2011-07-14 King Alfred of England

by Jacob Abbott

Oh, Rev. Abbott. You are not a very good writer, and you are a terrible historian. But you're absolute tops at racism! Keep on doing what you're good at!

I have a real fondness for 19th century "literature", so I found this history of the birth of the great Anglo-Saxon nation to be charmingly goofy. I'm also white, which undoubtedly made it easier to stomach.

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2011-02-07 At the Mountains of Madness

by H. P. Lovecraft
For whatever reason, I'd never read this before. Reading it now in the context of Rider Haggard and Burroughs was interesting, however. While She would mention, every so often, that it was a True Story and not merely a Fanciful Tale, for the most part it was concerned with outlandish peoples and unheard of magic.

Lovecraft, on the other hand, goes to ridiculous extents to convince the reader of the trustworthiness of his narrators. It reminds me of an essay I... more->

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2011-02-01 The League of Frightened Men

by Rex Stout
Another Nero Wolfe novel. Nothing terribly memorable in terms of story, but I just love the characters so much that it was a joy to read.

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2011-01-31 Howl's Moving Castle

by Diana Wynn Jones
I still haven't seen the movie, but I found the book delightful. It's about a fairytale land (witches, wizards, seven-league boots) full of genre savvy inhabitants. So the eldest daughter knows that, as the eldest, she's doomed to failure while her spunky youngest sister wins the day.

Cute without being too cloying, good politics, nice characters. Warm, kind story.

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2011-01-29 Fer de Lance

by Rex Stout
I do love reading about Nero Wolfe. I plan to read a lot more in this series (there are over forty novels) so I'll just refer you to the article about them on my 'blog.

This particular novel was fun for the final final twist:


Wolfe was so blase about the murder of the adulterous wife and mother that I actually thought he approved of it. But ... more->

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2011-01-26 A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room

by Lemony Snickett
I do love his writing style, and in general I enjoy the books' politics. I don't know, though, the overwhelming tragedy and unhappiness that cloud every moment gets to be a bit much for me.

I can't say I wasn't warned, though. Time and time again I was told to stop reading the book, or to imagine a happier ending for myself. That made me grin!

But although it reads like a parody of diablus ex machina, it really is just a humorous celebration... more->

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2011-01-24 Casino Royale

by Ian Flemming
On the one hand, Bond is his own character, and it's clear that Flemming doesn't intend to portray him as the Perfect Hero, worthy of our complete adoration.

In fact, I think the book is in part a response to just that sort of novel--Bond is commissioned to beat the bad guy at Baccarat (long story) and ends up losing disastrously at first, and is saved at the last moment by the CIA. And during the final confrontation, Bond is tied up and helpless, and reflects on the ... more->

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2011-01-21 She

by H. Rider Haggard
It's a cross between Queen of the Damned and Sunset Boulevard, but terribly sexist and racist. And sooo much better than that sounds!

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2011-01-18 The Thin Man

by Dashiell Hammett
The book was decent, and fun. Former PI Nick marries wealthy socialite Nora and tries to give up detecting, but gets roped in. Nora is shown to be fairly smart, an interested in Nick's case, which wasn't so bad for a woman in a novel in the 30s.

However, that same year they made the movie version, with William Powell and Myrna Loy, and it's ever so much better. It moves faster, there's more wit (as I recall) and Nora seems to have a much more active role. She s... more->

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2011-01-18 Metropolis

by Thea von Harbou
Yes, Fritz Lang's film is fantastic (she wrote the screenplay, as well as the novel, but the film's visuals are vastly superior to its writing) but the book is also amazing, in its own way. You have to be willing to forgive its tedious over-embellishments and its ridiculous sentimentality, but just like Les Miserables there are astoundingly bad ass scenes inside!

