Master List of Reviews

 

Programming Note:

This post will always be on top; scroll down for new entries

Spring

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“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Jack Finney’s 1955 sci-fi classic. I read a Fireside paperback edition.

3 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: No. Somehow I’ve never seen either version (1956 or 1978). I probably should.

The Plot:

The citizens of Doctor Miles Bennell’s once-safe hometown are changing into near-perfect reproductions.

Jack Finney has been on my to-read list for years (Stephen King speaks highly of Finney in Danse Macabre) but I wasn’t so sure about Invasion. I assumed it would be a cheesy, cheap, sexist, idiotic alien tale. But the writing, though simple and sometimes repetitive, is clean and upright. It’s an easy book to read without being stupid. The language feels surprisingly fresh and it goes by fast; my edition is 216 pages and it felt like a tight novella.

The science is washy (“the sunlight lying on an acre of farm land weight several tons” p.148) but Finney tells a compelling tale without dragging things out. His main characters pull a couple of clever maneuvers and they’re generally likeable. Overall, a pretty good book.


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“Mao II”

Mao II

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]


Don DeLillo’s 1991 novel. I read a 1992 Penguin paperback (which doesn’t seem to have a listing on Amazon).

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Reclusive author Bill Gray leaves his secluded home, loyal assistant, and ex-cult member lover after hearing of a poet kept hostage by terrorists.

…but don’t worry about the plot because this is a mood piece. The first quarter of Mao II establishes a story with predictable endpoints which DeLillo then refuses to follow. He instead meditates on emotion and thought with four incredibly interesting leads who intersect, ponder their lives, and slowly move along.

There are amazing descriptions of images that chill and unsettle. DeLillo’s New York City is haunting and wonderful as always. He is the master of the insightful, clever one-liner and pulls of the feat of feeling literary and important with a foundation of simple language. I hardly ever have to look up vocabulary in his work. David Foster Wallace cribbed a lot from DeLillo but failed to understand his core: building depth with simplicity. I see more of DeLillo in David Mitchell (who I hope to read more of this year).

DeLillo interweaves real-world events throughout Mao II: Sun Myung Moon’s 1982 mass marriage ceremony in New York City, the horrific scenes from the funeral and burial of Komeni, even the title of the book is derived from art by Andy Warhol.

But what holds Mao II back from being great is it leaves me wanting too much more. It’s never good to outstay your welcome but the four leads in this book barely get time to stretch. I loved the scenes where two or more of these characters were together. Sadly, at around the halfway point, they hardly interact at all. I wanted to know so much more about all of them.

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“The Fifth Child”

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Doris Lessing’s 1988 psychological horror novel. I read a Vintage International paperback edition with a gnarly cover.

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Harriet and David Lovatt plan to fill their huge house with a clan of perfect children. But their fifth child, Ben, disrupts all hope for order and tradition.

I had never heard of The Fifth Child until fans of a podcast I listen to listed it as one of their favorite required readings from school. I went through the American public school system and (sadly) never encountered it or any of Doris Lessing’s work.

Better late than never: Lessing’s style is incredible. Clean, direct, simple language to convey complex emotional and moral situations. She creates a literary feeling without pretension or a reliance on outside references.

The Fifth Child reads like a fable though it’s placed firmly in our world and set to specific years. And in a move I can’t remember ever encountering, there are no section or chapter breaks, giving the work the feeling of a nightmare – it continues endlessly, changing locations and moving forward unrelentingly.

An incredible range of interpretations and readings can be drawn from The Fifth Child. It’s a great piece to use in school; ten people could have ten different opinions of who to feel pity for and who to hate. Some could take it at face-value, some could see it as satire or social commentary. Lessing never comes down on any character’s side – every person in this story suffers and there is no solution that doesn’t involve more suffering.

This is going to be more of a love-post than reference/research.

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“The Eighth Day” (Post 4/4)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

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[169]

Boredom is energy frustrated of outlet.

(p.266)

[170] Reference:

Came the Night of St. Joseph, the nineteenth of March, the night of wrath, the night of long sickles. The smoke that arose from thirteen great plantations could be seen from Martinique. (…) The night is, of course, remembered with horror.

(p.267)

 

Saint Joseph’s Day, March 19, the Feast of Saint Joseph is in Western Christianity the principal feast day of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is also Father’s Day in some Catholic countries.

I think Wilder may have invented the Saint Kitt’s St. Joseph’s Day massacre. (Or it might be a legend?) Continue reading

“The Eighth Day” (Post 3/4)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

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[112] Reference:

Schopenhauer’s matchless essay on [women].

(p.199)

 

“On Women” (1851) by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). (Notes, p.771)

The full essay can be found here.

It includes such insulting passages as:

Women are directly adapted to act as the nurses and educators of our early childhood, for the simple reason that they themselves are childish, foolish, and short-sighted – in a word, are big children all their lives, something intermediate between the child and the man, who is a man in the strict sense of the word. (…)

That woman is by nature intended to obey is shown by the fact that every woman who is placed in the unnatural position of absolute independence at once attaches herself to some kind of man, by whom she is controlled and governed; this is because she requires a master. If she is young, the man is a lover; if she is old, a priest.

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“The Eighth Day” (Post 2/4)

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[52] Wilder uses repetition of words and phrases like the following (and also tics like “talk, talk, talk”) which adds to the rhythmic nature of his prose:

Spring is very beautiful in Coaltown.

(p.72)

 

Autumn is very beautiful in Coaltown.

(p.86)


CHAPTER 2: “Illinois to Chile” 1902 – 1905

[53]

We did not choose the day of our birth nor may we choose the day of our death, yet choice is the sovereign faculty of the mind.

(p.91)

 

“Every death is a right death. We did not choose the day of our birth; we may not choose the day of leavetaking. They are chosen.”

(p.164)

Neither time this sentiment is given does the speaker acknowledge suicide. Suicide seemingly is not an option in Wilder’s universe. Continue reading

“The Eighth Day” (Post 1/4)

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Thornton Wilder’s 1967 novel. I read a Library of American edition (which I also used for Theophilus North).

3 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

On his way to be executed for Breckenridge Lansing’s murder, John Ashley is rescued by an unknown group. Ashley flees the country while his family – and Lansing’s – struggle to continue living in Coaltown, Illinois without their patriarchs.

As always with Wilder, none of my complaints are with the quality of writing. On a sentence-to-sentence level, I love with Wilder’s style. His problems come with plot; specifically, moving plot along.

In The Eighth Day, Wilder explores each character’s deepest emotions and motivations. He lives inside of each one. The problem for the reader is that this exploration doesn’t lead to plot. Very little happens in this book beyond the description I’ve already given you: Lansing is murdered and Ashley is rescued. We think more will happen; each chapter sets up more complications and characters which should come together or pay off in the end. But it just continues to sprawl, giving too much detail without enough overarching purpose.

My edition has a Notes section in the back which explains references in the text. I’ll be deferring to that (instead of my usual Wikipedia default) when possible. When I fill in a definition/reference from the Notes, the page number will be included. Continue reading