Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Why The Da Vinci Code Was Bad

Dave Barry will tell you.

So will the folks at Fametracker.

(Favorite quote: So, today I check out the news section of Yahoo! and a news bit is titled: "Da Vinci Code to Be Shot Inside Louvre". For a moment, I thought the French were going to take a copy of the book and shoot it with a gun inside the Louvre because it was so bad.)

I still say read it as quickly as possible and you might not notice all the horrible things in it!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Jazz (by Toni Morrison)

One of the more deceptively accessible Morrison books I've read. Rhythmic, of course; I'd love to hear it read aloud. Interesting themes: solidarity, collusion, obsession, eros vs. agape, absolution, community, culture... this book is about relationships in the richest and most complicated sense, I think. Joe and Violet, Violet and Alice Manfred, Golden Grey and True Belle, Dorcas and Anton... all kinds of relationships within a community that seems stronger than any of the individual relationships themselves. The community absorbs all enmity within itself and ultimately fosters a surprising sense of understanding. Maybe that makes no sense, but it's the closest I can get to it.

My only "criticism" is that I wish the reader got more insight into Joe's motives for killing Dorcas. (Not a spoiler; this is on the first page. Maybe that explanation on the first page is the best we're going to get.)

The narrative technique is interesting. It breaks in throughout the story but somehow it isn't intrusive. (I often find the breaking in of a narrator to be intrusive.) It's the storytelling tradition and background, of course, but with no awkwardness. Yet it's mysterious, too. The narrator at the beginning seemed to be an anonymous resident of the city. The narrator at the end seemed to be God. Maybe the beauty of Morrison's book is that the two are so easy to conflate.

"So from Lenox to St. Nicholas and across 135th Street, Lexington, from Convent to Eighth I could hear the men playing out their maple-sugar hearts, tapping it from four-hundred-year-old trees and letting it run down the trunk, wasting it because they didn't have a bucket to hold it and didn't want one either. They just wanted to let it run that day, slow if it wished, or fast, but a free run down trees bursting to give it up." (Page 196-7)

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Da Vinci Code (by Dan Brown)

Okay. So I was told that this book was "really, really stupid" and basically an utter waste of time. So imagine how dumb I feel saying that I liked it!

The beginning of the book, I admit, sucked. I started off listening to it on audio and every character sounded like Pepe Le Pew. The "expert cryptographer" was like the Tara Reid of cryptographers, or so I thought when she was unable to spot an anagram that it literally took me ten seconds to solve.

But then my audio book died on me, and I picked up an actual book and sped read my way through it, and it got better! I liked all of the puzzles and I enjoyed the historical aspects of it. I'm sure a lot of it is bullroar (tm Waiting for Guffman), but the appropriation of pagan symbology and the suppression of the female principle in the church are both obviously very rooted in history. And the church has damaged history and femininity for centuries, so a bestseller that touches on that theme makes me happy.

The stupid romance part isn't that emphasized (at least not when you are reading super fast) and the Possession-like ending... well, it's lame, but it was lame in Possession too.

So there you have it. Next time I will talk about Henry James or Virginia Woolf or something in an affort to win back your literary respect.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Wind in the Willows (by Kenneth Grahame)

So he's a toad... who puts on a dress... and makes everyone believe he is a woman... and then he rides a horse... so he's the size of a man... but in fact he's a toad. And his idiocy and vanity are supposed to be charming, because he is "irrepressible" or something. What the hell ever. You have to be seven years old to enjoy this book.

In fact, I cannot believe this dumb anthropomorphic frog book is on my reading list. Watership Down it ain't.

"Toad sat up slowy and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense attraction for him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced went he wentand told another animal, after having faithfully promisd not to." (Page 86)

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Tombs of Atuan (by Ursula LeGuin)

The fantasy genre is mostly Not My Thing, but I have enjoyed some science fiction and fantasy over the years. I just don't have the patience to wade through the bad stuff to find the good stuff. But I enjoy recommendations. After we watched the Earthsea miniseries, Dan lent me this book, which is the second part of the trilogy. I was assured that it would be okay to read it first.

The miniseries and the book have almost nothing to do with each other, thankfully, because the miniseries was terrible, if amusing to watch. The book is short, obviously paty of a larger story. But it's compelling, interesting, and the writing is solid. I was confused about one thing, though, and maybe Dan can answer this for me: was Tenar really the reincarnation of Arha? I'm not quite clear about the magical laws of Earthsea, and I wasn't sure about that one.

Anyway, I enjoyed this. I tried not to picture Kristen Kreuk too much, but it was somewhat unavoidable.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Ten Big Ones (by Janet Evanovich)*

The tenth book in a series of fun, fluffy books about Jersey-girl bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. Total guilty pleasure, like the alphabet series by Sue Grafton.

