Archive for posts with comics

Poetics

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , on March 21, 2011 by acousticchick

With a name like ‘Poetics,’ I figured this was a book of Aristotle’s poetry. Enthusiastic, I set out to read the forty-odd pages in a single sitting. After valiantly re-reading the first page at least four times, I realized that that was not going to happen.

As it turns out, ‘Poetics’ is an essay about poetry. It didn’t take forever to read because it was boring in fact, some parts were quite interesting, especially to a reader who has any interest in linguistics but the essay is so detailed that it’s hard to follow. This is a rare example of something I’d rather read in a classroom setting. I’m sure there’s a lot to get out of it, but without a little guidance, I floundered.

Advertisements

The Best Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , on March 4, 2011 by acousticchick

Well, the unthinkable has happened. I have read a book of Dostoevsky’s writing, and I have absolutely nothing to whine about. Dostoevsky positively shines in short form. Each of the seven short stories in the collection I read featured both a plot and a perfectly acceptable amount of rambling so acceptable, in fact, that I can’t even really call it rambling.

The collection starts out with “White Nights,” which the author calls “a sentimental love story.” It was nice of Dostoevsky to warn me about what I was getting into, but I didn’t find it sentimental at all. Given that it’s a Russian tale, there was a nicely subtle bitterness to it that kept me from wanting to puke. Basically, a girl likes two dudes. The expected drama ensues, she picks one, and the other is all, “Well, at least I had her for a moment,” except it’s Dostoevsky, so he says, “Good Lord, only a moment of bliss? Isn’t such a moment sufficient for the whole of a man’s life?” As far as happy endings go, that’s one of the more sorrowful I’ve ever read.

“The Honest Thief” and “The Peasant Marey” are character sketches. In both stories, the plot is straightforward and static and the characters are complex and thoughtful. This sort of writing makes me squirm it’s so easy to identify with the scummy motives or intense feelings the characters are experiencing.

“The Christmas Tree and a Wedding” is a pleasantly creepy story of pedophilia and greed. Over the course of nine pages, a sticky-fingered old man hits on a little girl born to a rich family, charms her mother, and marries the child, who is just old enough to realize that she’s going to live the rest of her life in despair.

“Notes From the Underground” was the first story that I was apprehensive about. Given that it’s the longest in this collection, I was expecting Dostoevsky to relapse into tangents, but instead he takes you through the ins and outs of his main character’s brain as he analyzes himself and philosophizes about the world. And as an added bonus, things actually happen. The story hops back and forth from introspection to action frequently enough to keep even my attention span engaged.

“A Gentle Creature” and “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” I read during the delirium of illness, so while I got the general idea of the stories, I didn’t pick up on any of the subtleties. I’m going to go ahead and assume they were as awesome as the others.

So kudos to Dostoevsky. In short form, the philosophy and psychology of his writing is clear and sharp. I’m not recanting what I’ve said about him before, but I have a new appreciation for his writing after having read these stories.

The Metamorphoses

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2011 by acousticchick

I love Roman mythology for the same reason one of my best friends loves video games: I can’t ride a chariot made of fire in real life, but I can read about it. That said, Ovid doesn’t really have anything to add to the stories I’ve heard before. He doesn’t skimp on the gore and orgies, but all the uncontrollable hormones in the world wouldn’t make ‘The Metamorphoses’ a must-read.

My lamentable attention span probably casts an undeserved shroud on the book. It’s not a bad read, but it isn’t broken up very well. Instead of using chapters, Ovid strung all the stories together with little more than an “and then.” Sometimes I found myself in the middle of a new myth without noticing that the previous one had ended and had to backtrack, which always makes me twitch.

When I did know what was going on, though, I enjoyed Ovid’s writing. ‘The Metamorphoses’ was written as a poem, which is probably why the prose translation I read felt musical and almost feminine. I wasn’t really a fan of the convoluted sentences the translator substituted for verses, though I guess I can’t pick on him until I learn Latin.

As a whole, ‘The Metamorphoses’ is a little tedious, but the individual stories are as entertaining as a reader could want. Whenever mortals and gods wander around pissed-off or lust-ridden (or both), exciting circumstances ensue. And hey, one of the myths inspired a poorly-drawn comic by yours truly.

American parenting as illuminated by Phoebus and Phaethon.

The Castle

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , on January 26, 2011 by acousticchick

Had Franz Kafka’s dying wish been honored, ‘The Castle’ would be nothing more than a pile of ashes. Instead, one of Kafka’s buddies decided to publish the unfinished novel so that generations of readers could read way too much into it. There’s an aura of mystery surrounding the book’s mid-sentence ending, but there shouldn’t be. ‘The Castle’ ends in mid-sentence because Kafka got bored and quit writing.

All of the summaries I heard or read about ‘The Castle’ boiled down to “K. is looking for something,” whether it’s God or the meaning of life or whatever. That’s a theme I can get excited about, but my enthusiasm crashed and burned when I realized that the story isn’t about searching at all. The main character tries to get to the titular castle once, at the very beginning of the book, and then he wanders around gabbing with villagers for three hundred pages. (As I read, I couldn’t help comparing Kafka to Dostoevsky, but for all my whining about the Russian, he at least picked a topic to ramble about in his books.)

I wanted to like ‘The Castle,’ but Kafka was determined not to let me. Critics call his desultory style “dreamlike”; I call it frustrating. I support Kafka’s decision not to finish the book. The abrupt ending was a relief it saved me from yet another

 

The Divine Comedy

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2011 by acousticchick

I write these reviews in part for the personal challenge and in part to get other people interested in reading old books. I also do it to expose some old books as a waste of time, famous only because of their age. The Divine Comedy falls into the second category. For some reason, Dante’s masterpiece survived for centuries and remains to this day a plague on decent, annoyed readers. (Or it could just be me. I’m sure my own unfortunate experiences with religion did little to enhance my enjoyment of Dante’s simpering love poem to the Lord.) Even if you can deal with the Bible-thumping, most of the Divine Comedy is just plain boring.

The trilogy starts off with promise. ‘Inferno’ is the story of Dante’s stroll through hell. The imagery is pleasantly creepy—people frozen in a lake of ice, or bound hand and foot by snakes, or stuck upside down in wells while their feet are on fire—but you realize pretty quickly that nothing is actually happening. If you expect a rousing epic poem, maybe a few fights with demons and a love story with the oft-intoned Beatrice, forget it. What you actually get reads like the back of a shampoo bottle: Enter new circle of hell, have long-winded conversation with dead Italian guy, repeat (twenty-four times).

Ironically, reading ‘Purgatory’ is more hellish than reading ‘Inferno.’ The second book in the trilogy features exactly the same plot as the first, but it takes place on a really big mountain, and everyone is just waiting around instead of being punished. Plus, this is a poem, so instead of telling you it’s boring in purgatory and calling it a day, Dante gives you flowery, long-winded descriptions of just how boring it is in purgatory.

In ‘Paradise,’ Dante goes to hang out in heaven with his lame true love, Beatrice, and the pair of them have a grand time being condescending together. After rambling on indecipherably for several cantos, Dante quips, “A language too profound…is necessity, when concepts move beyond the mark a mortal mind can reach.” It’s not that he’s being obscure, it’s that all of his readers are idiots. Nice. ‘Paradise’ is full of instances like this, in which Dante, geeking out about the glory of God, says that anyone that doesn’t get it is ignorant. Your reward for slogging through ‘Purgatory’ is to be insulted. Congratulations.

If you don’t get around to reading the Divine Comedy in your lifetime, don’t sweat it. You aren’t missing anything. A story that takes place in hell might have been a big deal back in twelfth century Italy, but nowadays it’s too tame to be given so much as an honorable mention, and its sequels are insufferably dull. If you’re seized by the desire to read an ancient poem, try this one.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , on September 29, 2010 by acousticchick

Back in the day, Alexandre Dumas wrote the book as a mini-series. That format explains a lot it was basically a TV show for the folks of 1850. And when we here in the twenty-first century sit down to watch TV, we want to laugh, to growl at the bad guys and sigh when the good guys find love; we’re not particularly seeking intellectual challenges. That’s exactly what you get with ‘The Count of Monte Cristo,’ and that’s exactly why I was frustrated with it: I could have watched TV for a half-hour and gotten the same pay-off.

