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writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: ::classic but overrated::

Review: James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans”

james fenimore cooper last of the mohicansOnly read because it was on KAM’s list; however, when I took it up again after a 10-day hiatus I was reminded that life is too short to be burdened with weighty waffle. Plot: good whiteys and good Indians fight bad Indians and bad whiteys, and try and recover two kidnapped “gentle ones” (young women) before they are forced into a heathen marriage. I lasted about 200pp because of the historical information (probably dubious, but still better than any already in my mind), but the recent dozen pages of “tracking the baddies” was just too boring. An end to it, I say. Classics need not be tiresome, but they often are.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Beanbag and bed reads, with little fervour to begin with and even less as time went on
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: None of note
Who I’d recommend it to:
Classics peak-baggers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Virginia Woolf’s “Between the Acts”

virginia woolf between the actsJune 1939. Some posh manor house or other hosts an annual pageant. People in the manor think things. The day ends and the war is starting soon. The end. I clearly didn’t understand what this book was about, and I didn’t enjoy it despite my confusion; normally I admire Woolf’s structure or technique, but I’m unmoved by this one. Move along, nothing to see here.

Where it came from: KJM’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
A couple of days of trainy / beddy reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper; Belonging by bell hooks; Simone Weil by Francine du Plessix Gray

Review: Marcel Proust’s “Swann’s Way (In Search of Lost Time, Book 1)”

marcel proust swann's wayI attempted this under the misapprehension that it was on KAM’s mega-list, or one of the other lists I’m wandering through, and alas, it was not (although it does appear in culturally diverse list). Somebody should be around to blame for that. In two volumes, Swann’s Way is the first of the seven volumes which make up In Search of Lost Time. It is too much of a gimme to relate my opinion of this work to two words in the series title – but I just did it. After over 450pp, half way through volume 2, I just couldn’t pretend to care any more about Swann’s rambling affair, or the tragedy of being of the upper classes and so horribly bored in Paris at the end of the 19th century. It’s hypnotic, momentarily comic, and overwhelmingly aimless. An end to it, I say, “classic but overrated”.

PS It IS on KAM’s list. Thank goodness at least I get those stripes.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
A couple of weeks’ worth of samplers and sits
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Being a classic is no excuse for being boring
Who I’d recommend it to:
Peak-bagging classics die-hards
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Robert Stone’s “Dog Soldiers”

Warning: Cover dysphoria!

Warning: Cover dysphoria!

The dark underbelly of the counterculture, where weak saps go to Nam to make money as writers, smuggle three “kays” of “skag” (aka 3kg of heroine) back to the States to make money, and end up – shock horror – embedded in a web of crooked cops, weapons caches double-dealing, soulless hippies taking more synthetic drugs than there are stars in the night sky, perverted spiritual masters, Mexican wetbacks, and hired killers who are, to top it off, gay (which is clearly worse than being assassins). Etc. An entirely average novel, with no merits as writing or thriller. I can only assume it made KAM’s list because it told Americans in the early 1970s who they really were, man. Now, it can be utterly forgotten.

Where it came from: KAM’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
A few evening armchair reads and a morning lie-in
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Zeitgeist should just stick to its damned moment
Who I’d recommend it to:
I wouldn’t
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust; 142 Strand by Rosemary Ashton

Review: Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief”

markus zusak the book thiefMore interesting than the fact that this was on First Tuesday Bookclub’s Top Ten Australian books was the fact that three respected reading conspirators of mine thought this was no great shakes. A couple of hundred pages in, and I can only concur. The Book Thief has death as a narrator (a device Terry Pratchett uses with much more entertaining effect), a chatty, po-mo tone, a girl book thief, and the wonders of Nazi Germany to play with, ie bad things are bound to happen to good people. Eminently readable and eminently shallow; I know this was originally YA that went viral in the adult publishing world, but if this is the standard of fiction and perception which “addresses” WWII, I think we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. I shan’t even bother to continue. And to give MM her due, her review goes something like: “Two shallow gimmicks [death and thief] to prop up a book which casts no light whatsoever on the Holocaust”.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
A few uninspired bed reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Also reading: Rabbit #4; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews

Review: Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations”

charles dickens great expectationsWe all know the story. Pip rescues a convict, Magwitch, when still a young boy. He also falls in love with the beautiful and remote (read: bitchy) Estella. He comes into astonishing fortune from un undefined source, is made a gentleman, and collapses into respectable disrepute and recovery. Whatever. Some of the characters are excellently drawn – Wemmidge, the nasty sister Mrs Joe – and clearly lend themselves to the dramatic performances Dickens was so gifted at. Also, a moderately interesting take on class and dignity, which was surely only there for commercial reasons (I’m betting much of Dickens’ readership was the poor working class, and one can’t sneer at one’s readership). I really only finished it for the sake of The Eyre Affair, due sometime on Bookclub, as I wanted to know what this Miss Havisham character was all about. Otherwise, my God, 450pp of slowness: unrecommended.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
Oh-so-many small pieces of reads, with barely intermittet interest
Where it went: Any other opshop
Reminds me of/that: Oh, classics can be so disappointing – but the book was published 150+ years ago, and tastes have changed somewhat.
Who I’d recommend it to:
N/A
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; The Tale of Genji  by Lady Murasaki

Review: Keri Hulme’s “The Bone People”

keri hulme the bone peopleThis book was frankly annoying after a while. Quirky lost-soul Kerewin Holmes (remind anyone of the author’s name?) meets Joseph, Maori adoptive father of mute, mystery lost-boy Simon P. Gillayley. The three bond. Many beatings occur. Much Maori soul-work is done. A surfeit of splendid convoluted language is used. Love is found and held in the tricephalous being. Why oh why did it go on for so long?

It was on Bookclub following a Clubber’s trip to NZ and associated NZ author recommendations (possibly even mine), and I was delighted – I’d thought this a splendid book when I read it, oh, a dozen years ago. Most unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my awe-struck memory. Joseph is overwritten and underfilled. Kerewin is complete, and her character development interesting, even though she is somewhat improbable. The Maori lore and language is fascinating to begin with, then too dense for the non-NZ reader as the book drags into its fifth century of pages. The violence is brutal and too glibly excused. The whole is simply too convoluted and unnecessarily lengthy, and my enjoyment of it sadly too brief. It did, however, provide much fodder for enraged discussion come next bookclub meeting.

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub
Time and manner of reading:
Two weeks’ worth of increasingly impatient snippets
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
New Zealanders
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens