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.
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