So while the novel is completely over the top in terms of heart rending melodrama, it is also com... more->

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2011-01-18 The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

What a great series of novels! One of my favorite high fantasy series, actually (and the first I ever read on my new nook!). Three things:

1) Finally an author that takes emotional relationships seriously, and doesn't just use "true love" as a plot point or an exploitive device. "Love is about trust" is the main message, and I find that to be a useful idea in real life, as well.

2) Extremely interesting magic system (again, one of the... more->

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2007-06-11 Trickster makes this world by Lewis Hyde
I thought that his would be anthropological (and it certainly was) but really it was philosophical. It was great.
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2007-06-11 Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
Wonderful collection of short stories.
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2007-06-11 The Aeneid by Virgil
The Fagel translation. Remind me to copy Camilla's last battle here, shit like that make me want to sing.
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2007-06-11 Dreams of my Father by Barak Obama
Fantastic. I like him a lot.
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2007-06-11 The Audacity of Hope by Barak Obama
This book deals more with policy than his previous one, and therefore it isn't as good. I still like him.
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2007-02-15 The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by To Be Entered

Oh, man. This was amazing, a 1200-page epic from China, circa 1400 AD. I'm so excited about it, and it was just so huge, that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to write anything here. It was incredible, though.

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2007-02-15 The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

A fantastic collection of horror stories on the Cthullhu line. I really want to say more--they were great, and I want to explain exactly why they were so great, and the elaborate on the connection between the writing in these stories and the writing in Susanna Clark...

her descriptions of fairies and his description of the titular King are both quite media res-ish. He doesn't say, "Here's the background for the King in Yellow", anymore than a book about Lindon John... more->

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2007-02-15 The Darkness That Comes Before: The Prince of Nothing Book I by R. Scott Bakker

Too Nietzschaen for my taste, and I was very disappointed that in had too many Standard Fantasy Elements--including loads of character-specific misogyny and an almost-rape scene. The guy's made up an entire magic system, and he has charts in the back the trace his fictional languages back the the fictional root fictional language, but all he can do is cut-and-paste the Crusades?

On the other hand, it's not as bad as loads of stuff I've read in my time, and I devoured the boo... more->

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2007-02-15 Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Odd, I can't find any entry here for Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveller, a book that shares a certain structural similarity with Cloud Atlas. Calvino seemed more literary to me, whatever the hell that means, but I prefer Mitchell's book. It was fantastic--maybe it never got as good as the first hundred pages of Calvino's novel, but it was consistently better than the last hundred.

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2007-02-08 The Big Con by David E. Maurer
I'll have to fill in more when I have the time, I fear. This was a fascinating history of American Con artists.
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2006-07-24 Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz

Ferdydurke is a very strange book, no question. The title, I'm told, comes from an extraordinarily minor character in the Sinclair Lewis novel Babbitt.It took me a while to get into it, and I'm still very hazy about a lot of what it was trying to say. It does have some delicious critique of social conformity, however.

The novel is about a thirty-year-old author who is kidnapped and forced to a... more->

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2006-07-14 A History of God by Karen Armstrong

I really liked this book a lot. My knowledge of religious history has been sorely neglected, so this was very beneficial. Mind you, it only deals with the three major monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and is only 400 pages long, so it isn't meant to be comprehensive.

My one complaint is that, as it is a Popular (i.e., non-academic) book, she rarely gives sources for her conjectures. People who have studied the field undoubtedly know whether something she... more->

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2006-07-10 Why Do Birds by Damon Knight

Fascinating book. Set in 2002, it's about this guy named Ed Stone, who claims that he was kidnapped by aliens in 1932 and placed in suspended animation for seventy years. He further claims that they put something in his brain so that even though he was terrified of them, he also loved them and trusted them. Finally, he claims that by 2012 he needs to have constructed a box big enough to hold all of humanity, and that all of humanity needs to climb inside before the earth explodes.

