Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)

The theme of this book is the path from sociopath to psychopath.  Highsmith's writing style lends itself to that path quite in a quite horrifying and thrilling way.  She writes short, sparse yet impactful sentences that highlight and mirror the cold, sparse, calculating thoughts and actions of the - protagonist?  He's no hero - Tom Ripley.  The point of view she uses, limited third person, allows you both see through Ripley's eyes and into his head; you feel his loathing for Marge, his love and lust and jealousy and finally rage at Dickie; his quick fear of the police and detective and equally quick dodges, feints, parries and evasions.  He's imminently talented at, well, evil.  Or perhaps, covering up for evil, in this case two murders.

Is Ripley gay?  I think his protestations to the contrary are of the "methinks the lady doth protest too much" variety.  His disgust for Marge seems to imply it - although that may be chalked up to simple jealousy rather than misogyny.  You could call Ripley bisexual, but I think he's more of an asexual characters.  If this were written later - and perhaps Highsmith does do this with Ripley later in the series - I think he would have at the very least made a pass at Dickie, and possibly Marge as well - making her fall in love with him would have placed Ripley in even a better place than becoming her platonic friend (of sorts; he cultivated something with her that she may have called friendship but he certainly never would have).

What's quite possibly the most brilliant aspect of this book is using that unique third person point of view to both see through Tom's eyes, see in his head, and also zoom out for wide shots as well.  His reasoning behind murdering two people, one of whom is his friend, is really quite well thought out in a psychotic, narcissistic, anti-social way.  Tom is entitled to Dickie's friendship, and ultimately Dickie's life.  Of course, we get to zoom out and see how fucked up that point of view is as well.

In addition to asking myself whether Tom was gay or not - I also wondered if this was classified as  noir. My gut and what little I know of noir says yes; this occasionally reminded me of Mildred Pierce with it's sparse language and detailed characters and brutal action portrayed in a cool way.  Library of America classifies it as noir in a set called Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s.  Some other things I read online (here:  http://www.crimeculture.com/Contents/NewAndrewJeffcoat1.html) indicate that The Talented Mr. Ripley is indeed noir.

At some point in the book, I decided I wasn't going to read the whole series, but now I've changed my mind.  I'd like to know what happens to Ripley next.  He's a hard character to read about; completely unlikable.  But Highsmith, somehow, makes him sympathetic, which is an amazing feat.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (Ripley, #1)The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The arc of this book is the path of the sociopath to psychopath.  Highsmith's sparse, short, blunt writing style lends itself to this, mirroring the sparse, blunt, cold calculating thoughts and actions of the - protagonist? he's no hero - Tom Ripley.  Her genius use of the third person limited point of view allows us to see through Ripley's lamprey eyes, feel his lust and fear, and closely follow his various dodges, parries, feints and evasions of his murder victims' friends, family, and the Italian police.  The point of view also lets us zoom out on occasion and see the whole scene, to gain some a bit of perspective on the whole messy business.  The motives are always left unclear - was Ripley more in love with Dickie or Dickie's lifestyle (I mean, come ON - the murder victim is named DICK for god's sake, clearly a symbol of some sort for latent homosexuality of the 1950s variety at the very least).  What is clear is this is a brilliant piece of noir.  Somewhere in the first third, I thought to myself "I don't want to read anymore of this."  Now I've added the whole series to my list of things to read - somehow, Highsmith made this crocodile of a man into a sympathetic character.  That's some brilliant writing.


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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)

American Gods is not my favorite book that I've read by Neil Gaiman, but it's magnificently written nonetheless.  Like all Neil Gaiman books, you fall head over heels into it, like diving into a deep, dark pool, and then have trouble ever coming to the surface.  American Gods is still stuck in my head.

It's not as perfect as The Graveyard Book or Ocean at the Lane; it's also much, much darker and more adult.  There is lots of language and sex.

It's funny, because I think I'd read it before, and remembered snatches of it every so often, faintly, like hearing a radio on two houses away, the music occasionally blown by the wind into your ears.

