Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever wondered what has motivated the greatest artists in the world to create their masterpieces? Painters, writers, and composers – this author gives a quick summary of the daily routines of over 160 artistic marvels. Asimov, Liszt, Tesla, Carl Jung, Voltaire, Jane Austen, Chopin, Maya Angelou…..well, the list is very long and very impressive.

The author has not set out to write literature here. He devotes about two pages to each writer or composer or painter, focusing on idiosyncrasies of habit - what time of day they rose, what kind of food they ate, when and how they did their best work …..it reads a bit like a laundry list. Unlike laundry lists, the information in these sketches was curiously addicting. For example, I had no idea how many of these greats used drugs (daily!) to get their motors running. Some would not bath or eat for days, others worked for precisely 4 hours and then drank like fish for the rest of the day.

It was utterly absorbing. Since each short report stands on its own and is unconnected to the previous or subsequent short reports, this is a book that can be picked up for just a few minutes here and there, or for much longer.

It was thoroughly diverting, it opened my eyes to the price of genius, and it drove home the pure merit of habit.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was 100% charming - I did not want it to end.

Count Rostov is everything a reader could ask for in a protagonist: cultured, clever, elegant, brave, patient, thoughtful, and adventuresome.

The entire book is a tribute to what the Bolsheviks in Russia could NOT change and could never achieve. Yes, they could overthrow a monied monarchy and provisional governments, too. They could spy and bully, and they could steal the possessions of others. But, they could never, never acquire the manners, morals and intelligence which they sought to eliminate.

The silly leaders of the revolution were infuriated by Rostov's geniality; the reader is rooting for Rostov from the very start.

This is a friendly book. No need to directly confront the brutality and bloodshed of the era. Instead, we are treated to the beauty of grace in the human spirit which, in Rostov's case, proves indomitable.

It is great fun to watch as Count Rostov cheerfully faces his diminished circumstances and even more fun to bear witness to his clever reinvention of self.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: The Sellout

The Sellout The Sellout by Paul Beatty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mind. Blown. Yep, meeting this author is a top priority for me.

The book is a delirious, maniacal satire of all things racial; no one is spared.

This luscious lampoon utterly torches the culturally delicate, safe-spaces mind set. It will, in fact, leave this group twitching in corners for all eternity. It is kryptonite for the “thought police”, as well. It is hard to read. It must be read.

You will ask yourself, “Did he just say that? Did he just go there?” repeatedly. Because the content is so explosive, you can’t write it off as campy or zany. Mr. Beatty has a lot to say about race in America and once you get past the provocation, you are in a solidly thoughtful space, where your point of view just might expand. I am guessing that this is Beatty’s objective.

Warning: The profanity is stupefying. However, the story he writes is so original, so unorthodox, and so marvelously cynical that even with the vile language, it is a noble creation.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Review: Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this prelude to Jane Eyre, Ms. Rhys breathes life into the insane first wife of Rochester -- Bertha Mason -- from Charlotte Bronte's book, Jane Eyre. This story is set in the 19th century, in a chaotic, confused, post-emancipation Caribbean. Rhys artfully depicts the complicated ethnic mosaic of the time. She put faces on the suffering and the hatred; the things which lead to a terrible tragedy. The story unfolds in an untamed forest, dark, dangerous, and beautiful.

We learn about the events in Bertha Mason’s life which led to her madness. Rhys humanizes this mad woman in the attic; it is a sobering indictment of colonialism. We “see the other side” of the story.

My favorite quote from this book, comes from Antoinette (the Bertha character) when she is trying to explain to Rochester why her own half-brother hates her so much:

He hates all white people, but he hates me the most. He tells lies about us and he is sure that you will believe him and not listen to the other side.'  'Is there another side?' I said. (Rochester)
   'There is always the other side, always.”

The style of Rhys’ writing definitely breaks with the customary. The narrator changes, the pages are peppered with vivid imagery, the dialogue toggles between a dream-like lilt and a fevered staccato, and it really took quite an effort to hang in there. Very much worth it, though!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Review: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is wildly popular on Goodreads (over 100,000 ratings!) and it is listed as one of the top sellers on Audible.com. I don’t really understand this but then again I am rarely simpatico with the casual reader.

There is nothing remarkable about the story. It is interesting enough. I was able to predict what was going to happen next, more or less, but that’s o.k.
Neither is this anything remarkable about the writing. It is pleasant enough. I wasn’t compelled to reread any especially profound passages but it wasn’t poorly written.

The thing that bugged me was the rather audacious emotional “guidance” of the reader throughout the telling of this story. I am describing that deliberate, heavy-handed revelation of something terribly sad or just doggone unfortunate, which is intended to trigger tears. In music it is called an appoggiatura (think of Adele’s “Someone Like You” or Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”). The order of the notes is designed to extract certain emotions.

So, in writing one can produce the physiological reaction of profound sadness or regret by having events unfold in a particular way.  Fine.  But too much of this feels abusive. I think this author relied too much on this technique.

Otherwise, it was a decent book. I loved the character, Ove. I understand that it has been made into a movie, which does not surprise me in the least. As I read the book, I kept thinking - "This is one of those books which might actually be better as a movie.”

View all my reviews