Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book Report: The Good Earth


Spare, detached and efficient, this is a powerful and painful story of the meaninglessness of fleeting fancies that life hurls in front of you. You feel Wang Lung's greed, avarice, lust and sloth as he rationalizes them all into neat little boxes that justify one poor, self-destructive decision after another.

This book stings, and does an excellent job of setting you within its place, time and culture without judgment or awkwardness. It deeply attaches you to its characters and applies the hurt when it rips them away. The way the ending floasts off from first-person perspective to a knowing hint of third-person is executed incredibly well. The book is so good at what it does that I don't know if I want to continue on with the trilogy, for fear that the series won't hold up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Report: For Whom The Bell Tolls


This is all description and almost no story and suspense. The writing is urgent, penetrating and beautiful, but it goes around in circles, chasing its tail as you hope it starts to approach some sort of greater truth. Maybe that moment comes for some people, but it didn't for me. I saw it as all buildup with no payoff, and it seemed to me that Hemingway wanted the reader to feel just that, given the way he finishes.

I didn't love the book but never resented it and am thoroughly glad I absorbed it. It's a rich exploration of crushed idealism and everpresent despair. The love story stings badly, and that's a credit to the authenticity with which he built it. This is a dense but rich affair that would probably get better on a second go-round. Having the patience for that is another matter.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Book Report: Mere Christianity



C.S. Lewis is an excellent natural storyteller. This book is even more accessible than his children's literature because it's so conversational. That's because it was adapted from radio talks he gave World War II troops to bolster their faith as they struggled through combat. You'd expect an evangelical homily to be condescending or preachy, but his self-deprecation goes miles toward keeping pompousness out of it.

When he veers out of his depth he admits as much, but still has compelling things to say. He vigorously avoids cliches and non-thinking crutches that so often go hand in hand with proselytizing. He writes with both common sense and passionate intellectualism. That helps some of Lewis's bigotry and nonsense easier to swallow than they would be if it all came from someone less skilled.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Book Report: To Kill A Mockingbird



I've never read a book that was as effective a time machine back into childhood. Harper Lee's ear for the way children think and talk is spellbinding. She respects Scout, Jim and Dill and gives each of them distinct and intelligent voices. She kills it with those characters so well that Atticus comes off as stiff and underdeveloped in comparison. Part of that is because she casts him in the simplified, idealized way Scout views the adult world.

The reason the book is a treasure is the way it addresses heavy social issues with such a light, matter-of-fact touch. Lee provides a master's course in the "show don't tell" school of rhetoric, never going the easy route to spout off convenient essays as monologues to make her points. I'm disappointed in myself that it took me so long to get to one of the greatest of novels.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Report: The Idiot



The IdiotThe Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After The Brothers Karamazov and now this, I am done with Dostoyevsky and convinced he blew his load on Crime and Punishment and had coasted on the reputation of that masterpiece, garnering the accolades because people were so enamored with his accomplishment of shining perfection that they were satisfied with flickering glimpses of it in his later stuff.

This one is more comedic and accessible than the block of granite that is Karamazov. The book is at its best when its characters monologue, giving the author a chance to spout his pithy observations before lumbering back to the convoluted story he's spat out. The real idiot here is not Myshkin, but me for continuing to suffer through the book when it was obvious that it sucked and would keep on sucking.


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Monday, July 14, 2014

$5 Foot Long Gone



Subway broke my heart by rendering its $5 Footlong promotion moot. Since July 1, it has existed as a shadow of its former self, dropping its roster to just three of its most ghetto sandwiches and doing away with the rotating $5 selection of one of its premium subs.

The only $5 footlongs remaining are the sandwiches with no ingredients in them. There's the illiterate Veggie Delite, which is what happens when the Sandwich Artists forget the meat; the Egg and Cheese, a breakfast sandwich for those who disagree with the argument that breakfast is the most important meal of the day; and the BLT, which your mom used to make you as a kid when dad's child support didn't come in time and the grocery store rejected her credit cards.

Stricken from the list are my beloved Cold Cut Combo and Spicy Italian, as well as the shockingly-suddenly-too-good-for-the-Abe-Lincoln-menu Black Forest ham and Meatball Marinara.

Now Jared will be thin as the result of poverty as well as malnutrition.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

What I Won't Miss About The World Cup



Is this commercial, which played repeatedly on the Watch ESPN app. It's the saddest thing ever, featuring a mom with a bunch of kids who talks about how she likes dancing.

The insinuation is that she hates her life now because dancing is no longer a part of it. Her youth has been squandered and her dreams are crushed, as she has become a slave to a house of ungrateful brats and a husband who looks at porn all day and ignores her sexual and emotional needs.

So the family goes out camping, and she brings a disco ball along. It's her desperate howl for self-actualization amid the wreckage that has become of her life. Determined to indulge her whim despite the soul-crushing abyss that surrounds her, she puts up the disco ball at the campground and begins dancing by herself.

And then her oppressors join in, forming a grotesque spectacle that existentially mocks her plight. She pretends to be OK with this result as a replacement for that which her life lacks.

I think it's an ad for toothpaste. Or suicide.