice of history of the Weimar Republic. It does a good job revealing the underbelly of Berlin in the late 1920's.

However, I found myself yearning for a single declarative sentence. Maybe a little more punctuation, so you know who is speaking? The stream of consciousness thing doesn't work in a novel. Fine for poetry...but it gets cumbersome when there are chapters and chapters of it. As a reader, I felt I had to work too hard throughout to figure out what was going on.

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Review: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Be prepared to lose some sleep - I know I did. I just could not close the book, no matter how word-drenched I felt. The story is a little bit of everything: historical fiction, beach read, magical, honest, way more than a beach read, love story, philosophy. Doerr does a spectacular job in "keeping it real". He does not address evil and kindness straight-on. Both are ever-present. Both take their fair share from the lives in the story. Life is like this. It tore at me, though. I'll remember it for a very long time.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Review: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t know what to say about this book. I felt I had to read it; the received wisdom is that it’s one of those “important” books, and I am on a mission to read older, “important” books.

Maybe I’m too plain-thinking. Maybe I failed to spend my time noting the metaphors, political rhetoric, philosophical delineations, allusions and foreshadowings. Or maybe I was simply pierced by the utter annihilation of hope which stained every page, and so I missed all the literary stuff.

I want so much to praise this young author, only 22 when she wrote it! I guess I should have waited a few weeks to write this review, because right now I find that my own human inclination to say and think nice things has been temporarily garroted by the enormity of the sadness in this year-long slice of life in the deep South during the Depression.

Pain which is merely observed is, actually, journalistic. But pain shared is something different. There were times in my life when the 65 cent Septa bus fares were carefully set into piles for the week and without those neat little stacks, I could go nowhere. Do nothing. One financial misstep of a mere 65 cents had some serious consequences. I guess I was poor, but I did not know it. That’s because I had hope.

I cannot find the hope in this book. The privations of the people (of all colors) who live in these pages is immortal. Their impoverishment has an eternal pall. Is that the point our young author intended to make? If one has never, ever had a close encounter with poverty, I guess this would be an important book to read for the cultural literacy, etc.

The plot is clumsy at times, probably because the author wants to make a broader point on “the human condition” and she is contriving the events rather obviously to this end. The characters are very skillfully developed, but the dull torpor of their intractable hardships was enervating.

I don’t know if I agree that this is a “very important book”. I know that it is a very sad one.

My star ratings have to do with how much a book made me think, hence, the four stars here.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Review: The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading: I gather up many words, through eyes or ears or both, while neurons put them in neat little rows with appropriate starts and stops. Thoughts and understanding result.

Reading The Thirteenth Tale: I am clobbered by the gusts of language so uncommonly perfect that there grows in my mind an anticipatory thermogenesis so potent that it partitions my heart between real life and the life breathing through each page.

This is an eerie story of both terrible scars and wounds open still, but the author’s elegance is so immense that it feels like a privilege and a luxury to hear it told and to imagine the iniquities it reveals.

This author’s devotion to the written word – her worshipful bearings to works of great literature which she blends into every aspect of this tale - is something the faithful reader will never, ever forget.


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Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener by John le Carré
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, here we go. The main topics are:

* greedy, ruthless pharmaceutical company
* savage, profit-drivien big multinational corporation
* gutless, power-hungry government bureaucrats (both British and Kenyan)
* brave, do-gooder, whistle-blowers

It was a very well-crafted story. I especially appreciated the immaculate sentences - almost all spoken by Justin. An artful who-done-it right up to the last 50 pages, I never thought about putting it down, although I grew weary of the sheer number of characters. It was fun to have so many tangential dramas for the first half of the book. I suffered from sub-plot-fatigue in the second half of the book.

It made me want to see Kenya, though. The descriptions were pastoral, poetic and perverse and at some point I think I actually tasted the heat from the dry, cracked earth.

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