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Eat Better, Live Better, Feel Better: Alkalize Your Life...One Delicious Recipe at a Time

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This is a novel that achieves epic scale, while proudly keeping its tongue in cheek. I probably missed out on a fair fraction of the layered allusion that makes up this fantasy world, but at the very least, Barth touches on Christianity, Judiasm, Buddhism, the cold war, American capitalism, the Holocaust, and I'll just toss in the history of western culture, for good measure.It is certainly possible that I was reading a bit too much into all of the joking references. If I have one main criticism of Giles Goat-Boy, it's that I came away without really knowing the aim of Barth's commentary. Maybe I just didn't read deeply enough to get at some of the subtle points, or maybe some of the caricatures exist only as jokes and without a grander purpose.Despite my confusion about it's deeper meaning, Giles Goat-Boy still functions fantastically as a novel. Despite long digressions and character's monologues, you still get swept along throughout this very lengthy book. Barth's writing is so good that, when he ramps up to one of the many "action scenes" that are scattered through the story, I really couldn't put the book down. After each of these virtuosic climaxes, I would find myself dazed and marveling at what I had just read.
Notes of a Native Son

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This book of essays by Baldwin focuses on issues of race in America, but also uses his experiences in Paris to make interesting contrasts.I picked the book up on account of being blown away (at least twice) by Giovanni's Room, but this was a pretty poor choice for a vacation read. Baldwin is a very smart writer and the subject matter leads him into some technical passages composed in a fairly academic style. The literary criticism in the first two essays (‘Everybody's Protest Novel’ and ‘Many Thousands Gone’) went pretty much over my head.However, the essays that drew from his experiences with his father and his time in Europe were more readable and do a wonderful job of conveying nuanced emotion. The autobiographical stuff seems to loaded towards the back of the collection, so don't give up if you are having trouble starting out.
Selections from Fragile Things, Volume Four: 9 Short Fictions and Wonders

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This collection of stories and poems sticks with the usual Neil Gaiman genres of modern fantasy and mythology, but mixes things up a lot within those boundaries. The mood ranges from creepy to funny to sweet and every story form is represented from a page-long poem up to a novella or two. Many of the shorter pieces aimed to be clever and carefully constructed, but I think that the novellas and longer stories are much stronger for the most part. 'A Study In Emerald', in particular, is fantastic.
The House of the Scorpion

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This was an entertaining book. It's got some apocalyptic sci-fi, but keeps it hidden behind a pastoral setting for the first two-thirds or so. I also enjoyed the southwestern/Mexican tinge of the setting and language. Still, I was a bit disappointed by the simplicity of how the book addresses the key moral issues (cloning, slavery). Farmer tries to convince us that the main character has affection towards his "father", the ancient and amoral drug lord, but it doesn't really ring true. Maybe this is to be expected in a book written for a younger audience, but I was hoping for more.
Motherless Brooklyn

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I don't think it's very controversial to call this book a modern classic, or to rave about Lethem's ability to write a detective story that both fans and detractors of genre fiction can enjoy. So I don't have much new to say about this excellent and very fun-to-read book.I do want to mention the almost physiological effect that Lionel's tics (described in writing) had on me. I'm a pretty fidgety and flinchy person by nature, so the stream of consciousness description of his Tourette's symptoms, starting with stimulus - a word, a sound, a gesture - and then resulting in a flood of repetitions and permutations that eventually overflow Lionel's brain and burst out into his actions, really got me going. Any time I put the book down and stood up to walk across my apartment, I had to fight the urge to shout out 'Eatmebailey!'
Spook Country

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As is mentioned in pretty much every review, this latest novel from William Gibson is set in the present rather than the future (well, that was true for Pattern Recognition too). Early on in the book, I found this somewhat distracting because the references to modern day life would break me out of the dreamy state induced by Gibson's often poetic descriptive passages ('...giant orange arms craned in the distance, above a shoreline seemingly solid with the visual complexity of industry'). It's been a long time since I first read Neuromancer, but I remember that book inducing much more sustained enchantment.By the end of Spook Country, though, I got more caught up in the story. Looking back, from the vantage point of the ending, I can see how little is going on plotwise for most of the book. This, rather than any disruptive effects of current events and brand names, might have been responsible for making the early parts of the book plod along.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ is a really enjoyable and playful book. I liked all the science fiction and fantasy references, the heaping doses of Spanish slang (even though I didn't understand a lot of it) and the tangential trips into the history of the Dominican Republic (I love fiction with footnotes!).I went into the book thinking that it would just be the story of Oscar, a hopelessly nerdy kid of Domincan descent, living in New Jersey with his mom and sister. It took me a shamefully long time to adjust my expectations and realize that the scope of the book is a lot broader and we get the whole family history, as well as a view of what life is like for the Dominican diaspora. By the end, I almost felt that Oscar was not even the true focus of the story and the narrator, who's role is mostly that of an outside observer, is the one I came away most attached to.
The Boy Detective Fails

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Now in the form of a novel, Joe Meno has previously written this story as a short story (which I haven't read) and a play (which I saw performed by the House Theatre in Chicago). Both the play and the novel incorporate the same major themes and plot elements, so it is understandable that the novel seems to have a bit of extraneous material. I love the core idea here, which is to start with the style of a child's detective novel, and the morally structured world that is implied there, and to portray growing up as the process of understanding that not all wrongs can be righted and not everything in this world can be explained. From this mystery and ambiguity, we get fear but also love. However, I think that the play just nailed it a bit more cleanly and succintly.
VALIS

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Like many other PKD novels, Valis deals with the question of reality. As usual, drugs and insanity get tied in, but the main avenue of exploration here is religion. In fact, significant sections of the book really wouldn't be classified as narrative fiction and are instead closer to be expository writing about the 'true' nature of the universe. This bogs things down towards the start of the book, but a plot does show up to carry things along.Dick is often accused of being a bad writer (but with brilliant ideas). Reading other books of his ('A Scanner Darkly', 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep', etc), I had never really noticed this. I definitely do notice the sloppy writing in Valis.So, in summary, if you like the idea of reading about PKD's wild (and frequently confusing) religious beliefs, then dive in. Otherwise, you'll probably want to steer clear because the expository sections and generally flat writing will wear you down.
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

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I didn't find this book to be nearly as interesting or substantial as The Omnivore's Dilemma. Instead it comes across as a long summary of existing research, written with a strong editorial slant (and I agree pretty much totally with Pollan's main arguments). Most of this criticism is focused on the first two parts of the book, which tell the story of the rise of nutritional science and try to explain why the modern American diet is so bad. In the third part, Pollan tries to lay out practical guidelines for the reader to improve their diet. While I don't think there's much information here that you wouldn't be able to find in The Omnivore's Dilemma, at least I finished the book with some inspiration to enact some of his suggestions.
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