<... more->
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2006-06-13 The Letter of Marque by Patrick O'Brien
Another Aubrey / Maturin novel. I do love these, but they are not to be read too soon after one another. I notice that he plays little tricks, where in novel #8, perhaps, a character will be depicted as generous to a fault, but by novel #14 the same the plot requires that the character have a history of penny-pinching (for example). It's never major plot points, and I'm sure I'd never notice if I had read them as they were being published, but as it is the ret-cons do stand out, rather... more->
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2006-06-12 The New Sun, Books 1 & 2 by Gene Wolf
See what I thought here.
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2006-06-06 The Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip

Fantastic fantasy novel. It does involve numerous situations in which the male characters (who are, admittedly, better able to defend themselves from this world) take patronizing and protective stances against the independance of the female characters. I mention this because it stands out in contrast to the tone of the books over all, which is one of great gender equality. In most fantasy novels I've read the patronizing attitudes of the male character would not rate a mention-... more->

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2006-05-16 The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
My amusing anecdote about The Idiot: I had been reading it all week long, and was almost finished. My friend Dorian was making fun of me because I don't like sad stories--she said that I only liked to read Harry Potter novels. "Screw that," I replied, "I'm reading Dostoyevsky. It's nice, really. I mean, there's only ten pages left and everything’s fine—what could possibly go wrong?” If you’ve read The Idiot then you know what happens. Everything goes wrong. It’s a... more->
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2006-05-16 The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian
Another installment in the Aubrey / Maturin novels. Damn, these are good... but there's not much to say about each one in particular.
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2006-05-16 The Surgeon's Mate by Partick O'Brien
Not much to say. Maturin finally get's married (the surgeon's mate, get it?) which really brought me a great deal of relief.
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2006-05-16 The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian
I read these very quickly, mostly at the gym. I read these where many would read detective novels, and I like to believe that they are vastly superior to all but the very best detective fiction.
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2006-05-16 The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
I read this book a while ago, but I'd forgotten how wonderful it is. I love best three things about it (contains some spoilers about the novel).
  1. I love the fact that his modern-day Stalinist ultra-rational Moscow is full of biblical allusions and Christ-figures, and yet the scenes that take place in Jerusalem of 33 AD are absolutely free of Biblical context. So he has the leader of the Russian literature program missing, while the twelve underlings wait around the table, ... more->
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2006-05-16 Treason's Harbour by Patrick O'Brian
More Aubrey. More Maturin.
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2006-05-16 The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian
See previous entry.
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2006-05-16 Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto

Banana Yoshimoto scares the daylights out of me. Her novels always skate right the the farthest edge of heartbreaking despair, and I never know if she'll go too far and make me fall in. She has a very matter-of-fact way of writing that preserves her from cliché, and this makes her even more dangerous. When the mother is abandoning her child in the woods and he's begging her not to leave him (c.f. A.I.) sure it's a little traumatic, but before too long I lose all sympathy. I can fe... more->

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2006-02-10 Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian
Another Aubrey & Maturin book. There's not a lot to say, but that doesn't mean it isn't an awesome book... just that it's more like the fourth section of a single 21 part novel, so describing this book would be like describing Chapter 4 of "Winnie the Pooh". Which, as it happens, it the one where Eeyore loses his tail, but Pooh finds it for him. Eeyore and Pooh are two of my favorite characters, so that's nice. It also has Owl in it, which is Katya's favorite.

Owl is really s... more->
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2006-02-06 The Viriconium series by M. John Harrison
I hope I get time to update this entry later, because this series is brilliant. It's a sort of anti-fantasy, or maybe just a run-of-the-mill dystopia, but one that is so much better than any I've read...

Essentially it's a standard post-apoc fairy tale, but the whole thing is just suffused in meloncholy in the most remarkable way. It's never tragic, but every sentence is almost unbearably sad. No lovers die.

It is like listening to stories from your great-aunt about ... more->
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2006-02-06 A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare : 1599 by James Shapiro
I totally don't have time to write about this book, but it was really great. Essentially, Shapiro argues that 1599 was the absolute high point of Shakespeare's career, and a watershed moment for literature in general.

