Tag Archive for United States

Book Review: The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw

I saw The Young Lions mentioned on a list of great WWII books, and it definitely lives up to that label. It’s hard to summarize the book in a short review, especially since so much goes on in the book, but it is really quite good. The writing style makes everything quite vivid, and I had a hard time putting the book down, wanting to see what would happen to the several main characters as it went along. It intersperses three different men’s experiences during this time, showing the grim reality of war from the soldier’s point-of-view, and not just from one side or the other.

A movie version was made 10 years after the book came out, but it isn’t quite as grim as the book, and I’m not sure they got the casting right. I’ve only seen bits of it though, but the author didn’t like it, so that says a lot.

Article: You Should Seriously Read “Stoner” Right Now

You Should Seriously Read “Stoner” Right Now

As a fictional hero, William Stoner will have to dwell in obscurity forever. But that, too, is our destiny. Our most profound acts of virtue and vice, of heroism and villainy, will be known by only those closest to us and forgotten soon enough. Even our deepest feelings will, for the most part, lay concealed within the vault of our hearts. Much of the reason we construct garish fantasies of fame is to distract ourselves from these painful truths. We confess so much to so many, as if by these disclosures we might escape the terror of confronting our hidden selves. What makes “Stoner” such a radical work of art is that it portrays this confrontation not as a tragedy, but the essential source of our redemption.

(From New York Times, May 11, 2014)

I read Stoner back in 2009, and here’s the review I wrote at the time:

“A moving story, but also awfully depressing. I had a hard time continuing on at points, especially when the author made it so clear that better things could have happened. After following the main character through his life though, I was sad to see how it all came to an end.”

Perhaps I’ll re-read it sometime, especially after reading this piece about it. I just don’t know if I need something potentially depressing right now.

Book Review: Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk

Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk The book started off ok, but it got tiring and rather dull pretty quickly. Lots of very long, boring conversations that didn’t feel very realistic, and I lost interest in the characters fairly early on. Perhaps I would have liked it when I was younger, but it just wasn’t very interesting to me now.

Public Library of Cincinnati, Ohio, circa 1874

Public Library of Cincinnati, Ohio, circa 1874

Retronaut.com has some great photos of the interior of the Public Library of Cincinnati, circa 1874, including the one above.

I’m not sure I could take the heights in those upstairs stacks though, especially with such short railings on each landing. Yikes!

Book Review: The Big Crowd by Kevin Baker

The Big Crowd by Kevin Baker Meh. I just wasn’t feeling it with this book. It doesn’t seem as compelling as some of his other novels (Dreamland, Paradise Alley). It kept jumping back and forth, making it hard to following, especially with so many characters to keep track of.

Book Review: My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning The story sounded like it would be interesting, but the book just didn’t deliver. I thought I would be reading about a real person, not a character “inspired by” a real person. And I didn’t really expect the heavy focus on the main character’s childhood. It just didn’t really keep my interest, and parts of it felt superfluous, like the whole orphan train episode. (Would they really have sent a kid out West and then just let them go back to New York?)

The writing style also got in the way quite often. Not only did it feel a bit stilted at times, but the use of dashes instead of proper quotations for dialogue, as well as the asterisks on certain words, kept slowing me down and pulling me out of the story.

Book Review: Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Newell Clark, Jr.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune I have mixed feelings about this book. Some of the Clark family history was pretty interesting, but most of the focus on Huguette’s adult life was not so much. I felt a bit sad for this woman, who clearly did not cope with change (or life in general) in a very healthy way. Eventually it felt like I was just reading lists of high-end transactions (and all such a waste of money), and the court battle over her estate was bothersome, to say the least. Perhaps the book was just too long for what it covered; had it been shorter, it might have been more enjoyable.

Book Review: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki Very disappointing. The writing was tedious to read through, and it felt like it was over-explaining everything. Too much telling and not enough showing, plus the mini lectures mixed in made it even drier. I wanted to see the story progress, but, instead, I lost interest pretty early on.

Book Review: The Last Chicken in America by Ellen Litman

The Last Chicken in America by Ellen Litman While looking for additional novels about immigrant experiences, I found The Last Chicken in America: A Novel in Stories by Ellen Litman, which focuses on Russian immigrants and their families in Pittsburgh. The book is made up of several short stories which are intertwined by the recurring characters, including direct immigrants and their children, and the experiences they have in coming to and living in the US.

The short story collection as novel concept was interesting, and I kind of liked getting to switch from one main character to another, or to a group of characters. However, it all felt a bit repetitive after awhile, and I also started to have a hard time telling some of the characters apart, especially because sometimes references would be made to an unnamed person, who might or might not have been someone in a previous story.

Book Review: Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey I’d seen mentions of Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey a few times last year, mostly related to it being nominated for a Booker Prize, which the author has won twice before. I finally got a hold of it at the library — it was surprisingly on the shelf, after having many holds placed on it — and found it to be an enjoyable book overall.

The book’s perspective switches between that of Parrot and Olivier, two men with have been on very different paths in life, but who find themselves thrown together on a voyage to America. Parrot, essentially orphaned as a child in England, has managed to travel to various parts of the world with a rogue Frenchman (often referred to as Monsieur), and has a talent for engraving. Olivier is a son of French nobles whose lives were very much affected by the Revolution, and yet still don’t care for the notion of democracy.

Olivier’s parents want to get Olivier away from growing problems in France, so he is sent to study and write about prisons in America, with Parrot as his servant/secretary. The book contrasts their perspectives on the things they counter on this trip, as well as the conflict between the two men.

I did like the changing perspective at first, to show how different Parrot and Olivier saw the world. I did lean towards Parrot’s side more and didn’t care as much for Olivier, who felt very strongly about classes and how a society should be.

However, some of the book was a bit jarring, like various flashbacks that would share something of the character’s past, but only in snippets. There were also a few instances where parts of the present jumped a bit, not fully explaining how something had happened.

Otherwise, I thought it was an interesting read, and the style and time period made me think of other books I enjoyed, like Heyday by Kurt Andersen or Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.