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This isn't my favorite book by Neil Gaiman, but that doesn't mean it isn't magnificently written.  From the first page, reading it was like diving into a deep, dark pool - and having trouble coming up for air.  The book still haunts me, and it's been a couple of days since I finished it.  It's far more dark, gritty, and sexual than any other Neil Gaiman I'd previous read.


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Friday, May 23, 2014

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1599)


I'm not going to be able to write a single new goddam thing about Hamlet that hasn't been written before, so there is absolutely no use trying.  

I can record a few of my responses to it though.  I've never read it before, or seen it, and while I thought I knew the story, I had no idea -- SPOILER ALERT -- that everyone -- TRIGGER WARNING - dies at the end.  Or, as Shmoop.com put it (my go to for classics when I'm finished reading them, although in this case I went there a lot while listening to it):  "And, with a body count of eight (Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius, and Hamlet), it's over."  If you count old Hamlet and old Fortinbras, it's 10, but they died off screen.  

I listened to this on audio, and had a difficult time distinguishing one person from another.  Except for Gertrude and Ophelia.  That was annoying.  I had some of the same trouble when I listened to Saint Joan, but not as much.

Hamlet talks to himself a lot.  


Hamlet was surprisingly (for me at least) full of familiar quotes, phrases and idioms,  most of which I had either forgotten came from Shakespeare, or never knew at all.  Of course, everyone knows "To be, or not to be."  But others include:  

"To thine own self be true"

"Murder most foul"

"To sleep: perchance to dream"

"Ay, there's the rub"

"The undiscover'd country" (best heard in the original Klingon)


“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 


“Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.” 


“Brevity is the soul of wit.” 


“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain. ” 


“Sweets to the sweet.” (Said over Ophelia's grave, now on Valentine candy hearts)


“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” 


Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” 


"Neither a borrow nor lender be"


"Alas, Poor Yorick!  I knew him well."

"In my mind's eye"

"Good night sweet prince"

All of which have been put on posters, t-shirts and memes at one time or another.  Shakespeare:  meme generator.

And the dirty mind of Shakespeare.  "Do you think I meant country matters?" he has Hamlet say to Ophelia.  She answers: "I think nothing, my lord."  Country matters is a play on the word "cunt" and "nothing" was Elizabethan slang for a vagina.  Wow!  It's like an old episode of Three's Company!

HamletHamlet by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
How the hell does one review or rate  Hamlet?  I can't possibly write one new goddam thing about it that hasn't been written before.  I can't possibly give it less than five stars - it's been constantly in print and performed for 415 years, so who the hell am I to give it anything less.  And it's written about and analyzed by some of our greatest minds - and I certainly am not one of those (to thine own self be true).   I will just say two things.  1) Hamlet talks to himself a lot.  2)  William Shakespeare was the Elizabethan equivalent of a meme generator:  
"To be or not to be"
"To thine own self be true"
"Murder most foul"
"To sleep: perchance to dream"
"Ay, there's the rub"
"The undiscover'd country" (best heard in the original Klingon)
“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.”
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain. ”
“Sweets to the sweet.” (Said over Ophelia's grave, now on Valentine candy hearts)
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
"Neither a borrow nor lender be" (remember that Phil Silvers sang in Gilligan's Island)
"In my mind's eye"
"Good night sweet prince"

All this from one play too.  



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Monday, May 19, 2014

Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr (2013)

Really, a book published by Oxford University Press should be dry as old bones - but I loved this book so much.  Melissa Mohr could have made the life and times of shit, fuck, cunt, ass, tits, etc. etc. into a linguistics class tome of utter boredom.  But she is a fucking awesome writer.  Her wry asides and really clever turns of phrase had me laughing several times.  And you'll learn plenty as well!  (Did you know that Eve was actually created from Adam's PENIS bone?  Who knew!).  I can't recommend this one enough.  Not for the Victorian prude of heart though - if you are easily offended by foul language, beware.  Although if you are easily offended by foul language, why the fuck did you pick up a book called Holy Shit in the first place?

Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of SwearingHoly Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy fuckballs - a book published by Oxford University Press should be a tome as dry as old bones, but Melissa Mohr's book is so delightfully, freshly well written.  Her wry asides throughout the book are laugh out loud.  And you'll learn everything you ever wanted to know about the seven big words and many, many more.  Beware -swears galore!  Not for the Victorian prudish of heart.  Although if you're easily offended by cursing, why the hell did you pick up a book called Holy Shit in the first place?


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Tales of Beatrix Potter by Beatrix Potter; narrated by Nadia May

"Nature, red in tooth and claw" writes Beatrix Potter's near contemporary Alfred, Lord Tennyson - and in the tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Mr. Tod and others, red it is indeed.  They may be yeoman and gentry late Victorians wearing blue coats and selling peppermints in shops, but they also have absolutely no compunction about eating, skinning and wearing each other.  I'm reminded a bit in that scene from C.S. Lewis, where the giants eat the talking stag, and Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum are all sick about it.  No one is sick about eating talking animals in Beatrix Potter.  The mouse pie in "The Pie in the Patty-pan" - is that Mrs. Tittlemouse?

Some of these stories go absolutely no where, fast ("The Tale of Pigling Bland", for example) and don't really work all that well as stories - but when they do work, they are brilliant little gems; it's no wonder they are still in print, and will continue to be in print, until Peter Rabbit is a folk character the same as his cousin Br'er Rabbit.  "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" is probably the very best story - but I don't know if that's for nostalgia's sake (my grandma used to read it aloud to my brother and I).  The words in all the stories are difficult; there are jawbreaking words occasionally, and turn of the last century British-isms that are unfathomable to 21st century ears - yet I don't remember even caring what chamomile tea was.

The Complete Tales of Beatrix PotterThe Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter by Beatrix Potter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the magnificently read Blackstone audio version, and really, I can't recommend it enough.  It's like having a British gran read you the stories before a crackling fire while English weather does what English weather does outside, with a cup of chamomile tea.

Tennyson wrote "Nature, red in tooth and claw" and while he wasn't writing about the brutal world of Beatrix Potter, he could have been.  Peter Rabbit and friends may be late Victorian yeomen and gentry wearing blue coats and selling peppermints in shops, but they also have no absolutely no compunction about eating, skinning and wearing one another.  "Would you care for a piece of pie, Duchess?" Ribby asks. "It WAS Mrs. Tittlemouse." Some of them also, horror of horrors, smoke (albeit rabbit tobacco).

Some of these stories go absolutely no where, fast ("The Tale of Pigling Bland", for example) and don't really work all that well as stories - but when they do work, they are brilliant little gems; it's no wonder they are still in print, and will continue to be in print, until Peter Rabbit is a folk character the same as his cousin Br'er Rabbit.  So long live the stories of Beatrix Potter!




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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Forever Formula by Frank Bonham (1979)

I used to own this; but I have no idea where my copy has gone to over the years.  It could be in one of two large tubs of paperback books in our attic.  I checked out a copy from the library - I had them interlibrary loan it from San Diego Public Library actually.

The book and its ideas about the future have really stuck in my head over the years.  Bonham definitely has portrayed a dystopia.  It's not of the Hunger Games variety; although clearly some sort of Hunger Games type of event has happened; Bonahm's characters hint of  climate collapse devaluing of the dollar as a result; essentially the United States has morphed into something else, with Los Angeles as the capitol.  The extra fly in the ointment is that a drug has caused people to live for hundreds of years; because of this, a permanent underclass of juveniles (meaning anyone from child to centenarians) work for the luxury of the upper class of Seniors.  

Bonham explains in his afterword that he was "intrigued by the problems inherent in hyper-longevity that seems to be our destiny, including the economic and political implications."  He worked on the novel for five years, which means as early as the mid-1970s, he was future thinking and worried about this.  Although the book can become a bit "Morris the Explainer" at times, setting scenes and explaining about historical events through what people are telling each other (it helps that an boy from the past ignorant of the future is there to be on the receiving end of these history lessons), the book is still pretty exciting (it was exciting enough for a sixteen year old teenager to remember it pretty vividly 25+ years later).  