In the pilot episode, things are looking up for Edmond, the protagonist and the guy who becomes the titular Count. He’s getting a promotion and preparing to marry the love of his life. Then a couple of jealous dudes frame him for political crimes, and he gets clapped in prison. Forever. Or at least until the next episode, in which Edmond busts out of jail, digs up some buried treasure, and goes back to seek revenge on the bastards who ruined his life.

Edmond or the Count of Monte Cristo, as he’s called once he has a chest full of diamonds to throw around does get his revenge, but the plot is admittedly a bit more dynamic than I’d expected. (Then again, any television writer knows there has to be something to keep the viewers interested.) While the Count is ruining the bad guys financially and breaking up their marriages with his bejeweled right hand, his left is giving out gold to prevent the good guys from going bankrupt and shooting themselves, not to mention playing Cupid to ensure even more felicity. However, he would never have the power and influence to do any of this if it weren’t for that convenient stash of francs he has. And yes, I know that in real life money does equal power, but that’s not a message that resonates with me personally, so the Count’s victories (benevolent or otherwise) left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.

But Dumas wasn’t teaching life lessons in ‘The Count of Monte Cristo;’ he was just telling a story. In fact, I would worry if a person did take any lessons away from the novel, because they’d probably end up being excessively materialistic and also convinced that everyone in the whole world will absolutely die if they can’t marry their sweethearts. This book is purely for entertainment value, and it does deliver that: There are shipwrecks and love stories and murder mysteries and a happy ending and emotionally manipulating scenes aplenty. As a refreshing break from manic Russians the story was effective, but intellectually stimulating it was not.

The Idiot

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by acousticchick

At first, ‘The Idiot’ was encouraging. I knew exactly what to expect from Dostoevsky streams-of-consciousness and lots of dialogue and the beginning of the book sneakily masqueraded as lucid. Then, about halfway through, I realized that there wasn’t exactly a plot (surprise!).

Dostoevsky is not an action writer. It’s not that nothing happens in his books, it’s that the events are like towns in South Dakota. You drive through lots of boring stretches, and then you pass a town so small you’ll miss it if you blink. The things that do happen in ‘The Idiot’ murder attempts, impulsive marriage proposals, drunk guys doing drunk-guy things are intriguing if not intense, but they take place over the course of exactly a paragraph, and then the author moves on to the much more pressing matter of rambling.

There were, however, some pretty good conversations in ‘The Idiot.’ Myshkin (the main character, who probably pretends to be timid to cover up the fact that he’s secretly a super-spy) gets into a talk with three chicks about executions and the thoughts that would run through a person’s head the moment before death. Later in the book, a bunch of people get bored at a party so they decide to talk about the worst thing they’ve done in their lives. Instead of a huge guilt-fest, Dostoevsky uses his characters’ stories to blur morality lines. The guy is a philosopher he wants you to think. He also wants you to perform the super-human feat of keeping your brain engaged while he gets to the point, but I think if you do the former you’re allowed to cheat on the latter.

The characters in ‘The Idiot’ are particularly compelling, and “compelling” here has the meaning “basically insane.” The aforementioned Myshkin is the only one who seems chemically balanced. Everyone else is described as frantic or frenzied about ninety percent of the time, while Myshkin hangs out, pining over a girl and acting meek. In fact, the only real difference between Myshkin and any character played by Michael Cera is that Myshkin has enough of a backbone to take everyone’s bullying because he’s actually indifferent, and not, in fact, spineless. The center-stage crazies are Nastasya, the love interest, who has the romantic attention span of a gnat and whom everyone loves despite the fact that she’s frankly a bitch, and Rogozhin, a loose cannon with a propensity for murderous rages. Not a good combination.

If you make it through all the pow-wows and psychosis, you are sort of rewarded with the ending. Murder! Homoerotic subplots! Nervous breakdowns! It’s all very exciting! I just wish it hadn’t been squished into the last ten pages, because by the time I got to it I was so fed up that I didn’t care at all.