I listened to this one, which was a surreal experience, not quite like reading it on the page. For one thing, the file I have kept skipping around. (That's what I get for not using Audible.) So I ended up going to the bookstore and reading the parts I'd missed. For another thing, the girl who reads it has sort of an annoying voice. She's good, but her voice irritated me, especially the way she'd draw out the last word of every sentence. And her deep voices that she did for the men, while totally par for the course, really did negate their sex appeal.

So I don't think I'd choose Audiobook for any of the other books in this series. But that said, as far as the book itself goes, I liked this one. I liked the Ranger's apartment scenes, I liked that she's slighty more competent, and I liked that she stood up to Morelli who wants her to give up bounty hunting and be a housewife. I mean, are you kidding me with this?

The usual fun read. I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

An Old-Fashioned Girl (by Louisa May Alcott)

This was recommended by the Fametrackers, so I read it. Aside from a couple of excessive instances of authorial intrusion, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Very typical Alcott. You know the virtuous, kind-hearted girl who touches the lives of all she meets, blah blah. She's kind of all the Little Women rolled up into one: she's got the artistic talent of Amy, the domesticity of Meg, the independent spirit of Jo, and the angelic nature of Beth. It's got a sweet romance at the center of it, though, that's worth experiencing. Bottom line is, if you are an Alcott fan, you'll enjoy it. If you're not, you won't!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (by Susanna Clarke)*

This book seemed long-winded to me. Maybe it was because I was listening to it and I couldn't skim over any of the footnotes or the history or the long-ass descriptions of things. Or maybe because it's a long-ass book in general, I don't know!

The length, some plot holes (okay, I will buy that there's only one fairy in England, since everyone seems to summon the same guy... but how come the fairy makes a bargain for one captive, just whisks one away, and then has to kill a third? there is no internal logic there...), loose ends (what about Strange's book?), sloppy storytelling (we never find out what the principles of magic even are and the whole book is about magic), and confusing characterization (Norrell when we meet him doesn't seem to bear much resemblance to the Norrell we come to know) are all frustrating. And yet it is compelling enough to keep going, picks up steam towards the end, and really does have a hell of a payoff. But it is almost all buildup, and I think you have to be very patient to make it to the end.

One reviewer on Amazon said if you read the first inch and the last inch, you'd have a great book. That's true! You wouldn't have to read all the uncomfortable stuff about how magicians helped build the British Empire, rah rah imperialism, rah rah world domination, which is a moral issue that there is no evidence the author has even thought about. And speaking of which, how is Strange (who has no books, mind you) able to have god-like powers? Like, he can move entire cities. And then a few chapters later he's like "yeah, if only I had some real power..."

If you sort the Amazon reviews with least number of stars first, you might be very entertained. ("This book answers the ageless question, 'What would happen if unbelievably boring people with no ambitions or real emotions were granted godlike powers?' The answer, as we learn over the many hundreds of pages, is not much." or "Now I know why it took her ten years to write it; she kept getting bored and forgetting to write more.")

Anyway I enjoyed the ending very much, but it's a long way from the beginning, if you know what I mean. I'm not sure I'd recommend it.

The Corrections (by Jonathan Franzen)

I put this book down and actually said out loud, to nobody, "That is the best book I've read in a long time."

I have friends who hated hated hated this book, and I'd heard the reason was that the characters were unsympathetic. I found them unsympathetic in such a real, human way that they became sympathetic again. And I could relate to these characters so strongly. I saw my own family in them, which I found both terrifying and touching. They are the people you love "deeply, from the back of the soul, with intolerance in daily life." (That's from National Velvet, not this book.)

The writing is masterful. Really, I can't say enough about it. I was blown away on almost every page. I know it sounds like hyperbole, but I can't help it. The Corrections impressed me just that much.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Babbitt (by Sinclair Lewis)

I really enjoyed this one. It made me think of part of Disney World's Carousel of Progress. This guy is surrounded by "modern" gadgets to a ridiculous degree, and bragging about them and talking about how easy life is going to be from now on. Babbitt reminded me of that guy.

The book is basically a character study of Babbitt himself, an absolutely ridiculous figure whom you sort of root for in spite of yourself. It makes some very interesting points about conformity, consumerism, capitalism and so forth. Nothing that we haven't already seen through (being "modern" people after all) but something we are all in thrall to nonetheless, if not so trapped by it as Babbitt is. I really enjoyed being inside Babbitt's head, self-delusions and weaknesses and foolishness and all. Funny, ironic, satirical and well-written. I'd recommend it.

"Just as he was an Elk, a Booster, and a member of the Chamber of Commerce, just as the priests of the Presbyterian Church determined his every religious belief and the senators who controlled the Republican Party decided in little smoky rooms in Washington what he should think about disarmament, tariff, and Germany, so did the large national advertisers fix the surface of his life, fix what he believed to be his individuality. These standard advertised wares--toothpastes, socks, tires, cameras, instantaneous hot-water heaters--were his symbols and proofs of excellence; at first the signs, then the substitutes, for joy and passion and wisdom." (Page 61)