What's frightening about the book is how prescient Bonham is.  There is a worry about a permanent older class living longer and longer, taking resources from the younger class that work to keep them happy and healthy (I think this is already beginning to happen in Japan, and other countries with aging populations and low birthrates; the United States is headed this direction as well).  His ideas about a climate change are spot on as well; I think of worries about climate change as a "now" sort of issue, but he was thinking this through 30 years ago.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Frank Bonham started writing this book 40 years ago, eventually publishing it in 1979.  The main character, Evan, is a teenage boy from 1984.  Yet the book doesn't feel dated at all.  Bonham was extremely prescient about the future; he's written a dystopia almost of aThe Hunger Games variety, but more a thinker rather than full of action packed violence.  His ideas about a permanent older class living longer and longer, with a younger class working to keep them happy and healthy, and dropping birthrates adding to this problem, is something that's happening now in several countries throughout the world.  His changed climate crashing down upon the earth, devaluing the dollar and changing the politics and economies of the world, was also eerily farsighted; this is beginning to happen as well. All of this thought provocation in a 181 page book, with an actually riveting adventure little thriller as a backdrop. 25+ years ago, my 16 year old self enjoyed this book, enough that I remembered parts of it vividly all these years later.  With a new cover, I think this could come back into print and sell pretty well.  It's still very good!


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger (2013)

A fast paced, quite enthralling, enjoyable historical thriller (is that even a genre?).  Employs a mixed use of narrative, with alternating first person and third person, with an epistolary narrative interspersed; although I don't think it necessarily added to the novel's impact, it was an interesting approach.  I think Holsinger definitely captures the flavor of the Middle Ages, and his use of the maudlyns (prostitutes) as characters is something unique; most of the time, novels about the middle ages are about the upper classes, royalty and knights, or about upper class "whores" like Katheryn Swynford (such as Anya Seton's famous historical novel Katherine which I've read but before I was blogging reviews). The character of Eleanor Rykener, the transgender prostitute based on an actual person, was the most intriguing, and dare I say even delightful; to have such a character in the first place, then to make them so real and likable; Eleanor isn't some throw away character or a joke; she's actually the most likable character in the whole book.  The lives of transgender folk are hard now, and I can't even imagine what it was like in 1385, but Holsinger gives us a pretty good picture.  I liked Holsginger's use of ancient language, particularly for sexual acts; that gave the book a salty authenticity as well.  My only complaint - and I hate to say it, but it's a big one - was the plot.  The thriller aspect, that whole mysterious Da Vinci Code-ishness, just isn't my personal cup of tea.  The plot was as crooked as Gropecunte Lane (probably) was.  God's bones, it went here there and everywhere, and I hated the ending (or I should say, "endings").  At some point, the book crossed into movie script-dom, and while exciting (I guess) its also sort of lame literature.  I wonder if Chaucer would approve?  

Goodreads has this listed as "John Gower #1."  So we can expect a series out of this, which doesn't surprise me in the least.  Maybe this will turn away from "thriller" into "murder mystery" which I think I personally would have enjoyed more.

I realize that my Goodreads review makes it sound like I liked this much better than I actually did.  Or maybe I really did enjoy it - and even learned something new.  So, plot aside, it wasn't THAT bad.

A Burnable Book (John Gower, #1)A Burnable Book by Bruce   Holsinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fast-paced, enjoyable historical thriller. The storyline is as crooked as Gropecunte Lane (probably was), but Holsinger's wonderful characters more than make up for a knot of a plot.  Real historical characters (King Richard II, John of Gaunt, Chaucer, the poet John Gower) are interspersed with characters from his imagination, including a group of well drawn and interesting maudlyns (prostitutes).  I think Holsinger definitely captures the flavor of the Middle Ages, and his use of the maudlyns as main characters is something unique; most of the time, novels about the Middle Ages are about the upper classes, royalty and knights, or about upper class "whores" like Katheryn Swynford (such as Anya Seton's famous historical novel Katherine which I've read and enjoyed).  Particularly intriguing is Eleanor Rykener, a transgender maudlyn, based on an actual person from the Middle Ages; transgender folk are often throw-aways or jokes, but Eleanor was refreshingly and delightfully real and heroic.  I guess this is going to be part of a series, I must say I'd read on - hopefully the plots get a bit better.


