Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hope: Entertainer of the Century by Richard Zogliln (2014)

Hope: Entertainer of the CenturyHope: Entertainer of the Century by Richard Zoglin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really well done, well written biography of Bob Hope.  Zoglin's thesis that Hope invented modern stand up comedy and as the entertainer of the last century rings true. And while this isn't a hatchet job (Zoglin had the cooperation of Hope's daughter, which I imagine dulled the hatchet somewhat), Hope doesn't come out of this sitting pretty.  A friend of mine who works in Hollywood once described  a reletively famous actress he worked with on a daily basis:  "she's a professional who hits her marks, knows all her lines, and is also one of the most despicable human being with whom I've ever worked."  I think Bob Hope may fall into the category as well (and Bing Crosby too).  He was not a pleasant person (are comedians ever pleasant people though?  Isn't that darkness part of being a comedian?).  The person I felt most sorry for - not perennially cuckolded Dolores Hope or Hope's beleaguered  writers or his poor ignored children.  It was Dorothy Lamour.  Those two men totally fucked her over.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

The Trees by Philip Larkin (1967)

The Trees by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

I have a love/hate relationship with poetry.  But, as with me and all art, when I like something I like it and I know it, and when I don't like something, I'm not very forgiving or probing (usually).  I can be convinced though (see: Opera).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (2014)

I have a colleague who beyond loves YA literature.  I was a fan of YA lit long ago, but I'm not anymore.  I don't hate all of it, but I find most of it pretentious and sort of oversold.  YA lit believes its own press.  Grasshopper Jungle was recommended by this colleague.  I didn't like it.  I tried, I really tried.  But I was not a fan.  Obviously, someone else is a fan, because it was a Printz Honor.  But I'm not in that select group.  I didn't care for the plot, and I hated the short sentence structure.  Hated it.

Grasshopper JungleGrasshopper Jungle by Andrew  Smith

I dunno, I must have lost my taste for YA lit.  The short sentence structure and glibness of it all annoyed me rather than made me want to read more.

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Ironskin by Tina Connolly (2012)

I read the first chapter of this on Tor several years ago, and was so excited to read the entire book.  I even bought the book (a used copy however).  But when I finally started the book, I was so disappointed.  It has some shades of Beauty and the Beast, but really, it's a retelling of The Miracle Worker .  And that could have been an interesting story, except Connolly just doesn't take us anywhere fast enough.  Nothing interesting happens, although in full disclosure, I got bored and started reading another book (that I also disliked, but I will tell you about that one in the next post).

Ironskin (Ironskin, #1)Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Didn't seem to go anywhere.  Or at least anywhere I wanted to follow.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki (2014)

The Caldecotts were announced last week.  I always like to read the award winners; I like good picture books, and I like seeing where the genre is headed.  This One Summer is the first one I've read so far; it's one of six honor books, plus the winner Dan Santat (that's next).  I glanced at the Newberys and they all looked boring, and one was a novel in verse, which I generally loath, so I'm skipping those.  One of the Printz awards came highly recommended, so I'm going to read that for sure.

So after finishing it in a few sittings, I can honestly say what a strange and unusual choice This One Summer is for a Caldecott.  We aren't talking the sweetsie cuties territory of  Officer Buckle and Gloria or My Friend Rabbit here,  that's for sure.  As a graphic novel, I suppose it's technically eligible for the Caldecott, but it's not a traditional picture book (I'm not sure if other graphic novels have won a Caldecott or if this is the first). I'd argue this book isn't really for kids; which probably makes me an old fuddy duddy.  In discussing this with a colleague, she said it was marketed as a YA graphic novel, and I can see that, but I also think it reads like an adult's view of YA-dom.  I'm not sure how you can separate the text from the pictures either.  The art work is certainly engaging and draws you in, although I thought it was like "reading a movie", if that makes sense.  I don't feel qualified to judge art, and I certainly don't feel qualified to judge graphic novels, because it is a genre I'm ambivalent about at best.  So did I like it?  Yes.  It's disturbing in parts, and the main character's mother pissed me off in another part, which means I was invested in the story. The artwork, sure it's great.  Like all art, I know what I like, and I liked this.  But Caldecott material? I'm still not so sure if this was a Caldecott or a statement about the validity of graphic novels as literature and art (that old argument).  

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I upped my stars on this one, because I finished it, something unique in my personal graphic novel reading.  I'm usually ambivalent about the genre (format?).  I'm not head over heels doing cartwheels in love with this book, but I think it will stick with me for a while.  It's a strange choice for a Caldecott, which I will argue elsewhere.  I'm going to stick to its merits.  It's illustrated in an interesting way, almost like "reading a movie" if that makes sense.  I was invested in the characters; the mother of the main character Rose pissed me off towards the end, so I was coming to view them as real people rather than illustrations in a comic book (excuse me, graphic novel).  Coming of age, blah blah blah.  It's actually not a quick read, which I sometimes think graphic novels are; it's pretty deep, sometimes disturbing, and contains Truth, particularly about relationships and young adulthood.  Some it's very cute and funny though; a nice mix.  Heavy, but not too heavy.  Did I like it?  Yes!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (2014)

A strange, new book - which I liked immensely.  Ponderous,  but Faber draws you in.  Part dystopian novel, part science fiction, part love story, part philosophical beast.  Faber uses spare language and hints to draw pictures of his characters; the full characters come to light only slowly. Really, this is all character; the plot is there, but it's all about Peter and his reactions to it.  Character-wise, as Faber casts light upon the shadows, Peter becomes less and less likable; his flaws being to show.  (I felt that Bea's flaws were there from the beginning; I never liked her).   I thought Faber did an excellent job capturing what it's like to be a pastor though; the personality that's both giving and wants the limelight, rude yet caring.

I was reminded at the beginning of the Alien movies, but it's most definitely not that kind of book - if you are expecting blood and gore, you've opened the wrong book.  I was more reminded of what it must have been like for early missionaries several hundred years ago, in a time when communication between cities was slow (let alone continents or far flung worlds), faced with strange people with different customs and languages.

I've read several reviews that described this as "literary science fiction" and I wonder what the distinction is?  What makes something "literary" verses whatever the opposite of "literary" is?

This didn't change my life.  But it was strong and good.

The Book of Strange New ThingsThe Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A strange, new book that is ponderously written - well, that isn't probably the right word to describe Faber's plotting and writing style -- slowly solemn, stately are perhaps better adjectives.  The first few chapters have shades of Aliens, but if you're expecting blood and gore and monsters emerging from guts, you've probably opened the wrong book.  Hard science isn't a thing here either (which, frankly,  for me makes the book more enjoyable; I can see the need and beauty and point of hard SF without appreciating it).  Rather, Faber's novel is about the human condition (trite, I know, but that's what it is), about life and love, about religion, about the future of earth and humanity. And it's about characters, rich, real characters with depth who Faber births in the shadows and slowly shines light upon, revealing flaws and backstory and tics and traits until you get their whole picture.  This gradual illumination is tricky though; no one is quite what you think they are (although that's true about everyone).  The aliens are truly alien as well, and gave the book verisimilitude. They frustratingly don't make sense; I imagine the Spanish felt that way about the Aztecs five hundred or so years ago (and vice versa).  Whatever the hell "literary Science fiction," is, I think I like it.

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