He argues that a whole series of events conspired in this: Shakespeare was the first playwright in Elizabethan England to also own a share in a company, and this gave him unusual amounts of freedom. By 1599 he was also quite wealthy, and was able to take some time ... more->
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2005-12-29 Sunshine by Robin McKinley
A pleasant book about a baker who discovers that she is a magic-user, and she fights vampires. What more do you want, really?

In general I prefer to read about entirely competent main characters (a Beowulf, for example) who excell in everything that they do. Oath of Swords, for another example.

Sunshine, the titular character, is a pretty crappy mage, and goe... more->
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2005-12-29 Oath of Swords by David Weber
After working on his website for so long, I thought that I should read one of his books. This isn't spectacular, but it's pretty decent sword & sorcery stuff.

Main Pro: I really like to read about compenent people. The main character here is a very skillful warrior barbarian thing. He's a seven-foot-tall berserker, and he's not only essentially unstoppable, he's also really intelligent. Great. Not deep, but it's a lot of fun to read.<... more->
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2005-12-29 Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson
One of them "high concept" sci-fi novels that maybe should have had lower ambitions...

It starts out to be a novel about what would happen if all of Europe was magically transformed into a pristine wilderness 1912. All human habitation was wiped out, and all of the flora and fauna in Europe are entirely different. Furry centipedes that are highly poisonous, giant snakes that can be ridden like horses, &c. &c. The main character is the photographer in an expotition to cro... more->
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2005-12-20 Right-ho, Jeeves! by P. G. Wodehouse
This was the first novel that I read on my new phone. I didn't even have any e-Book software (although that would have been nice) I just used Pocekt Internet Explorer and went to the Gutenberg Project. I read this during Chapter II, at Triton.
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2005-12-20 The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
I liked this book, although it had some flaws. If nothing else, though, it was enjoyable and it was very long, and so that's good. I hate changing books every three hundred pages or so. If a story's worth writing, surely it can stand a little more time to tell? Mark that bit about "worth writing", though, Robert Jordan.

That's not really fair, as Jordan's story probably was worth writing, but he managed to pad out a nice three- or four-book series into twelve nine-hundred-p... more->
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2005-12-20 The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brien
I read this book ages ago, but thought I should add it to the list. As I recall, it was of a piece with the rest of the Aubrey / Maturin novels. Not much better than any other, but they are all damn good.

Katya's possibly even more addicted to them than I am; she often stays up late into the night, unable to put them down.
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2005-12-20 More Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg
Just as with Pooh, the sequel to Rootabaga Stories is just as good as the original. Possibly even better, as it doesn't have that unbearably sad story about the two skyscrapers that decided to have a child. That still makes me mad.

This is another book that Katya and I read to each other. Read the entry for the first book to see more info.
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2005-12-20 Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg
It just occurred to me that there are a number of books that I've read with Katya, and I should put those up here, too. Our Gold standard is Pooh, of course, as those stories as Nice, and funny, and also Wise. It's always a little disapointing to start reading a book to each other only to realize that it won't be Pooh. That's why we never finished ... more->
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2005-10-27 The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure by Storm Constantine
As with all long-running fantasy series, there's not much new to be said for this, the fourth book. Hara fall in love, they are torn apart, then at the end they are brought back together again. True love conquors all--Storm Constantine kicks ass.

This book has a rape scene in it, probably the first rape scene I've read in a fantasy novel that was really free of titillation and misogyny, given that the main character is treated, more or less, as male and is actually hermaphro...
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2005-10-27 The Shades of Time and Memory by Storm Constantine
The fifth book in the sereies. Love still conquors all, which is still satisfying and touching. This book involves space aliens, but ultimately I still liked it.
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2005-10-10 Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Random thoughts on this wonderful book:

  • I started it on Sunday morning, and finished it at 12:30 that night. Then, the next morning, I had no interest in reading any other book... I just sat on the bus and thought about Anansi Boys.
  • It deals with race in an interesting way.
  • It raises a very tricky problem with love and betrayal but, I think, deals with it very well indeed. I'... more->
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2005-09-30 Mythologies by Roland Barthes
Fascinating essays about semiotics.