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Monday, May 12, 2014

Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw (1924)

There aren't any Eureka moments in Saint Joan, at least none that I can recall. But I enjoyed it immensely.It definitely felt like a modern take on Joan of Arc.  I  listened to a full cast audio production.

I thought it was interesting, which I'm sure is one of Shaw's points, that the same church that burned at the stake hundreds of years later made her a saint.  I wonder, in the future, what we will think of someone our sinners and saints five or six hundred years from now.  I also just finished a book about some heroes (and anti-heroes) of the 20th century - Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Adolf Hitler.  What will become of them in six hundred years? I can't imagine Adolf Hitler will be rehabilitated; I wonder if he will become even more monstrous as legend takes over from history.  Will Churchill and FDR be more or less heroic?

Saint JoanSaint Joan by George Bernard Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to a full-cast audio production of the play, so I'm not exactly sure if that counts as "reading" it.  There aren't any Eureka moments in the play, but I enjoyed it immensely.  I thought Shaw's Joan was feisty and (mostly) likable, also stubborn and foolhardy, and had a definitely self inflated ego and sense of her own righteousness and rightness.  I thought it was interesting, which I'm sure is one of Shaw's points, that the same church that burned at the stake hundreds of years later made her a saint.  When legend takes over from history, what will the sinners and saints of our time look like in six hundred years?


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Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 by Lynne Olson (2013)

The more I read about Charles Lindbergh, the more of a dickhead he seems. For someone who claimed to want a quiet life away from the roar of the flashbulbs, he sure courted publicity - and the most poisonous publicity at that.

A solid book, with sparks of interesting interspersed with some dull points.  I don't think I really learned anything new here, but I enjoyed the book  nonetheless.  

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Solid, well-researched, and well-written.  Charles Lindbergh is always asshole-colored, at least in everything I've read about him, and this book doesn't do anything to change that leopard's spots.  His piggish dickheaded-ness is always front and center. The family dynamics between he and his wife's family were quite interesting, and added a personal touch to this story.

It's very easy to romanticize this time period, and Olson succeeds in staying away from a the mythologized caricature of the late 1930s and the Greatest Generation.


Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen (2014)

I'm sure that I wasn't supposed to feel this way, but I didn't like the three members of Pussy Riot at all.  They seem like grandstanding brats. I didn't exactly sympathize with the Putin government - it just seemed like everyone was an anti-hero.   I didn't finish this book though.  Maybe they come out better at the end.  But I became so annoyed with them I stopped reading and went on to something else.  Masha Gessen is far more interesting being interviewed than her writing.

Prayers for Mothers

From my mother's church, on Mother's Day, which she sent to me:

Celebrating Our Mothers
 
Mothers come in many different forms, and today we celebrate them all!
     Thank God for mothers!
Everyone here is either a son or a daughter.
     Thank God for my mother!
For those women who have joined God in Heaven and whom we miss dearly here on earth.
     Thank God for the mothers of the past.
For every woman who is working day and night to raise her children right now.
     Thank God for the mothers of today.
For all the women who are expecting, but aren't quite mothers yet!
     Thank God for the soon-to-be mothers.
For the women who took in others' children through adoption and foster care.
     Thank God for the mothers with hearts so big.
For the women who have lost a child to death and must carry on.
     Thank God for the mothers who are so strong.
For all the women who have desperately wanted to have children of their own, but
chose instead to mother everyone else.
     Thank God for the mothers in spirit.
     We thank you, Lord, for the women who have influenced our lives in so many ways.
     We pray that we will honor them in everything we do. Amen.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Swan's Stories by Hans Christian Andersen; translated by Brian Alderson; illustrated by Chris Riddell (1997)

The Flying Trunk:  the storyteller who almost, but not quite, gets his heart desire at the end.  Like the matches, he thinks very highly of himself, and then burns himself out.  Quite sad.

The Steadfast Tin Solder:  Pines for a flat, boring, straight-laced pretty girl who doesn't acknowledge he even exists - ever.  Bedeviled by a black goblin, who puts him through hell.  He goes on a (for him) long, complicated adventure, only to end up back where he started.  "He looked at her, and she looked at him, but they never said a word."  Then a boy - for no reason whatsoever - throws him into the stove, and he melts into a lump.  But not before the wind picks up the girl, and she flies into the fire with him, where she "bursts into flames, and was gone."  All that was left of him was his a lump shaped like a little tin heart, and all that was left of the girl was "the tinsel star" that was around her waist, "burnt as black as coal."

When kids read these stories, do they come away twisted?  Because this story is scary and sad.  Love sucks.  Unrequited love sucks the worst.  I guess everyone knows that already.  And it burns you up in the end.  Also, speak up.  If the Tin Soldier has just voice his love, but he kept it himself.  Of course, the goblin scared him.  And the goblin was capable of doing bad things.  But screw the goblin - stand up for yourself man!  Declare your love!

Hans Christian Andersen was a strange guy, and "Jumpers" and "Lovers" really proves it.  That said, I liked "Lovers" - it was a funny story, with a schadenfreude kind of moral to it.

The Darning Needle.  Andersen must have been obsessed with social class and its ups and downs.  This was another story about something - in this case a darning needle - who ends up on the gutter, but still thinks she's better than everyone else.  Which I suppose, if you are in the gutter, is about the only thing you can think about yourself.  Everyone thinks herself a queen, right?  Queen of the gutter.

_____________________

Title:The Underduckling: Hans Christian Andersen
Author(s):Alison Lurie
Publication Details: Boys and Girls Forever: Children's Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 2003. p1-11.

Again and again, his protagonists are rejected by those they court--and in this they share the unhappy experience of their author. All his life, Andersen continually fell in love with upperclass or titled persons, both male and female.
When, toward the end of his life, Andersen did manage to establish a happy but short-lived sexual relationship, it was with a young man.

The heroes of Andersen's tales are no more successful romantically than he was, and often for the same reasons: they aspire to union with persons or objects of a higher social class. The cardboard dancer in "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" pays no attention to the protagonist, and in "The Top and the Ball," the Top's proposal of marriage is scorned by the Ball, "who was made of morocco leather, and fancied herself a very fashionable young lady."

A recurrent theme in Andersen's tales is social snobbery and social ambition. Even inanimate objects feel it: the Darning-needle tries to pass herself off as a Sewing-needle, and the Buckwheat considers himself superior to all the other plants in the field. Andersen too was obsessed with the idea of rising in society. All his life he would seek out rich and titled people, the richer and more titled the better, and he spent some of his happiest moments as the guest of royalty. He spent months traveling among small German kingdoms, staying with one royal family after another, and entertaining them and their children by telling stories.

_________________________

So essentially, Hans Christian Andersen was a snobbish, sexually frustrated bisexual.  Who wrote really, really sad stories, usually with cruel twists.

I thought his story, "Grief" was almost a modern story; it didn't have the feeling of his fairy tales.

"The Fir Tree" and "The Snowman" are just awful.  Beautifully written, but awful, cruel, sad.

In fact, they all are.  Beautiful and bittersweet.  He must have a been a bitter, bitter man.

The Swan's StoriesThe Swan's Stories by Hans Christian Andersen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hans Christian Andersen was apparently a sexually frustrated, star-crossed, bisexual social climbing snob, and his fairy tales all show it.  They all have cruel twists; the protagonists are rejected again and again by the objects of their affection; some are incredibly scary and sad.  Many of the stories are like the dark side of Disney's Beauty and the Beast in which inanimate objects come to life only in to inhabit a dark, dog-eat-dog world:  a darning needle who ends up in the gutter continues to think she's better than everyone else (the moral of this story is, crassly,  "shit runs downhill" ); a fir tree, a snowman, a steadfast tin soldier dream of love and a better life only to find themselves melted or burned down to their very essence.  Some of his stories begin to approach modernity - "Grief" for example,with a few adjustments, could fit nicely into The New Yorker.  These aren't stories for kids, even though they are shelved in the children's section.  There are adult themes aplenty here:  snobbery and social ambition, love gained and love loss; death and the power of story.  Chris Riddell's illustrations, incidentally, are perfect.


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