I'll write more about this book when I get a chance--I found it fascinating. It was published in the late 50's, when semiotics was still an incredibly new field, and consists of Barthes' reflections about various readings of French popular cultural artifacts.

I started reading this book the night that I got into a huge argument with my friend Dorian about XXX II: T... more->
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2005-09-30 Twilight of the Idols by Freddy NeeChee™
"If there is to be art, if there is to be any aesthetic doing and seeing, one physiological condition is indispensable: frenzy.

I read this essay--the first work of Nietzsche that I've studied--on the recommendation of my friend, Jennings. I have this thing about the gods Dionysus and Apollo... I should really write more about that somewhere, as it's pretty important to me (Truth and Beauty being the two criteria needed to judge Art, the two fundamental forces th... more->
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2005-08-19 The Bookman's Promise by John Dunning
Murder mystery about an ex-cop turned rare book dealer.

Pros: The focus of the novel was a journal written by Richard Burton. I really like Sir Richard, so that was interesting. The writing was fairly engaging, the characters were pretty likeable, and although there was certainly a lot of gender proaganda (as one would expect in a noir-ish mystery) the two female characters openly critique it. So that's nice.

Cons: ... more->
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2005-08-17 The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit by Storm Constantine
This book has all the markings of bad fanfic. It's the story of normal people living in a repressive and dystopic future who get "incepted" as "Wraeththu"--magical gay androgynes with magic powers. They are all perfect and beautiful and never die and have lots and lots of great sex. Also, the writing (especially in this first book) is chock full of bad editing, with misplaced quotations marks" and some pretty egregious misspellings.

Having said that, it turns out the the boo... more->
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2005-08-17 The Bewitchments of Love and Hate by Storm Constantine
Full review of all three books in the Wraeththu series here.
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2005-08-17 The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire by Storm Constantine
Full review of all three books in the Wraeththu series here.
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2005-08-03 Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge by Alexandre Dumas
Dumas is all about Courtly Love and Dashing, brave Gallants merrily throwing themselves into death for the love of their king. Consequently, the French Revolution really cramps his style, with their insistence on petty trivialities such as "equality" and "rationality". Nevertheless, Dumas was determined to write a full history of France, in the style of the romance novel, and so he has a series of Marie Antoinette novels. It's odd to read a Dumas novel in which, no matter what happens,... more->
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2005-07-21 The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This book really reminded me of Hesses's Siddhartha, mostly because it was clearly a fable. The characters were developed just as far as was necessary for the lesson to be taught, the plot unfolded in order that it demonstrate the author's ideas, and the whole thing was really a statement of philosophy wrapped up in a fairly well-written novel. If Dumas counts as an artist, he creates works of Beauty, that enfold you with pyrotechnics. I had almost forgotten that some fiction is d... more->
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2005-07-06 Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
Recommended to people who enjoy Dumas' Three Muskateers, which I love.

So far, (page 12) it's looking pretty good. An unpublished Dumas novel was recently discovered, and everyone is raving about it. I can't wait to read the translation (whenever that comes out) but apparently it's the conclusion of a trilogy. It was while trying to find the names of the first two novels (it seems that perhap... more->
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2005-06-17 Sleep of Death by Philip Gooden
Not a very well-written book, it seems, but still it manages to be more engrossing than Spenser.

A player at the Globe in the late 1500's tries to solve a murder seemingly based on Hamlet. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of this book, but I know good writing, and this is not good writing. Also, how many times do we need the plot of Hamlet summarized for us? I understand that it's important for the plot of the murder mystery, but I think one or two summaries should be enough for... more->
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2005-06-07 The Faery Queene, Book 2 by Edmund Spenser
I'm not sure how many years passed between writing book one and book two, but Eddie got an awful lot better, in my opinion. Book One made little use of alliteration, for example, except for one striking bit at the end. Book Two is full of "Chearefull cheekes" and lines like:

"Thy little hands embrewd in bleeding brest..." .

Ok, maybe those aren't the best examples, but I'm late for work and don't have time to re-read the Fairy Queene jsut now.

In... more->
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2005-05-18 The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
Really good and, ultimately, enjoyable.

I could tell from the start that this was really Good Writing, but it was really hard for me to get into. I didn't find myself enjoying it for the first three hundred pages, in fact. Ultimately, however, I think I liked it.
This is partially because the novel is a dialogue between naivete and cynicism--Augie March is always seeing the good in people, and always trying to do the right thing (well, not always, but often) and everyone else... more->
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2005-05-18 The Faerie Queene, Book One by Edmund Spenser
This is pretty good, so far. The constant iambicism and mostly-workable rhymes is a little tiresome, but he uses words like "eftsoon" and "yclad", so that's all good.

Apparently in 1590 Faerie stories (and Malory, and what-not) were old hat, and no one was interested in reading them. However, if you told a story just like those, but you made sure that every single thing was actua... more->
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2005-04-18 But is it Art? by Cynthia Freeland
Not comprehensive enough to be an Art History book, but it really would serve nicely as a framing book for an art history class. It touches on many of the fundamental problems in Art (such as gender, colonialism and Damien Hearst).
Well written. Pretty pictures.
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2005-03-29 An Introduction to Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen: A Handbook by William O. Cord
A really good primer on Wagner, his life and times and work. I was hoping for more detail about the Ring cycle itself, but the rest of it was still really fascinating.
The sheer number of radical improvements / changes that he made to modern theatre is truly astounding.
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2005-03-29 The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Grrr. Makes me mad.
"I'm a rough, tough girl detective. The only thing I want more than my suspect dead to rights is to be pregnant and to wash dishes." and what not.

Apparently Tycho over at Penny-Arcade liked it.

"The Eyre Affair, apparently a part of some larger series, is sci-fi of such a constrained genre that I wasn't even aware it existed: romantic, literary sci-fi, for people who like stories about time travel,... more->
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2005-03-09 A New Christianity for a New World by John Shelby Spong
A really wonderful book. I think his chapter on Evil is pretty weak, but everything else is really quite good. Full review here.
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2005-03-07 You are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett
Well-written but bleak. I write more about the book here.
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2005-03-02 Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto
A series of short stories of incomparable beauty. Meloncholy, bittersweet, all of the things that stylish modern literature is supposed to be, but they are ultimately hopeful and happy.
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2005-03-02 Tales from the Opera by Anthony J. Rudel
Little twenty page summaries of fifty great operas, but told as if they were short stories instead of summaries. Without the music, it is clear, these plots would never sell, but they are fairly engaging to read. Most of the Lyric's upcoming season is included in the book, which should be helpful.
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2005-02-15 Writing: The story of alphabets and scripts. by Georges Jean
Semi-interesting history, beautiful, beautiful pictures. I love text.
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2005-02-15 H.M.S. Surprise by Patrick O'Brian
Exceedingly good Napoleanic sea novels, with really engaging characters. A novel that I save for the gym, because it makes the tradmill go by much more quickly.
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2005-02-15 Refusing to be a Man by John Stoltenberg
I'm writing a response paper to this interesting, yet deeple bombastic and retorical series of essays. One thing I will say: His gender->arayn race analogy was wonderful.
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2005-02-15 np by Banana Yoshimoto
I love, love, LOVE, Banana Yoshimoto! Her stories are as sad as any of the "classics", but they are so incredibly strange that they don't tear me up inside. Also, she usually writes about the process of recovering from grief, while most "edgy" authors (Winterson, Murikami, &c.) seem to write about falling into it.
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2005-02-15 Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin
A really interesting book. I had confused it with "Emerging", her first book--this one didn't deal as much with how she grew up with Autism as it did with how she currently views to world. The is quite interesting on it's own, however.
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